On The Incarnation (2:8) Heaven Invades Earth

For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.

Athanasius gives us an astounding vision of mysterious scope; using words like incorporeal, incorruptible and immaterial is supposed to mess with our minds. We can’t picture the incorporeal and immaterial. We can only let our images and metaphors be shattered and our minds be humbled. We have NO conception of what the Word was before He became one of us. It is beyond our abilities to grasp; we can only use negative descriptors to enforce intellectual humility.

It is with very cautious language here that A. explains this. “In one sense” the Word was not far from the world before the incarnation. This is truth and the Bible validates this claim. Jesus was present in every page of the Old Testament, if we have eyes to see. However, we can only see this in hindsight, BECAUSE of the incarnation.

Athanasius carefully words this: “No part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are.” In Him we live and move and have our being, as Paul said in Acts 17. In Colossians 1, he also says that ALL THINGS are held together by Christ. This is cosmic and universal in scope and yet how would we have known if God did not REVEAL it? Our philosophers still try to formulate reality and haven’t come anywhere close to what we can know only through revelation. This is a “God-drenched” world, no square inch of creation is God-forsaken. Yet we are unable to see it without Him revealing Himself to us.

“But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.” Only love can motivate someone to “stoop” to another’s level to communicate something for their sake. Since Christ is the Word of God, this means He is the Communication of God. Some of what God has revealed has been revealed in the crudeness of human language, but God becoming human is also a communication. What did God want to reveal to us that could only be communicated in the ACT of becoming one of us? The answer can only be His great love for us, since one can very easily communicate contempt and disdain without making oneself available and vulnerable to the offending party.

He saw the reasonable race, the race of men that, like Himself, expressed the Father’s Mind, wasting out of existence, and death reigning over all in corruption. He saw that corruption held us all the closer, because it was the penalty for the Transgression; He saw, too, how unthinkable it would be for the law to be repealed before it was fulfilled. He saw how unseemly it was that the very things of which He Himself was the Artificer should be disappearing. He saw how the surpassing wickedness of men was mounting up against them; He saw also their universal liability to death. All this He saw and, pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery, rather than that His creatures should perish and the work of His Father for us men come to nought, He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. Nor did He will merely to become embodied or merely to appear; had that been so, He could have revealed His divine majesty in some other and better way. No, He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man.

This is already familiar territory, God was moved (and it would be unthinkable that God wouldn’t be moved) by our predicament. It was out of compassion for our sakes, but it was also for His sake. That the work of His hands should fall under the power of death was unacceptable to Him. He was “unable to endure” that death should have mastery over us. It is important to use this language of passion and emotion in this context because God is passionate and displays plenty of emotion in the Bible. Read the prophets and you will find God angry and grieved and at times exasperated with His beloved Israel. He doesn’t simply use legal language cleanly and evenly as in “you have transgressed my law therefore I must punish you” but He also uses language like, “you have played the whore!” This is language of jealousy and intense passion. The legal language is Biblical but it isn’t the only language God uses. He is not an impartial judge, He is a father, lover and warrior for His beloved. And this is how we should think of God becoming human. Not out of a bland sense of “well, I suppose I must” but out of an inability NOT to. “How could I NOT?!” He was unable to endure the alternative, Athanasius says.

Also, it is important to note that it wasn’t enough to simply “become embodied.” He had done that before, in numerous stories in the Old Testament. This was to be different. He would not only APPEAR as one of us, but actually BECOME one of us. He would be born as a baby and grow up human. He would experience human existence authentically; this was no divine trickery. We need to remind ourselves of this…He EMPTIED Himself and did not count equality with God something to be self-servingly clutched. This act of being born as a human baby was a divine act of self-emptying. So many Christians want to dismiss Christmas as sentimental bosh and move straight to the cross, even on Christmas (!) but they are misguided. The manger was an equal act of self-sacrifice for God as the cross. You don’t have the cross without the manger. God has to make himself nothing before He can even have the possibility of being nailed to a piece of wood. The manger speaks its own profound word on the sacrifice Christ made. We don’t need to rush right to Golgotha to get a picture of His sacrifice; there is an abundance of Christ’s self-emptying to be found in Bethlehem.

He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us, so that in His death all might die, and the law of death thereby be abolished because, having fulfilled in His body that for which it was appointed, it was thereafter voided of its power for men. This He did that He might turn again to incorruption men who had turned back to corruption, and make them alive through death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of His resurrection. Thus He would make death to disappear from them as utterly as straw from fire.

This is a deep mystery. God prepared His own body in the womb as “a temple for Himself.” As with the Temple which He filled in a special way, the fetus of Jesus would be a much more potent temple. He would fill it in a way He had never filled the temple: this would be His DEFINITIVE revelation to humanity. He took a body liable to the corruption of death. He didn’t have to, since He never sinned, but He took on our corruptible nature. He experienced every temptation any other human did without succumbing to any. This is why the manger is such an act of self-sacrifice. He could have taken on an incorruptible human body (of the kind He had after the resurrection) but He willingly chose a body of the kind WE have. He was pulled from the womb screaming and crying like the rest of us. In a sense every human is still dealing with the trauma of being pulled from that safe little sanctuary into this turbulent existence. Yet when we outgrow the womb, we are brought out of it. God Himself experienced this when He was born. Out of the safety of the womb into the dangerous adventure of human existence. Only He entered our shared existence and utterly transformed it into a place of hope and longing, rather than death and despair.

“He did this out of sheer love.” Again, Athanasius seems to feel like he can’t stress this enough. The baby in the manger is the way God irrevocably broke into the world. The light has punctured the darkness and the darkness will never recover. The love of God now has a tangible expression: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter. We celebrate these momentous events in human history because they were done definitively by God FOR us. We no longer have to wonder what or who is responsible for life, the universe and everything because the Creator has revealed Himself. And not only that, but there is a participatory element to this event: none of us are able to be neutral. What about this person Jesus – born in a manger, crucified on a Roman cross and seen alive after He died? We can ignore it or look into it, but however we react we cannot feign ignorance. We either find ourselves captivated by this person or we can try to avoid Him but it is impossible. His influence has completely changed the world and all things lead back to Him. In Him we live and move and have our being – in Him all things are held together. God has invaded Earth in this child and we are all faced with a choice: swear allegiance or remain in darkness. There is no neutral soil in this battle between Heaven and the Abyss. None but this child can cross over into both and this child has defeated the Abyss FOR each and every one of us. This is the Christmas proclamation. The Birth of the Eternal One into Time; the Author of Life submits to Death and blows up Death from the inside. The defeat of Death and the Abyss (Hades) was already sure when this child came screaming from the womb of Mary. Our hope and victory were born when He was, and that is what we celebrate on Christmas.


~ by shardsofeternity on December 23, 2011.

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