The Incarnation


The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14, 17-18)

The Word is more than a pattern of vibrations originating in divine windpipes, traveling through a medium to be received by our eardrums. This Word has resounded eternally in the living being of the Triune God. This Word is “the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3), “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), the perfect pattern and true communication of deity. If you have heard this Word, you have heard and known God himself, because God is a speaking God, and this Word reveals who he is and what he is like.

The Son is more than just one particular manifestation out of many possible combinations of traits derived from a genetic source. This Son is the eternally-begotten Son, the only-begotten God, of one substance with the Father. This Son is in the Father, and the Father is in him (John 14:10-11). This Son shares his Father’s glory (John 17:5), even as he and his Father share the one Spirit. If you have seen this Son, you have seen and known the Father (John 14:7, 9), because the Son makes him known (John 17:26).

Before the man Jesus Christ there was this Word, this Son. Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). This Word, this Son has always been, before all worlds. Then, in history, in the created world, this Word, this Son “became flesh and dwelt among us,” Jesus of Nazareth, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. This is the Incarnation. “Everything in Christianity centers on the Incarnation of the Son of God” (Thomas Torrance, 1913-2007). In the Incarnation, this Word was not muffled; this Son was not disguised or disowned. He remained the eternally-resounding Word and the only-begotten Son. He continued to be God. Yet he added to himself a created human nature, to be this Word and this Son also as a human. Since the Incarnation, he-who-was-and-is-and-is-to-come is in a new way of being.

Now, as a human, as Jesus Christ, this Word, this Son has made God known to us and continues to make him known. He does not make God known in spite of his humanity, but in his humanity, in his flesh, in his Incarnation. What we see in the man Jesus Christ we know is true of God himself, because he is the true God and the whole God. What kind of glory have we seen in him? What kind of God has he revealed to us? In Jesus Christ we have seen the glory of the God of love. In him we have seen the union of the divine and the human, the union of what we suspected must be two diametrically opposed natures—apparently not so incompatible after all.

In one Person we find the whole divine nature and the whole human nature in harmony, and it is very good. In Christ we see that true humanity was created for glorious compatibility with divinity. And in Christ we see true divinity—the God who would do such a thing, who would create such a compatible being and take our humanity to himself forever. In the Incarnation we know the God who would stoop low and bend and condescend for such a union. His capacity to do so is his glory, and we have seen it. Speculation is unnecessary. The enfleshed Word, the Incarnate Son has made God known to us.

So we know that God has willed for his own identity to be defined in relationship to humanity. He became flesh, flesh that he created. He has taken our name, a name that he created. He is in inextricable solidarity with us, his creatures. This is no temporary humiliation from which he will emerge by discarding our flesh. He will not be identified apart from humanity. He is God With Us. Such humility is his divine glory; it is who he really is to be humble. “He is not untrue to himself but true to himself in this condescension… He is as man, as the man who is obedient in humility, exactly what he is as God” (Karl Barth, 1886-1968).

The one man Jesus Christ—the union of the divine and human natures in him—is the connective tissue that holds together the entire universe, the beating heart at the core of all reality. “The meeting ground between God and man is the flesh of Christ” (St. Cyril of Alexandria, c. 376-444). Just as he is the only mediator between God and humanity, so also he is the only glue for our human relationships. “There is no hope at all except for the hope of the Incarnation” (Augustine, 354-430).

The Incarnation utterly relativizes, as approaches to establishing relationships, things like holiday meals shared, gifts exchanged, treaties signed, policies adopted, statements released, services rendered, or even quality time spent together. The God of union has his cosmic masterpiece in the Incarnation. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace. If men can know God for communion through Jesus Christ, then, also in Christ—and only in Christ—men can dwell together in peace. If God can truly have his being in solidarity with us, we can be in solidarity with one another in all our differences, in all our sufferings. No matter how many generations long the warfare. No matter how sharp the betrayal. No matter how incessant the quarreling. No matter how destructive the enmity. The Incarnation demonstrates once and for all the unifying power of the God of love, and the compatibility of humanity for such a union in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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