The Incarnation in the Life of the Church

The liturgical cycle in the life of the church typically focuses its attention on Holy Week. The death and resurrection are the centerpiece of salvation history and are essential for our forgiveness and life. Without these events, we are lost in our trespasses and sins.

In the early church, however, the Incarnation of Christ was as big a topic as His death and resurrection. That God could be born in the flesh was something of much debate. Many theologians who followed the Greek philosophy prevalent at the time questioned how this could be possible and often rejected the idea entirely. Thankfully, a number of theologians also spoke up in defense of Scripture’s own description of Jesus as truly being God in the flesh.

Leo the Great, a theologian during this era of heresy and debate, said:

Accordingly let those men cease their complaints who with disloyal murmurs speak against the dispensations of GOD, and babble about the lateness of the LORD’S Nativity as if that, which was fulfilled in the last age of the world, had no bearing upon the times that are past. For the Incarnation of the Word did but contribute to the doing of that which was done: and the mystery of man’s salvation was never in the remotest age at a standstill. What the apostles foretold, that the prophets announced: nor was that fulfilled too late which has always been believed. But the Wisdom and Goodness of GOD made us more receptive of His call by thus delaying the work which brought salvation: so that what through so many ages had been foretold by many signs, many utterances, and many mysteries, might not be doubtful in these days of the Gospel: and that the Saviour’s nativity, which was to exceed all wonders and all the measure of human knowledge, might engender in us a Faith so much the firmer, as the foretelling of it had been ancient and oft-repeated. And so it was no new counsel, no tardy pity whereby GOD took thought for men: but from the constitution of the world He ordained one and the same Cause of Salvation for all. For the grace of GOD, by which the whole body of the saints is ever justified, was augmented, not begun, when Christ was born: and this mystery of GOD’S great love, wherewith the whole world is now filled, was so effectively presignified that those who believed that promise obtained no less than they, who were the actual recipients.

Leo the Great, “Sermons,” in Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Charles Lett Feltoe, vol. 12a, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1895), 133–134.

While we look ahead to Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, but God has already done something in the Incarnation that has never been seen before. God has joined Himself to human flesh. God now dwells in that personal and special way with His people and suddenly the end is finally in sight. Now, as Leo says, our faith is not in some distant and far off god who cares little for us, but a God who cares enough to be willing to be born into the world. Our faith now has a personal focus as the world sees the face of its Savior.

This changes the context of our worship. Throughout the rest of the liturgical year we celebrate a world where God has come to dwell with us and this marks everything the liturgy. Christ has come to us to establish a personal relationship with His people and everything we do from that point forward is with the awareness that Christ has come.

This is why the Nativity narrative sets the tone for the church and our life. It is the first great turning point in the story of salvation, where God does something that will never be undone and will always be true. We still look forward to Christ’s death and resurrection, but these things only have meaning because Christ was born. And from that point forward and forevermore, Christ will always dwell with His people.

7 thoughts on “The Incarnation in the Life of the Church”

  1. You write ” The death and resurrection are the centerpiece of salvation history and are essential for our forgiveness and life.”
    Either you believe not that God is eternal (and as such has no birth and no death) or you follow an imposter who told a lot of lies, like that no man can see God and live, whilst Jesus was seen by many, who did not fall to death.
    By presenting that God would have come down to earth to fake his birth and death, you also make of God a cruel being, because it took so many centuries before he played his act and after he would so-called have saved mankind he let them and still lets us, suffer (for so many centuries after he would have saved man).

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    1. You are arguing that there are only two options. Either A. God must not be eternal, or B. Jesus lied. I reject your assertion, for neither of those is the case. God is indeed eternal. He has existed before all things and will continue to exist forever. Jesus, in His divinity, has existed forever. His human birth is by no means the beginning of His existence. It is merely the beginning of His human life. These are not at all the same thing. Unless you want to limit God and follow the logic of the Greek philosophers, then you must at least admit God is capable of doing anything He wishes, including become a human being and live on earth. With His divinity cloaked under His humanity, sinners are not in danger of transgressing God’s holiness with their sin. Quite the opposite. Whereas any human who comes into contact with a leper or a dead body becomes unclean, Jesus has no such trouble. He takes unclean things and makes them clean.

      I’m not sure how you see God as being cruel if He comes to earth. You provide no basis for that point other than that it took a long time. How does this change if Jesus is just a man? Is salvation not found in Jesus? The timing of the plan of salvation doesn’t change either way. If God is cruel because He waits for the death and resurrection of Jesus, then He is cruel either way. This still misses the entire discussion of the book of Job, particularly in how Job has no basis to be accusing God of any injustice or cruelty because he himself is a sinner and that God is working for his good in spite of the evils of the day. You are saying God would have saved us sooner. Where do you find that in Scripture? I would not venture into the hidden mind of God in such a way. That is a dangerous place.

