A brief contemplation on the purpose of the Incarnation for my life.
The human mind is not able to grasp or will never able to fully comprehend an event so glorious as that of the Incarnation, yet God still reveals His truth among us to behold the awesomeness of His love and humility for us when He took flesh for our sake.
I am in no way near of having the ability to express the depth and beauty of the Incarnation as our early fathers have (namely, St. Athanasius’ profound and must-read work for every Christian (and non-Christian too of course)- On the Incarnation), but I hope to express in brief what the Incarnation means for us today and how that has changed the reality of life in the light of this timeless event.
The Church celebrates the birth of Christ as we know on a yearly basis. Yet, like any major feast pertaining to our Lord, it is also integrated in the daily rhythm of the ecclesiastical life and prayers of the Church, ie, the Canonical Book of Hours (the ‘Agbeya’ in the Coptic Church).
In the First Hour in the The Book of Hours in the Coptic Rite has the theme of the Lord’s Resurrection. Although the psalms of that hour are linked with the resurrection, the Gospel reading is not so directly, but is excerpted from the passage of the Incarnation – from St. John’s Gospel 1:1-17. (“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God….”)
So what, one may ask? Is there a link between Incarnation and Resurrection? Inevitable and without doubt – every event in the life of Christ links to His passion and Resurrection, and as a result, whatever Christ did in the flesh, affects and affected all of humanity from the beginning of time.
The first litany of the First Hour after the Gospel reads:
“O true Light who gives light to every man coming into the world, You came into the world for Your love of mankind and all creation rejoiced at Your coming. You saved our father Adam from seduction and our mother Eve from the pangs of death, and gave us the spirit of sonship…”
From Christ’s birth all of humanity has re-received the gift of sonship from the Father. All of mankind and creation “rejoiced at” His coming.
So it is from the rise of each day the Church teaches us that we are to rejoice in this timeless event – that we not only remember His birth during Christmas – but that we celebrate it on a daily basis, or rather we must experience it at every moment.
If I realise what the Incarnation means for me, I think I will begin to recognise that I am not or can be fully human otherwise. Let me explain.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1). Everything He made until the sixth day was “good.” On the sixth day, the ‘lord of creation’ (as some fathers refer to it as) was made:
“Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Gen 1:26-17)
So humanity was solely founded upon the image and likeness of God. And on that day the Scriptures tell us God saw the work of His hands and that it was “very good.” (Gen 1:31)
The Gospel of John likewise begins with a prelude to creation, (“In the beginning was the Word..” John 1:1) however, here is the re-creation of man in the Incarnate Logos. Man has been re-created according to Christ – Christ became man so man may become like God – as it was so originally from the beginning. The powerful words of John “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” resonates such profoundness for each one of us. God – King of kings, Creator and Knower of everything from the beginning – has become like me. He has taken my weakness to transform it into strength and glory and power – and ultimately salvation.
Christ, being Co-Creator with the Father, was the only one who could re-new and reform humanity to its original perfected state. By taking flesh, being God, and entering into the world in which He made, He encompassed all of humanity in Himself. How? By the natural rite of being the Author of humanity. Since all of humanity was formed and founded on Him – all of humanity still exists solely on Him. Since sin corrupted that pure and perfected state of being a divine creation (being made in His image and likeness) – restoration was required to bring back humanity to being human, that is, being in His image and likeness. Christ renewed this by reforming man in His image and by taking man’s image and uniting it with the Father’s (as St Paul says Christ is the image of the invisible God – Col 1:15).
St. Athanasius formulates this clearly stating that
“..the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation: for the one Father has employed the same Agent [that is Christ] for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.” (On the Incarnation)
So it is through the Logos “becoming flesh” that he re-created all of humanity in Himself. How great a truth and reality! I am safe in the image of Christ and saved by His incarnation.
But it must be so (as the Gospels clearly tell us) that we must accept Christ as God – for those who receive Him, He gives them “right to become children of God…who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). And this is fulfilled in the rite of our baptism. I accept Christ as my Saviour, renounce Satan, put of the old man (Rom 6:6, Eph 4:22) and put on the new man in Christ (Ephesians 4:24).
This putting off the old man and putting on Christ must be a daily act, or rather, a never-ending continuum in our daily struggle against sin. It must be this active choice that I choose Christ – that is, I choose to be human, for Christ is the only real human being; He is the “final Adam” as St. Paul calls Him (1 Cor 15:45 – “ὁ ἔσχατος Ἀδὰμ”). Anything less than being like Christ is less human. He is the ultimate and perfect Man.
St. John also highlights this point when He tells us to “Behold the Man” – (John 19:5 – “Ἰδοὺ ὁ ἄνθρωπος!”) Behold, this is the true human being – this is what it is to be human – to be in the perfect image of God the Father, as it was so from the beginning.
And so, during this time of Advent, may we put our main focus on the Lord’s Incarnation – not only looking to remember and celebrate the historical event on Nativity – but to remind ourselves that it is for my daily transformation. Christ must “become flesh” for us – daily – He must be real, tangible, and He must “dwell among” me. Thus, the Incarnation is not a mere historical event, it is not only to be celebrated yearly; it must be a continual reality in my life. In choosing to imitate Christ, I choose to be human, for God showed me what it is to be human in Himself being without sin – because sin is and was never part of my nature; my nature depends on being in Him and of Him. Thus, my life must be incarnational; anything less than that is less than what is required and what was purposed for me.
(I highly and utterly recommend to read “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius as I mentioned earlier. The full text can be found here: http://newadvent.org/fathers/2802.htm or can order a hard copy from SVS press: http://www.svspress.com/on-the-incarnation-pps-44b-english/ )