A very Merry Christmas to all of us celebrating the feast of our Lord’s Incarnation today!
How amazing is it that we have a God who wants us, loves us, and is willing to come out of His majesty to literally be one of us? He Who is outside of time accepted to be in it, He without a body took on Flesh! What was the point of that? Really, why did Love become man?
The Logos became flesh, and dwelt among us…
Saint Paul tells us that in the Lord’s incarnation, he “humbled Himself” and “took the form of a servant”; that he left His seat of glory to dwell among men in a physical, tangible and real way. He also tells us that He did this even to the point of death.
When Saint Athanasius talks about the Lord’s becoming man, he uses the analogy of a King dwelling among His people. If we take this analogy a little further, we can understand it more thoroughly. Imagine if a King wants to really live among and understand his people. If he goes in with his royal clothing and his royal horse and the royal ring on his hand…the chance of him having a real experience in that manner is non-existent. So long as he appears as king he will be treated as one.
In order for the king to really “get” his people and live among them as one of them, he needs to disguise himself with a commoner’s cloak. By putting on the clothes of the commoner and casting aside his royal apparel, the people will treat him like one of them, not recognising that he is the king. He’ll have to pay for his food, find himself lodging, if he breaks the law he’ll be subject to the law, he has to deal with the rest of society as one of them.
While wearing these clothes, though, he hasn’t ceased to be king. That is, he’s not somehow not the king just because he took on the clothes of a commoner. He could, if he wishes, cast off that cloak and everyone would see him for who he really is. The importance of recognising this, is that it emphasises the completely voluntary nature of the king’s action. Taking on the role of the commoner is one of love and humility, because he is doing it for the people, it does nothing for Himself. It’s selfless, it’s love.
In becoming man, our Lord condescended, humbled Himself, purely out of Love, to exalt us. Why, though, did He do this? Saint Athanasius says that trying to number the things that happened as a result of our Lord becoming man is as useless as trying to count the waves of the sea. So, let’s look at just three reasons:
First, He wanted to restore us. We were made in His image and likeness, and we had disfigured it with sin. Just like repeated injury to our bodies causes disfiguration and scarring, so does sin to our spirits. Our spirits are what are made in that image and likeness of Him. But when we disfigured ourselves and lost the image, we needed someone who could restore it back to what it’s supposed to look like. The fathers tell us it’s like a painting that was done with a model in front of it. If the painting gets ruined, you need the model to sit for another painting, you can’t just try and recreate it from memory. Our Lord is the very image and likeness in Whom we were created, and so only He could restore us to it.
Second, we had lost the knowledge of our God. Man got too focused on the physical world and obsessed with self-love and self-gratification, that he had totally forgotten the point of his existence, totally forgotten his sonship to God, and totally even forgotten about the relationship with God. We do this a lot until today. To understand it better, think about how people relate to their own families. As children, we know nothing more than family for the most part. Our parents and our siblings are our world, and we care about one another and how we relate. Many people as they get older, forget about their roles within their family. We forget that we are sons, daughters and parents. Some of us when we get the opportunity, take off and have a very distant relationship with our family and become more real to everyone but them. Our Lord wanted to restore our relationship by coming to us and reminding us of our Heavenly Father and our sonship. He wanted to restore our familial relations.
Third, He wanted us to see our potential and give us hope. St. Dioscorus said, “He was with us, like us, and for us!” God took on flesh to show us what it means to really be human. He showed us that it’s possible to be a holy human, to recover our real identity. He showed us that all is not lost. Sometimes when things are going badly, we feel that there’s no point anymore. If you know you’re going to fail the year in college, you might decide that it’s not worth studying for any of the rest of the classes. If you realise that you’re not going to get into the program of your dreams, you might give up on education altogether. As humans, when we feel that being holy is too hard, we have the image of a God who became man and showed us the way of holiness. He showed us that we are able in Him to be perfect, and that in both the struggle and the goal, we can find peace, joy, happiness…love.
God embraced humanity, and as we sing, He took what is ours, and gave us what is His! He visited us in our difficulty and elevated us. God humbled Himself, and without ceasing to be God, came and became the Son of Man. We praise and glorify Him who was born in Bethlehem, and exceedingly exalt Him!
And, in a word, the achievements of the Saviour, resulting from his becoming man are of such kind and number, that if one should wish to enumerate them, he may be compared to men who gaze at the expanse of the sea and wish to count its waves. For as one cannot take in the whole of the waves with his eyes, for those which are coming on baffle the sense of him that attempts it; so for him that would take in all the achievements of Christ in the body, it is impossible to take in the whole, even by reckoning them up, as those which go beyond his thought are more than those he thinks he has taken in.
St. Athanasius the Apostolic