Incomplete Thoughts on the Incarnation
Our culture makes a lot of noise during the Christmas season. Some Christians wait with bated breath to see what Starbucks is going to do with their holiday cups so they can immediately make clips on Facebook and YouTube decrying Starbucks as godless and hostile to Christmas and Christians. Others, both atheists and Christians, post ridiculous memes about paganism being the root of the celebration of Christmas in between the reminders of Jesus being the reason for the season. The resounding cacophony is enough to drive one to swear off social media until January. In this mix, the most important part of the Christmas season can become muted, and it is always good to reorient ourselves to what the season points us towards: The Incarnation of the Son of God.
As Christians, we know that Jesus was born, lived, died, and rose again to reconcile fallen, sinful humanity to God. We also know that Christmas is the time where we celebrate the beginning of the story, the eternal Word’s entrance into humanity. When I was involved with the Word of Faith movement, everything revolved primarily around the cross. The cross, the place where the blood of Jesus was shed, the atonement, these were what mattered. Well, the miracles mattered too because we were expected to do greater works but that may deserve its own post later down the road. The Incarnation was largely a footnote, an act of divine trickery that God, according to popular teachers in that tradition, had to perform in order to pull a fast one on the devil because the devil had legal ownership of the earth due to Adam’s sin and the Fall. Jesus’ entrance into creation as a human being was God’s back door, his sneaky way of setting everything right since God had no legal rights on the earth as he needs a human being’s permission, hence the Incarnation. This is, of course, ridiculous nonsense, and I found out why as I delved into the Church Fathers.
Years later I began to read and interact with a very different sort of theology that demonstrated every part of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection has salvific efficacy. The Incarnation is not a back door, nor was it a way for God to get a secret foothold on the earth. In chapter eight of On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius says that the Word saw us perishing and saw death reigning over us. He also saw our wickedness and the liability human beings have to death, so the Word took mercy on us and took a body not foreign to ours. This is important. The eternal Word took on human flesh, free from corruption through the womb of Mary to offer his incorruptible flesh to God on behalf of sinful humanity1. This results in the resurrection and the freeing of human beings from corruption, sin, and death. Jesus then stands as the God-Man, he is the one who mediates our humanity to God and his divinity to us enabling us to share in what St. Athanasius called the grace of the resurrection.
The Incarnation, with all of its implications, matters. My prayer is that this Christmas season the love and mercy of God, shown in the coming of Jesus Christ as a child born of the virgin, will not be drowned out by the distractions of our age and the busyness of the season. May we keep St Athanasius’ words in mind and in heart when he wrote, “The Savior did this in order that as he fills everything everywhere by his presence, so also he might fill all things with the knowledge of himself2.”
(2) Athanasius. On the Incarnation. Translated by John Behr. (Yonkers: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 45.98