Summary: The incarnation is a unique touch of God in the world, unparalleled since the creation; all Christians are given a glimpse of this mystery to share.
Do you remember how exciting Christmas was when you were a child? The lead up into the great feast of the Nativity was almost too much to bear. We sang advent hymns at church; we colored candy canes and cut out snowflakes at school; we decorated the Christmas tree and set up the crèche at home. Every week the anticipation grew as one more candle was lit. By Christmas Eve, I was ready to burst from the thrill. I still get excited, you know. It’s so much fun! Who doesn’t enjoy it? Okay, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Jews, atheists, etc. But the world is fascinated by Christmas and celebrates with vigor.
But what does the world celebrate? Is Christmas the time when we buy nice things for family and friends, and give to mere acquaintances the dreaded fruitcake? (Mind you that doesn’t include the excellent Trappist fruitcakes.) Is it a celebration of capitalism in process: consumers “getting and spending” as we lay waste our financial powers? Is it the observance of retail stores making the year end profits (or not)? Is Christmas a time, as suggested by the American Humanist Association to, “Just be good for goodness’ sake”?
“Why believe in a god. Just be good for goodness’ sake.” This is what the world has come to. We shouldn’t be surprised that the world doesn’t recognize the true meaning of Christmas. Why not? Because long ago, on the first Christmas, the world lay asleep while Jesus was born. When Christ came into the world, the world did not recognize him. As the Word become flesh first revealed his sacred face, his own did not receive him.
This is the Christmas story that St. John tells us in today’s Gospel. The Church, however, has not lost sight of the reason for the season. We remember the Mystery of Christmas — the Word become flesh. We remind the world of it, because the world missed the first Christmas and did not recognize or receive Christ. Still, each Christmas the world misses Christ.
THE MYSTERY OF CHRISTMAS — INCARNATION
This Mystery of Christmas, “the Word became flesh,” the Incarnation, what is it? Why was it necessary? “He [the Logos], indeed, when man fell, might have remained in the glory which he had with the Father before the world was. But that unsearchable Love, which showed itself in our original creation, rested not content with a frustrated work, but brought Him down again from His Father’s bosom to do His will and repair the evil which sin had caused. And with a wonderful condescension He came, not as before in power, but in weakness, in the form of a servant, in the likeness of that fallen creature whom He purposed to restore,” thus wrote John Henry Newman (pp. 246–47). God, who had made man in His own image and likeness, now became man and took on the likeness of what He created. He was without sin but subject to temptation; He came in weakness but not sharing our guiltiness. He assumed our guilt to Himself, but was not an inheritor of it. He had power to lay down his life and power to take it up again; and no one could wrest that power from him.
God took on our likeness, to restore it to His own once more. “Through [God’s own glory and goodness] he has given us his very great and precious promises so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pe. 1:4). Jesus Christ humbled himself to share in our humanity, so that we could display the divine image. And what is that image? If you want to see what God is like, look at Jesus. “The son is the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His Being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3).
This restoration was not within our power. William Barclay gives the example: “A commoner cannot approach a king with the offer of friendship; if there is ever to be such a friendship it must depend entirely on the approach of the king” (Barclay, 62). So the Word became flesh. The Word, which is God all-powerful, became flesh. kai o logoς sarx ἐgeneto. Flesh, sarx, is the same word that is sometimes translated “sinful nature.” Listen to John’s force. The Word, God most holy, became flesh, took on our weakened nature. “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature (sarx, flesh), God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful nature to be a sin offering” (Rom. 8:3). “God made him who had no sin to become sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).