“Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name ‘Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.'”
That was true beyond what Isaiah could have guessed. The prophecy was fulfilled, not by a child whose name reminds us that God is with us, but by a Child who was God with us. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.
It took us centuries to think that one through. All the Christological debates back and forth for years, the roads being filled with galloping bishops hurrying from one council to another, all the letters written and polemical sermons preached, were just to come to grips with this simple truth.
Because it’s extraordinarily important, and being so important, it was under constant attack by the enemy. The Church was besieged by one idiotic scheme after another: “Well, maybe it worked like this….” Unfailingly, it would turn out that at the heart of the scheme would lie one of two flaws. Either Christ was divine, godish, but not really God, in the sense that the Father is God, or Christ was humanish, human in some respects, but not really man, in the sense that we are man.
What difference would that have made?
The center of the Christian faith, the promise on which we utterly depend, is that ordinary human beings may be partakers of the divine nature; that we, frail broken as we are, can come as we are, and enter into the fellowship of the Trinity itself.
How do we know this is true?
Because God promises it, of course, but also because we’ve actually seen it. Jesus did it perfectly. The Word became flesh. He was a man as we are men, and very God of very God, as the creeds put it.
If Jesus was humanish, but didn’t really have all the traits we do, then whence our confidence that the traits He did not assume could be redeemed? Without that confidence, we have no hope of being redeemed as human beings. The Fall was permanent; humanity is ruined forever, and salvation lies in becoming something less than entirely human.
On the other hand, if Jesus was only godish, divine, touched by the Father but not of the same nature as the Father, then we could hope to be better than we are, certainly, but we can have no confidence of entering into true fellowship, true union, with God. We can be good human beings, maybe even spiritual supermen, but entry into the fellowship of the Godhead is forever barred to us. If even Jesus couldn’t manage it, how could we?
But the Divine Word, true and complete God, became the son of Mary, true and complete man, and in His person bore our every sin and frailty to the cross. In Him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and therefore we may trust that we too can be partakers of the divine nature, and enter into the circle of the perichoretic Triune fellowship, as Jesus prayed that we would:
I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.
The enemy has not stopped attacking our Christology. We’ve weathered the storm of doctrinal defections, but having pure doctrine on paper never saved anyone. It has to be lived, and the tragedy is that we simply fail to rise to the destiny Christ won for us. We live not only as if the Incarnation did not happen; we live as though it could not have happened. We settle for giving in to our flaws: “I’m only human,” we say, as though Jesus had not shown us what true humanity can be. Or we settle for being merely good, moral people, as if Jesus had been merely a moral man rather than very God. But we are neither called to be showcases of the sins of our flesh, nor showcases of the moral accomplishments of our flesh. We are called to be the image of God in the world, the Body of Christ, and members of the Triune dance. We are called to union with God, to know the love of God that passes knowledge, and this is not a thought experiment. It is a real experience, or it is nothing at all.
Today we celebrate the Incarnation, the ultimate demonstration that such an experience is available to us. Merry Christmas to you all.