September 22, 2009

The Incarnation

And the Word Was Made Flesh and Dwelt Among Us


Sometimes, we miss the obvious. Amid all the festivities of Christmas, we are cautioned to remember the birth of Christ. Far less often, we are reminded to look beyond the birth and consider the Incarnation. Though the birth of Jesus is a joyous event, the Incarnation is the beginning of something unexpected: the restoration of humanity to a state of grace greater than that of Adam and Eve before the Fall. At the Annunciation, we dwell more on the angel’s announcement and Mary’s response than Jesus being conceived at that time. In the Christmas season, we might do well to contemplate the Incarnation, especially because it requires from us a response.

Two views of the Incarnation are common in music, books and homilies:

  1. God’s gift to us — This traditional view is used to explain the giving of gifts at Christmas.
  2. The Invasion of Nature — Like the Allies at Normandy, God establishes a “beachhead” in Nature and begins to take the world back from Satan.

While these are both true, let us instead contemplate other less popular views of the Incarnation because so much good work has been done regarding the first two. None of the following views of the Incarnation is new, just overshadowed by the ones already mentioned.

An Act of Intimacy

In considering the Incarnation, we must remember that Jesus existed before his conception. In fact, we believe “through him all things were made” (from John 1 and the Nicene Creed). Through Jesus, God freely chose to share in the human experience, shrinking back from nothing and participating in our world as one of us. Though Lord of all creation, he was subject to Joseph and Mary, his creatures. Though the author of life, he submitted to its rules, sleeping, eating, drinking and even passing out that which his body could not use. He bore the limits of human communication, and struggled to reveal the kingdom of God in human words and actions. He endured the same politics among his followers that we suffer today, and he paid his taxes. Even in the miracles, he never violated nature: stones did not become bread, animals did not speak, it did not rain wine. Although he did not create death, he submitted to it for our sake, because it was the will of the Father.

Being both God and man, inseparably joined, Jesus carried this intimacy in his own body. He showed a perfect union between the divine and the human in every moment of his life. By his life, Jesus again blessed Creation and declared it good, and proved the love of God for Creation by his life, death and resurrection. Whatever Jesus did as a man would be forever blessed and proven good.

In the greatest intimacy of all, Jesus did not reject his humanity at the Resurrection. Rather than leave us merely enlightened, he rose to the Father while beckoning to us to follow and share his glory. Likewise, all Creation will be perfected to serve us in the world to come (St. Ignatius of Antioch).


Our pastor often says: “The Faith is caught before it is taught.” Jesus introduced a new glory into human life, almost like a virus. Instead of illness and death, this contagion brings life and a share in God’s glory. The Incarnation makes it possible for us to become part of the Body of Christ and do the same things he did. As part of his Body, we heal the sick and raise the dead (after all, where did hospitals come from?), we challenge those in power by our lives and words, and we bring the love of God to the poor and those rejected by society through counseling, food, and support. Anyone surrendering their life to God will become at least a bit more like Jesus.

The Ongoing Work of Creation

Just as God breathed life into man at the Creation, so, too, does Jesus breathe life into us through the Holy Spirit. We are truly a new Creation, for we too have received the Spirit of God. Writers, such as St. Irenaeus and St. Thomas Aquinas, expressed a movement of Creation coming forth from God and then returning to God. Creation was not something God did a long time ago. It is ongoing. Thomas Merton, commenting on the writings of Irenaeus, said he saw “man as a possibility of indefinite growth.” The Incarnation opened up new possibilities for growth and made a path to God for all of Creation. The Incarnation was a continuing of the work of Creation, and we are called to join the great procession joyfully leading all Creation back to God.

Our Response

The love of God, made flesh in the Incarnation, did not consider man below his concern. As Jesus did not reject us, we can reject no one. As Jesus shared in our poverty, we are called to share in the poverty of others. In our relationships with others may be found a kind of “second Incarnation” as the Body of Christ comes to the world again and again, loving, sharing, finding the lost and feeding the hungry.

For another view of the Incarnation (a much older one), go here

The Pope’s Urbi et Orbi message for 1999.

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