December 19, 2014

Editorial

We celebrate the Incarnation

“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).

That’s how John’s Gospel reported the magnificent mystery of the Incarnation, the amazing fact that Almighty God actually lowered himself to become a human being. That’s the mystery we celebrate this Christmas.

Let us rejoice as we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem, but let us remember that he was far more than just a human baby.

John tells us as plainly as possible, “In the beginning was the Word” (he existed from all eternity), “and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). To make it even clearer, he identifies the Word with creation, saying, “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be” (Jn 1:3).

We Catholics will profess our belief in the Incarnation when we recite the Creed on Christmas, as we do every weekend. We say that we believe in “one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God,” who “was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.”

St. Paul taught the pre-existence of Jesus Christ. In his Letter to the Philippians, written perhaps as early as 55 A.D., he quoted a hymn that already existed: “Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness” (Phil 2:6-7).

Paul wrote about God sending his Son in other letters, too. For example, to the Galatians he wrote, “When the fullness of time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). To the Romans he wrote, “Sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3).

This has been the belief of Christians down through the centuries—that Jesus was true God, existing from all eternity and through whom all things were made, but at a particular moment in history also became a human being. He was both God and man, fully human with all our imperfections and weaknesses except sin, while remaining the perfect and infinitely powerful God. He is not part God and part man, or some confused mixture but fully human while remaining God.

But why did God choose to assume our human nature? Various reasons are given: The Word became flesh in order to save us by reconciling us with God; so that thus we might know God’s love; to be our model of holiness; to make us partakers of the divine nature.

The ultimate reason, though, is because God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation, our redemption, in it. That couldn’t be done by just any human, but it did require a human to do it. Since Jesus is both divine and human, he is the one and only mediator between God and humans.

Because we have been redeemed by the God-man, we humans can share God’s divine nature. Ever since the beginning of Christian theology, the reason for the Incarnation has been “so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God” (St. Irenaeus, second century).

St. Leo the Great wrote, in a passage that is read in the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours of Christmas day, “In the fullness of time, chosen in the unfathomable depths of God’s wisdom, the Son of God took for himself our common humanity in order to reconcile it with its creator. He came to overthrow the devil, the origin of death, in that very nature by which he had overthrown mankind.”

Later in the same passage, St. Leo wrote, “And so at the birth of our Lord the angels sing in joy: ‘Glory to God in the highest,’ and they proclaim, ‘Peace to his people on Earth’ (Lk 2:14) as they see the heavenly Jerusalem being built from all the nations of the world. When the angels on high are so exultant at this marvelous work of God’s goodness, what joy should it not bring to the lowly hearts of men?”

We wish you a happy and blessed Christmas.

—John F. Fink

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