The Incarnation Today
From the early days of the controversy, the church has consistently affirmed that in the Incarnation, Christ took up into himself human nature in such a way that it became intimately united with his Divine nature. According to his Divine nature, he remains begotten of the Father from all-time, before all time, the eternally begotten Son. According to his human nature, he is like us in everything except that he is without sin and was born of a virgin. The late theologian Thomas C. Oden noted that in the Incarnation, “God has elected to use an extraordinary form of body language to communicate to humanity.” By assuming the human form, the Son condescends to take up its nature and unite it with his divinity “so that Christ subsists forever as the God-man, in two natures.” It is our nature that is elevated, rather than his that is diminished. Jesus was indeed very human – more human than all of us. God himself showed us how to be human.
In Christ, we have an “empathetic divine Physician [that] is willing to come into the toxic sphere of the epidemic,” writes Oden, “to share personally the diseased human condition.” Through his own volition, he entered our experience so that he could be our great high priest who sympathizes with us in our weaknesses and through whose perfection and sacrifice we can once again approach God with confidence. Only God can effect such a mediation, and only one who has shared in our humanity can represent us.
Oden wrote that with respect to the union of divine and human in Christ, “reverence forbids the pretense that human knowledge is competent to make a minute or exhaustive scrutiny of the physical or empirical dimensions of this mystery.” The limits of language are quickly discovered as we seek to express this divine paradox with words. Still, we must resist the distortions like those of Arius that would imply that Christ’s divine nature was diminished in any way. Our task is to communicate the mystery of the hypostatic union for our age.
In his beautiful essay, “The Grand Miracle,” C.S. Lewis follows Athanasius in articulating the truth of the Incarnation for our time. He likened Christ’s descent from the heavenlies to the following:
One has a picture of someone going right down and dredging the sea bottom. One has a picture of a strong man trying to lift a very big, complicated burden. He stoops down and gets himself right under it so that he himself disappears; and then he straightens his back and moves off with the whole thing swaying on his shoulders.
Or else one has the picture of a diver, stripping off garment after garment, making himself naked, then flashing for a moment in the air, and then down through the green, and warm, and sunlit water into the pitch-black, cold, freezing water, down into the mud and slime, then up again, his lungs almost bursting, back again to the green and warm and sunlit water, and then at last out into the sunshine, holding in his hand the dripping thing he went down to get. This thing is human nature; but, associated with it, all Nature, the new universe.
Nowhere are Christianity’s beliefs more important than those surrounding the second person of the Trinity in all of his divine fullness, becoming a man. The heart of our faith could be said to lie within Christ’s. Chesterton would liken this heart to a seed. And nowhere are the dogmas more mysterious, and thus subject to heresy, than this infinitesimally small though profoundly large point. Jesus is at once our friend and a mystery, as close as one who would long to gather us in his arms like chicks, and yet as distant as one who could create galaxies. The hypostatic union brings together these extremes in Christ: the human and the divine. Our creeds ring with joy that such a meeting enabled him to effect the impossible: the reconciliation between us and God. “Bethlehem,” wrote Chesterton, “is emphatically a place where extremes meet.”
Out of all the heresies that threatened the early church, Arianism was perhaps the most pernicious in its offer of a reasonableness in the face of the scandal of the Incarnation. It is difficult for moderns to comprehend the revolutionary chords that the Gospel sent racing through the ancient world. Hart writes that “Christ’s supposed descent from the ‘form of God’ into the ‘form of a slave’ is not so much a paradox as a perfect confirmation of the indwelling of the divine image in each soul.” The idea of God becoming a man, indeed a lowly and poor Jewish carpenter, was a scandal, and just as the pagan soul finally felt its worth, the pagan mind struggled to comprehend the mystery. Whatever the outcome, the landscape of human self-awareness had been changed forever. According to Hart, here “we see something beginning to emerge from darkness into full visibility, arguably for the first time in our history: the human person as such, invested with an intrinsic and inviolable dignity, and possessed of an infinite value.” The Incarnation signaled the intrinsic worth of every human being, regardless of station, and this was nothing short of “a meteor” that lit up the skies of antiquity, a “slave revolt ‘from above’” that would forever change how man viewed himself and his neighbor.
Most importantly, a more profound picture of the cosmos began to arise out of the former despairing ethos of antiquity, namely that “…a God who is truly transcendent could never be confined merely to the top of the hierarchy of beings.” It was mankind who had moved away in sin. Yet, God chose to share in our humanity, “so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
Finally, what better way to prove the goodness of creation to the pagan world than for God to enter it? If God declared the world good at creation, He sealed it at the Incarnation. His entrance demonstrated once and for all that this world is good and beautiful and worthy by dressing its causal chains with the hope of restoration. It is through Eternity entering upon this finite stage, God in flesh and in spirit, that we are able to call Him “Abba”, Father. None other than God Himself can effect such an adoption.
The Arian heresy was to arise many times in the following centuries, each time inspiring a new generation of believers to reaffirm for their times the truth of Christ’s divinity. In each instance, this grand miracle, in all its radiant glory, was brought again into laser focus. Lewis wrote that “a man ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says, ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’” Indeed, the events set in motion at our Lord’s Incarnation were the first fruits of a new summer still to come. Each time we contemplate the profundity of Eternity entering time, of the Changeless being united with the changeable, we get a small taste of the blessings in store for those who have not seen and yet have still believed.
 Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins, 1987), 268.
 Oden, 269.
 Ibid., 270.
 Hebrews 4, NIV.
 Oden, 269.
 C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle,” The Timeless Writings of C.S. Lewis, (New York: Inspirational Press), 355.
 Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 147.
 Hart, 174.
 Ibid., 167.
 Ibid., 171.
 Ibid., 207.
 Hebrews 2:14, NIV.
 C.S. Lewis, 359.
 John 20:29, NIV.