The Incarnation of God and the Stuff that Matters
The doctrine of the Incarnation, at least at my church, is easy to remember. It is literally carved in marble: “In the beginning was the Word. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, he who is eternal, all-powerful and all-knowing became time-bound and weak, an infant knowing nothing.
How did God do that? Well, as Mollie Ziegler Hemingway writes in the January First Things:
The deepest mystery of Christmas isn’t how Jesus was conceived and born — it’s why. Why would almighty God care so much about losers like us that he would humble himself to take on human flesh and enter humanity at such a low station?
As intellectually and technologically advanced as we’ve become, this incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is just as unfathomable to us as it was to Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the Wise Men two thousand years ago.
Let me suggest that it is unfathomable because we have not — indeed we cannot — sufficiently grasp the love God has for each of us. But as a start, take three examples.
First, the incarnation assures us of our value and dignity. Because God created humans in his image (Genesis 1:27), human value and dignity are enormous even after sin entered the very good world God created.
But it gets better. God became one of us. There is something so “very good” about humanity (Genesis 1:31) that God could and did become incarnate. A human nature was permanently united to the divine person. I’m sure I don’t understand what all that means, but I know it conveys unspeakable value and dignity to every human being. Such is the love of God for each of us.
Second, the Incarnation created the possibility of new beginnings. In his book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI notes that when St. Luke sets down Jesus’ genealogy (Luke 2:23-38), he traced Jesus’ roots all the way back to Adam “to show that humanity starts afresh in Jesus.”
Not only does humanity start afresh, but every human has the opportunity to start afresh. Baptism is a fresh start. Every act of conversion is a fresh start. Confessing our sins is a fresh start. G. K. Chesterton noted how when someone confesses his sins and receives God’s forgiveness, he is remade in the image of God: “He stands … in the white light at the worthy beginning of the life of a man. The accumulations of time can no longer terrify. He may be grey and gouty; but he is only five minutes old.”
The love of God in the Incarnation reminds us that nothing is hopeless, no one is hopeless, we’re never too old, too much time has not passed, all is not lost, we can have new life.
Finally, the Incarnation points out the goodness of the world God has given to us. God pronounced the world good when he made it, but, in the Incarnation, God stepped into that world. He ate and he drank and he walked around. He admired sunrises and sunsets. He picked flowers for his mother. He chased bugs, patted dogs, turned water into wine and cooked fish on the beach for his friends. Rather than being an illusion or something inferior to the spiritual, the material creation bears witness to God, praises God and looks forward to a glorious future when Jesus returns (Romans 8:19-21).
So as Christians, we celebrate the goodness of material world as well. That’s why we feast, build beautiful churches, plant tulips, go skiing and snuggle our kids. The Church affirms that goodness in bread and wine, water and oil, word and touch. Because of the Incarnation, stuff matters. It’s God’s loving gift to one and all.
While we should consider these things daily, the beauty of the Christian year is that it assigns times to consider aspects of the life of Jesus and of our faith in depth. Christmas is the season to focus on the love and humility of God in the Incarnation of His Son. So let me suggest meditating on our value and dignity as well as the value and dignity of all people — particularly those we dislike or fear; the possibility of new beginnings for ourselves, our families, our churches, our nation, our world; and the essential goodness of eggnog and cookies, pine trees and poinsettias, family and friends, calling birds, lords a-leaping and partridges in pear trees.