The Incarnation of Christ: What It Means To Be Human
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. - John 1:14
Some have speculated that if human beings had not sinned, then the Incarnation alone would have been enough to bring humanity to full stature for entering the Kingdom of God. This theological speculation while interesting, of course does not reflect the reality of our relationship with God, since we are created beings made with free will. Therefore, this means the use of space and time as salvation history; where time is used for humanity to reach full stature by responding to God’s self-disclosure ultimately in the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ.
The Biblical Tradition:
The two gifts of the biblical tradition to the ancient world’s search for being were those of Creation ex nihilo (out of nothing) and God as Trinity (the divine being is communal/relational). Creation out of nothing establishes the world as the product of a free act by a free being. Reality is not without a beginning, is not impersonal, and without purpose, rather the universe is created by a Person (God), is personal (relational) and has purpose (love). Indeed, the biblical pronouncement of the Kingdom of God is the realization of divine purpose, the eternal intimacy of a Person (God) to persons (human beings). God as Holy Trinity means that the fundamental characteristic of being, that which is constitutive of being is not individuality, isolation, substance, function, or choice, but relationship or communion. God is God because the being of God realizes from all eternity the perfection of communion. From all eternity the Person of the Father communicates his total self in the Person of the Son, and communicates his charismatic power in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
The Proclamation of a Pagan:
“So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple cloak. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold, the man!’” (John 19:5) It is Pontius Pilate, the fifth governor of the Roman province of Judaea, a pagan, who makes a profound statement about the nature of Jesus Christ. In the first chapter of John’s Gospel, where the Word becomes flesh, this light moves the pagan Pilate, who has scourged Jesus and does not wish to crucify him, to make not so much a proclamation of faith, rather he makes a proclamation of ontological truth; Jesus is Man, the New Adam, true God and the fullness of humanity.
While Pilate is given the light to proclaim a truth, it will be through the death, and Resurrection, of the Incarnate One, along with the gift of the other Advocate, the Holy Spirit, that will give the Apostles the light of faith. The profession of faith in the crucified Lord is dynamically recorded in the profession of St. Thomas in John’s Gospel.
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” - John 20:27-29
Due to the unique mission of the Apostles they are given a direct experience of the crucified Man, the risen Man, the first true Man (for Adam had sinned), the One who totally did the will of the Father; the God-Man, Jesus Christ. But blessed also are those who through the working of the Holy Spirit, groaning within us as Scripture says, are able to make a profession of faith in the One Incarnate of the Holy Spirit. The One born of the Virgin Mary, and suffered under Pontius Pilate who was given the light of truth but did not find faith.
Becoming Human in Christ:
Jesus reveals to us what it means to be God and what it means to be a human being. In saying that we cannot disconnect his Incarnation (conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and being born from her), his three years of public ministry by which we see he is the theme and fulfillment of the Old Testament, his Paschal Mystery (the Last Supper, Cross, Death, Resurrection), and the Pentecost of the Holy Spirit.
In all this he reveals to us that God is Love and that we are to imitate Divine Love, by realizing the fulness of our humanity in becoming Christ-like in our love of the Father and our neighbor. As St. Irenaeus taught in the second century “God became Man, so that Man could become God.” This does not mean we take on Divine Nature, but we take on the divine way of being, which is love.
Jesus died so that we could overcome through him and the power of the Holy Spirit the limitations of being creatures (fear of death and sin) and enter into an eternal relationship with the Father, eternally becoming Christ-like before the throne of Father’s majesty.
We do not save ourselves, Christ has saved us, saved us from the finality of death that happens to creatures. So that our death becomes our birth unto the fullness of what it means to be human, that is, sons and daughters of the God who is Love and made us to be images of Himself; human beings constituted by love.
We do more than know this truth, like Pilate, but we live and become this truth by faith (total trust), prayer (abiding in the presence of the One who loves us) and opening our lives to the Holy Spirit, who forms us into the image of Christ.
The fear of God is not being afraid of God, but acknowledgment that God alone is the answer to the mystery of life.
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” - Colossians 3:1-4
The Christian affirmation of human dignity is essentially not a question of ethics, morals, or rights. The Church never ceases to remind us that we are made new in Christ; simply put, our identity, nature, and dignity is a question of Being, the ontological question first and foremost, whose answer lies in the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ. As St. Paul proclaims our “life is hidden with Christ in God,” not in the futile attempt to define humanity by any other means. We cannot attain moral perfection, we will never collect enough rights to satiate our thirst for total unbridled freedom. No, our lives are hidden with Christ in God, meaning our lives are wrapped in God’s love, and it is the Divine Love that constitutes our identity and dignity.
The God, who created space, time, and matter, enters space, time, and matter, thus making human history, salvation history. Jesus the Christ is not a guru, prophet, or moral teacher; rather Jesus is the Christ because he and he alone is the first born, the first to realize in human history the liberation of the human person from death. In the Incarnate Lord we discover what it means to be human beings.
(Rev.) David A. Fisher