Advent and the Incarnation

Both Advent and Lent are preparatory seasons in the church year, and in being such they give us a chance to reflect on the great theological mysteries that they lead into.  With Advent this theological mystery is the incarnation and that mystery is at the heart of Christianity.

In the Nicene Creed we confess that Jesus, “was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man” But what does that mean?  Even at first glance it is not something easy to understand.  Although we may be tempted to ask how God took on human flesh from Mary and become a man, I think as a general rule the more interesting questions are not how God did something, but why God did it and what the implications of that divine action might be.

There is not a single reason why God became human.  God did so to allow reconciliation with us, to show us the love God has for us, to display for us what living in holiness is, and to allow humanity to join in the divine nature.  Each of these reasons for the incarnation has had volumes written on it, trying to work out the implications of such an understanding.  Instead of trying to do justice to each of them here I want only to draw your attention to the last of them: God became human so that humanity may join in the divine nature.

While in modern Protestant though the idea of joining with God may be foreign, it has a long history in the church. The classic statement on it is from St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation: “He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God.”  And while the doctrine it has grown into, deification, is most prominent in Eastern Orthodoxy, thought along the same lines has been part of western mysticism as well.  Consider St. John of the Cross’ oft-repeated phrase, “divine union” or Julian of Norwich’s “one-ing”.  There is a deep current within Christianity that sees the end of humanity as somehow a joining with God that can be only spoken about in the most mystical of terms.

The source of this current is the incarnation.  The fact that God could join Godself to human nature excites the imagination of the eastern ascetic and the western mystic.  For people who dedicate their life to trying to always move closer to God, the idea that God has touched our human nature, has taken it upon Himself and continues to wear it, opens up possibilities for what that means for all humans. No longer is there a chasm between God’s nature and ours, but they have been joined together in Christ.  A way has been opened for humanity, in Christ, by God’s grace, to move into the divine nature and be closer to God then we can possibly imagine.

So when we ponder the theological mystery of the incarnation during advent this year spend time reflecting on 2 Peter 1:4, and continue to hold out hope that such a thing is possible because of the incarnation.

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