The Incarnation, Part 1: Why?

The most important event in all of human history.  The joy of the world, the promise of ages, the center point of our calendar, and the moment we have all been waiting for.  No, I am not talking about Season 8 of Game of Thrones… I’m talking about the Incarnation.  Today we celebrate the Nativity of the Lord when the Son of God assumed human nature and became flesh.  God entered into time and space by taking on human all of human nature including being born of woman.  The Nativity of eight-pound, six-ounce baby Jesus changed all of human history forever.  This is nothing new for most people but the big question we ask today is “Why?”  Why would an infinite, all-knowing God become man?  Why did the Word become flesh?

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus with a week of family, presents, food, and joy I want to take some time to explore why God would empty himself and take on humanity.  We will explore the four reasons laid out by the Catechism of the Catholic Church for why the Word become flesh.

In Order to Save Us by Reconciling Us With God

This is the most common reason given for why God became flesh.  Jesus came and bridged the gap between God and man caused by sin.  Jesus is both God and man making Him the perfect mediator for the task of reconciling the two.  Through his death on the cross, he paid the debt of sin and overcame death in his resurrection.  Jesus had to become flesh in order to die for us on the cross.

We require a savior due to our fallen nature.  A fallen people cannot save themselves of their own accord, therefore, we needed God to initiate our salvation.  “We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior” (St Gregory of Nyssa).  We were captive by sin, a force greater than our humanity, so we required God, who is greater than sin, to save us.  The Son become flesh in order to reconcile us to the Father.

“We have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world.” – 1 John 4:14

So That We Might Know God’s Love

The primary, underlying reason for the Incarnation is the love of God.  God would have no reason to save us unless he loved us beyond measure.  He came to us in the pit of our sin and death out of love.  This love was not warranted from our merits, but rather, from God’s infinite goodness.

This love is magnified by the manner in which the Word become flesh.  It would have been enough if Jesus was born to a wealthy family or even a family of priests, however, he was born in a barn to a young family of no renown.  God fully emptied himself by taking human nature then emptied that human nature in his birth and death.  It is through the Incarnation that we come to physically see the love and goodness of God.

“For God so loved the world that he gave[a] his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” – John 3:16

To Be a Model of Holiness

We are told multiple times in the gospels to “Listen to Him” (Mk 9:7, Jn 2:5).  Jesus is not only a teacher of virtue, but also a model of this life of virtue.  The Word took on flesh and made manifest the Law of God.  Jesus lived a full human life that we can all strive to follow and imitate.

Jesus tells us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (Mt 11:29).  The Incarnation gives us the ability to see Him as the way.  Jesus’s life of holiness that he models for us is the way.  He shows us the way to the Father.  If we want to be holy, we must follow Jesus as our model of holiness.

“Love one another as I have loved you” – John 15:12

To Make Us Partakers of the Divine Nature

This is ultimately the goal of the Incarnation and, in my opinion, the most beautiful result of the Nativity.  As we saw in the first reason, Jesus reconciled us to the Father.  This brought us to our former state, pre-fall of Adam and Eve.  We could say that it brought us back to the level of friendship with God.  Jesus, however, pushes us beyond that level of friendship into the familial intimacy of sonship.  God does not want to just restore our humanity but bring us into his divinity.

The incarnation gives us the life of the sacraments that we have today which allows us to enter “into the communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship” (St Irenaeus).  We begin to partake in the life of the Trinity through the life of the Church and the sacraments with hopes of full communion with the divine Trinity in Heaven.  Heaven is not just a place, but it is communion with the divine Trinity.  It is our ultimate goal of full participation in the inner life of the divine Trinity.  “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius).

The Incarnation did so much more than pay the debt for our sins and reconcile us to the Father.  It showed us the love of God and the way to become full partakers in that love that binds all things together: the love of the divine Trinity.

“The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.” – St. Thomas Aquinas

 

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