And the Word Became Flesh…

God loves stuff. Things. Matter. We can tell that God loves stuff because he made so much of it. From the dust of the Horsehead Nebula to the sand of a Pacific beach to the granite of the Rocky Mountains, God made it all, and, according to its own proper nature, loves it all. He loves it all so much that he is, even at this moment, sustaining it in existence by the act of his will. And he loves stuff so much that he gave some of it life: from the amoebae to the oak trees to the duck-billed platypuses, he shared with these things the living aspect of his own nature.

But it wasn’t enough for God to make stuff, and even to give it life. At the pinnacle of his creative act, he made a living, material creature, to which he imparted a share in his own divine nature. This living, material creature, called man, was made “in his image and likeness,” being a unique hybrid of the material and spiritual. In man a spiritual soul is united to a material body in such a way that the soul animates the body, and the body expresses the life of the soul. In this way the material creation, in mankind, finds its perfection in a union with the spiritual.

Because we are thoroughly accustomed to being human, we might lose sight of how amazing and wonderful the human creature is. But the scriptures bear witness to the wonder of the human creature. In Psalm 8, the psalmist proclaims “thou hast made him little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor.” In Psalm 139, he pronounces man “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Wonderfully made, in God’s own image and likeness, and destined for eternal fellowship with God.

At least that was the way it was supposed to be. Unfortunately, man misused his gifts and freedom, and fell. In the fall of man, all of material creation fell as well. And so there entered into the world all of the hardship, strife, pain, and misery which has been our unhappy lot ever since.

But God did not, would not, leave his creation in such a sorry state – remember that God loves all of this stuff. He loved it into being, and lovingly sustains it in being. So God devised a plan to restore man, and all of creation with him. God would restore man, and restore his share in the divine life, by uniting himself to man, by becoming man.

This brings us to the heart of the matter for our celebration of Christmas: the Incarnation. God did not merely stoop down and lift us up out of our morass of sin and death. He chose to become one of us, and bear our burden of sin and death. The Incarnation is God’s ultimate act of compassion; saving his creation by suffering with it.

The angel Gabriel told Mary that the child to be born of her would be “Emmanuel,” that is, “God-is-with-us.” But the reality is even more profound, for the Christ child is in fact “God-is-one-of-us.” The infant of Bethlehem is God, come among us in the same stuff of which we are made. The en-fleshment of God is the linchpin of God’s saving act. That is what led Tertullian, in the early third century, to proclaim “caro cardo salutis,” that is, “the flesh is the hinge of salvation.”

The Church, from the apostles onward, has insisted upon the fleshiness of Christ, of the literal reality of the incarnation. She insisted upon it against the Docetists, who taught that Christ was only a sort of apparition, an illusion of humanity. She insisted upon it against the Apollinarians, who held that Jesus had a human body but not a human mind. And she will insist upon it against whatever clever theory someone may come up with today, such as Jesus as a space alien. No, Jesus is truly God become one of us, God enfleshed, so that through the flesh divinity might redeem all of materiality.

This insistence of the Church is underscored in the liturgy. Every Sunday, in the creed we are invited to bow at the words “…and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” And in our great celebrations of the Incarnation, the Annunciation (March 25) and Christmas, we are invited to pause at these words, to genuflect, and reflect for a moment on the great condescension of God to take on our flesh and become one of us.

St. John tells us in his gospel that “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” St. Paul tells us that Christ is “a man like us, in all things but sin.” Today in the words of the Catechism, we celebrate the saving work of God who is “creator of the flesh; the Word made flesh in order to redeem the flesh.” God so loved his creation that he became part of it, to restore to life the stuff which he made.

Editor’s note: The image above titled “Adoration of the Shepherds” was painted by Rubens in 1608.

Fr. Robert Johansen

By

Fr. Robert Johansen is a priest of the diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan. He holds degrees in Classics and Patristics, and also has a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Liturgical Institute of the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, where he is currently a candidate for the Doctor of Sacred Theology. He has presented a number of papers on musical and liturgical subjects at academic conferences, and published articles on the same topics in several academic and popular journals.

  • Vinny

    Happy Holy Days!

  • TERRY

    Today we celebrate the unthinkable.

  • douglas kraeger

    I believe one other aspect of this unfathomable mystery is that Jesus was the perfect incarnation, embodiment of the Fourth Commandment as He related to Joseph and Mary and thereby perfectly revealed one part of God’s eternal, changeless, always in the present tense, Divine Will and therefore we can know with an absolute certitude of Faith that that is still God’s eternal, changeless Divine Will. Think what this means in it’s application. We Catholics pray to God through Mary and we try to honor Her as our mother. Jesus does it perfectly because all times are present to God in their immediacy (CCC 600). But, two thousand years ago, both Jesus and Mary perfectly honored Joseph as the head of the family and both offered their prayers to God through Joseph. Joseph, praying as the head of the family with supreme humility, resolutely united His prayer with the prayer of Jesus, whom he believed was the Son of God and therefore of the same exact, infinite nature as God the Father. Jesus would then be praying through and with Joseph the one, single, eternal, infinite, always in the present tense prayer that Jesus offered as He suffered and died for all sinners on the cross in union with the prayer of Mary at the foot of the Cross. The CCC at 2741 says, “Jesus also prays for us – in our place and on our behalf. All our petitions were gathered up, once for all, in his cry on the Cross and, in his Resurrection, heard by the Father. This is why he never ceases to intercede for us with the Father.32 If our prayer is resolutely united with that of Jesus, in trust and boldness as children, we obtain all that we ask in his name, even more than any particular thing: the Holy Spirit himself, who contains all gifts”. When we resolutely unite our prayer with the prayer of Jesus, we ask Him to pray His prayer for us and everyone else, all sinners, this present time request is seen by God in the present with all the prayers of everyone, including Joseph and Mary, and we can consciously join with Jesus as He eternally hears all their prayers in the present tense and is subject to their prayers. Does this not seem unfathomable, yet, unassailable? Is this a possible explanation of why Mary at Fatima, on Aug. 19 and Sept 13, 1917 promised that Joseph and the Child Jesus would come on Oct. 13, 1917 to bring peace to the world? That God so honors St. Joseph with such obedience? Any objections?

MENU