Belief in the Incarnation is distinctive to the Christian faith. It is a basic tenet in the Creed: Jesus Christ “was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary.”
The Incarnation is a unique and singular event. Its truth transforms the way we view God and ourselves: The Incarnation of Christ is the height of centuries of Divine Revelation…. Divine Revelation, of course, being the revealing, or making known, of God Himself to humanity.
In the Incarnation, God now chooses his divine communication to be made known through the Person of His Son.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) defines the Incarnation as “the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it (CCC 461).”
St Paul taught:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8.)
This holy condescension of God means we can never accuse God of being absent or lofty or unreachable or inaccessible. The Incarnation – the taking on flesh in the Virgin’s womb – is the moment whereby the inexhaustible, inexpressible, invisible, omnipotent, and almighty holy One takes on human visage. The divinity of God shines through a human person now. And God used the humanity of Jesus to save us all.
At the time appointed by God, the only Son of the Father, the eternal Word, that is, the Word and substantial Image of the Father, became incarnate; without losing his divine nature he has assumed human nature.
The Second Vatican Council had this to say about the Incarnation:
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. For Adam, the first man, was a figure of Him Who was to come, namely Christ the Lord. Christ, the final Adam, by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear. It is not surprising, then, that in Him all the aforementioned truths find their root and attain their crown.
He Who is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15) is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. (Gaudium et Spes, 22.)
As God reveals Himself and his love for us via the Incarnation, he reveals much about the humanity to which we belong: we are now enlightened by Christ. Having once been darkened by the sin of Adam, human life is restored and re-dignified to an even greater height than when it was first made in the image and likeness of its Maker.
Humanity now counts the face of God among its own.
Never again may I look at another person, or my own self, with disdain or disrespect. For there is an inherent dignity in all: we too are robed in flesh; now the Son of God, the Savior and Lord, images us.
For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin. (Gaudium et Spes, 22.)
This is why we celebrate Christmas: the Nativity is the realization of the Incarnation.
This is why we kneel with wonder, praying at the manger. The Christ Child gives us insight into the God who truly knows us, loves us, and still chooses to save us. And as we yield to that love, we receive a keener understanding of our own true selves.
The Church has always acknowledged that in the body of Jesus “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see” [Roman Missal, Preface of Christmas I].
The individual characteristics of Christ’s body express the divine person of God’s Son. He has made the features of his human body his own, to the point that they can be venerated when portrayed in a holy image, for the believer who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted.
Come, the Crèche awaits us… let us pray and gaze into his Holy Face.
This article was previously released at CatholicExchange.com as “The Unique and Singular Event of the Incarnation”, and is reprinted and re-titled here with the author’s permission.