The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 27)
“And the Word Became Flesh”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made.... And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:1-3, 14).
We cannot fully explain the Christmas mystery. But we can at least profess it knowingly; we can know what it is that the Faith professes, even as our minds are forever startled at what we are professing. Here is a brief, blunt statement of the identity of the baby in the manger.
“In the beginning . . . .” St. John begins his gospel with the first words of the Book of Genesis, because God's original creating Word (“And God said, 'let there be light' and there was light.”) has now entered into our world to create anew, to redeem the creation. As St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
“The Word was with God and the Word was God . . . .” This is the Trinitarian background to the Christmas mystery. God's Word is not something apart from God. God's Word is God's Self. Even with human beings, to “give your word” is to give yourself. God's Word is God's Son – one like the Father, begotten of the Father from all eternity. That is, the Word, God's Son, is co-eternal with the Father. He is forever being begotten by the Father. God did not suddenly beget a Son in the womb of Mary. Rather, the eternal only begotten Son came to us in time and space through Mary.
“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us . . . .” Incarnation: in word's like “carnal” and “carnivore” we recognize the startling earthiness of this claim. In the Bible, “flesh” means the human being seen in his utter vulnerability and need, over against the immortal beings of the angels. By “flesh” St. John means the human condition. The eternal Word of God, without ceasing to be the eternal Word/Son of God, took to himself our human condition.
Two Natures, One Person. That's the theological phrase the Church gives us to chew on. Jesus was, at one and the same time, fully God and fully human: not part God and part man, not a divine mind in a human body, not God sometimes and man sometimes. Not Superman but God-man. His divinity never spoke or acted apart from his humanity; his humanity never spoke or acted apart from his divinity. His humanity is at the perfect disposal of his divinity, and vice versa. He is truly God living a truly human life; his humanity is the revealing of his divinity. Which is why he can enable you to live your truly human life in a Godly manner. He has shown us that our humanity is capable of eternal fellowship with God.
The Gift Never Taken Back. The Incarnation is not undone by the resurrection and ascension of Christ. The Eternal Word has taken human form for all eternity. In heaven, the eternally begotten Son answers to the name Jesus. His human presence will be our joy in heaven.
William Dix's gorgeous Christmas carol asks: “What Child is this who, laid to rest on Mary's lap, is sleeping?” We will never, in this life or the next, entirely comprehend the startling answer to the question. Nevertheless, meditating upon it, entering by prayer more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation, our hearts and minds can bathe in the light of the mystery. And we can, by faith, follow the light where it leads.
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