Incarnation: Why Is It Important to Us?
What does the Incarnation mean and why is it important to us?
“Incarnation” literally means “to put into flesh.” In the case of Christ, the term points to the differences among a sacred being who could have been a guest in the created and physical world, one who was united to the physical world, and one who became physical while yet also remaining sacred. Christ is the latter. He is fully human and fully divine.
Why did God speak his love for us so completely that his talk to the Earth became the enfleshment of the Second Person of the Trinity?
The main reason is that God’s self-communication to us in the natural world (within our minds and consciences) and in divine revelation to the Jewish people (in writings known as the Bible) had not brought humans to justice, compassion and holiness. The historical context of Jesus in first century Palestinian life was the perfect time, place and culture in which the precursors to exceptional human insight and conversion were in place. The fact of sin had by then been explored. The need for salvation was painfully obvious.
Jesus was not a second rate emanation from God. He also was not just a new face or action of a non-Trinitarian God. He is “begotten not made.” He is “one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.” He is the Earthly reality of the pre-existent second person of the eternal Trinity. So, because of these facts, Jesus is a reality that confronted both the Greek and the Jewish worlds of his day: the worlds of multiple and separate deities and the world of one, single sacred reality.
As one of the three persons of the Trinity Jesus shared the divine essence and inter-communication, but in the mystery of the Incarnation his full humanity caused his awareness of this to lie in the background of his consciousness. He learned, planned, acted, and suffered just as we do. He was a fully human person who thought, prayed and regretted as we do. He assumed all the joys and indignities of this life. He was like us “in all things but sin.” He took it all on and therefore redeemed it all. He let evil have the final word in the Earthly sense and then surrendered to the Father who made it good.
What Jesus did was not just good in his regard but rather, because he was fully human and divine, he transformed humanness. He brought humanity into a completely new state and relationship with the Trinity. With God’s grace we are both redeemed and able to know it.
We are called to be like God (Genesis 1). We are called to rejoice in the Incarnation and give profound thanks because we can know and love God and grow in closeness to him.
For more on this topic, read:
“Incarnation” from the Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise Sacramundi Mundi.
A Christological Catechism: New Testament Answers, by Joseph A. Fitzmyer, SJ
Elizabeth A. Johnson’s Consider Jesus is also excellent.
Image: Christ the Savior (Pantocrator), 6th century image from St. Catherine’s Monastery, Mt Sinai