The Incarnation: “And the Word Became Flesh… “

As we celebrate Christ’s birthday, let us remember the reason for the season! “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). God’s love is so great for each one of us, that he sent his Son to enter our humanity and live among us. God wants us to know Him, in the flesh! He became man, just like us in all things, except sin! Through the Incarnation, the Word became flesh (John 1:14), and we celebrate this Incarnation on Christmas Day.

Far greater than any gift sitting under the Christmas tree, or sitting in our driveways, adorned with ostentatious bows, is the gift of Christ Himself – in our hearts. God’s gift of Himself, via the Incarnation, is a piece of God’s plan for the salvation of mankind. God’s master plan required Jesus to enter humanity, not only so that we could come to know and love God, in the flesh, but also so that Jesus could redeem us from our sins and make us holy in God’s sight.

The gift of Christ, in our hearts, is a gift of pure love. By Christ’s gift of Himself, we come to know and love the Father. Son and Holy Spirit. Through the teachings of Jesus Christ, as both God and Man, we’ve come to learn that as omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent as God is, He will not force His love upon us; He will not force the gift of salvation upon us. It must be our choice to decide if we will accept Christ’s love. Also, we play a part in our own salvation. It is up to us to decide whether we will accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

So, the plan unfolds anew today, with the babe in the manger. Will you accept the gift of Christ’s love? Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God; conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary? Will you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior? I pray that you will say “yes” to these questions, and by doing so, accept the gift of Christ’s love on this Christmas Day.

From all the Theology faculty at Saint Joseph’s College, we wish you a blessed Christmas season filled with God’s love, peace and joy. May your new year be filled with hope, patience and trust in Christ’s generosity, mercy and forgiveness.

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

Awaiting the Incarnation

Almost everyone loves babies. And when the baby is the incarnate Lord, making himself completely vulnerable as a helpless infant, we are that much more moved at his coming, his advent, his nativity.

If the author of the Gospel of John knew of these stories, however, he seems to have been relatively unimpressed. And so we look forward to hearing Matthew and Luke’s nativity narrative, repeatedly, and perhaps glance over brief inclusions of passages from John.

And yet it is the Gospel of John that gives us the broadest perspective, and to me the most meaningful context of the incarnation. Matthew looks especially to the import of the incarnation in the context of God’s relationship to his people as revealed in Jewish history, indicated by the beginning of the Gospel, the genealogy of Jesus reaching back to Abraham. While Matthew includes signs of the Roman imperial context, it remains to Luke to place the incarnation squarely in that world, with his elegant and scholarly dedication and his direct signal to “the time of Caesar Augustus.” Both contexts are necessary to explore, and I doubt that the author of the Fourth Gospel would counter either one.

But his interests are broader. The prologue (1:1-18) of the Gospel of John continues a centuries-long discussion in Judaism regarding how it is possible to speak of a God who is both transcendent and immanent, Wholly Other Creator of the universe and yet intimately involved in every creature and to whom every creature gestures. The words used interchangeably for talking about God as present here, God-for-us, varied by the first century BCE; they included Wisdom, Son, Spirit, and yes, Word (logos).

Drawing deeply in his prologue from biblical passages such as Genesis 1, Sirach 24:1-25, Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-30, and Proverbs 8:22-36, this author makes it clear that Jesus Christ is no less than the incarnation of what the Jewish tradition has called God’s Wisdom, God when God is completely for us, especially as Creator of the universe. God’s Wisdom has been revealed before in Torah, in the Temple, in creation, but never so permanently and perfectly as now, in a particular human being. John’s is a Cosmic Advent.

With apologies to my spiritual father Francis of Assisi and his initiation of the living manger scene, John’s is a magnificent image to which I am personally far more attached than to the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke. But John’s vision does present a problem: how does one live a cosmic advent every day? How is it manageable or even helpful? How do we put flesh on that imposing vision that this author has given us?

Some practical activities can help draw our attention to the wonder of the Cosmic Advent. We could look at the stars, really take time to look at the stars, and here I must recognize the contribution of my rescue pup Sasha, for whose needs I stand outside at 11pm every night! We could note the phase of the moon each night and marvel prayerfully in the wondrous structure and processes of the universe that result in what we can see at that moment, and we can marvel prayerfully that the savior whose advent we now celebrate is so much more than that.  

But we don’t have to be unceasingly celestial in our gaze to remind ourselves of the glorious interconnectedness and redemption of the universe that Christ reveals (Col 1:15-20). We can at so many moments of the day and night bring our awareness to the “thisness,” as John Duns Scotus and other medieval scholastics would call it (haecceity), of each created being God brings across our paths every day. We can “go small” and practice hospitality to our companions on this planet as best we can. When we do that, we celebrate an unending Advent, as Mary Oliver expresses in her poem “Making the House Ready for the Lord,” which I first encountered in America magazine (Sept. 25, 2006).

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
Still nothing is as shining as it should be
For you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice – it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances– but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
While the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
As I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Jesus was a real person!

The eternal Word, born of the Father before time began, today emptied himself for our sake and became man.

Antiphon 3, Evening Prayer I
Christmas Day

A baby is born in Bethlehem, and all the world is changed. God has become man. I’ll say it again – God has become man. All religions are not the same. A baby is born in Bethlehem, and all the world is changed.

Christianity is the only religion to claim the God-Man. Other faiths claim prophets, or representations of a spiritual entity, but only Christians claim that the God they worship, the God they claim created the heavens and the earth, became a human being and lived among us in the flesh.

I can recall the first time that this fact really struck me. I was a student in Rome and was on the Scavi tour at Saint Peter’s Basilica. We were at the tomb of Saint Peter, and I was looking at his bones. Now, my family had a custom of visiting the cemetery, usually at Christmas and Easter, placing flowers at the graves of our relatives, and praying for them. As I was “visiting the grave” of Peter the Apostle, the thought occurred to me that this was similar to visiting my grandparents’ graves. Then I thought, “Oh my gosh, Peter was a real person!” Then, immediately following, “If Peter was a real person, then Jesus was a real person!” Thus began my insatiable appetite for all things theological. I just had to learn everything I could about this Jesus – this very real person who walked this earth.The_Nativity_of_Jesus_Christ_by_logIcon

The Incarnation is a doctrine of faith unique to Christianity. When this doctrine is ignored or underappreciated, Jesus can become anything from a wise prophet to Santa Claus. He is neither. He is the God-Man, the perfect, intimate unity of God and human. He is the One who, by His death and resurrection, makes it possible for all humans to be intimately united to God the Father. Therein lies our Christmas joy!

A baby is born in Bethlehem, and all the world is changed.

 

Carmina Chapp is Associate Director of Theology Programs at Saint Joseph’s College Online.