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      1. We are not saying “God would have saved us sooner. Where do you find that in Scripture?” and as such we, not saying this, are also not to say that such thing can not be found somewhere in the Bible.

        You seem to forget that it was man who went against God and that it was up to man to prove he could do the Will of God. That is what Jesus did. And that it took such time before Jesus was born was because God cave mankind enough time to change their sinful ways. God also knowing everything beforehand first of all had promised that out of a woman would come the saviour. That promise was already made in the Garden of Eden. God also said it would be a man (a son of man) coming from the tribe of David. (God is not at all a man out of the tribe of David and existed already long before David, whilst Jesus came to exist only many centuries after king David.)

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      2. That is the argument you presented in your previous comment:
        “By presenting that God would have come down to earth to fake his birth and death, you also make of God a cruel being, because it took so many centuries before he played his act and after he would so-called have saved mankind he let them and still lets us, suffer (for so many centuries after he would have saved man).”

        You said that Jesus being God makes God cruel. On what authority do you get to make that assertion? Job tried to claim God was being unjust and he was rebuked for that statement as well.

        Where do you get that it is possible for man to do the will of God? Romans 3:10 – “None is righteous, no, not one.” Romans 3:23 – “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s the point. Every single person born into this world is a sinner and worthy of condemnation. The only way to avoid the sin that corrupts every aspect of this world is to come from outside it, and the only one who can do that is God. I reference John 1 again, where he says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.” If Jesus only came into existence as the man who descended from David, how is He said to exist before the creation of the world?

        Jesus Himself argues for His pre-existence in Matthew 22:41-46, where He directly addresses His title as the Son of David.

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      3. The apostle did not say God created a being that only could sin. He said that after the sin of the first human beings no one has succeeded to be without sin. All men except Christ Jesus have sinned? He alone was the son of man who managed to put his own will aside to do the will of his heavenly Father.
        As you say ” Every single person born into this world is a sinner and worthy of condemnation. ” we are not doubting that. But it is wrong to think man would not be capable to keep to God’s commandments. When this would be so than you are implicating that God has given mankind commandments He knew no man would be able to keep them. Again such a thought would make of God a very cruel being. Because then He would also give those people a punishment for something they could not avoid (because God made them so)!

        The reference of the writing of John makes it clear that you not see the comparrison the evangelist is making and wanted to make a reference to the first book of the Torah where is described how God created the world. The apostles believes now that Jesus is that man spoken about in the Garden of Eden and as such recognised that That Word spoken in the garden has now come to life in the man born in the city of David, Bethlehem. John considers that Nazarene man of whom he was the youngest pupil as the promised one, the sayings of God coming into being by the birth of Jesus. Not only that, for John also believes Jesus is now the new (or 2nd) Adam, the beginning of the New World.

        That Word or saying is from God and is God. Christ was not literally the Word. He was the word “made flesh”. (Jo 1:14). The Greek word “logos” translated “Word” expresses the divine intention, mind, or purpose.1 Young defines “logos” as “a word, speech, matter, reason.”2 In the a.v. “logos” is translated by more than 20 different English words and is used for utterances of men (e.g., Jo 17:20) as well as those of God (Jo 5:38).

        You write “Jesus Himself argues for His pre-existence in Matthew 22:41-46, where He directly addresses His title as the Son of David. Though in those verses he does not claim to have a pre-existence.

        “41 ¶ Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, What think ye of the Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, [The son] of David. 43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, 44 The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I put thine enemies underneath thy feet? 45 If David then calleth him Lord, how is he his son? 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.” (Mt 22:41-46 ASV)

        Jesus points to the fact that he is the one spoken of by the previous prophets. Him saying he is the son of David is also not saying he was already their by David and the Jews also did not understand that way, like they still not do when somebody says “he is the son of so and so”. It is indicating to belong to a tribe. In this case Jesus belongs to the tribe of David. The Bible tells us also he is the son of Adam and the son of Abraham as well as the son of Levi.

        The apostle looks at Jesus as the creator of the new world, namely without Jesus there is no possibility of that new world of which we can become part too.

        3. “All things were made by him”-John is apparently alluding to the creation recorded in Genesis. God spoke, and it was done (e.g. “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” (Ge 1:3). Notice another allusion- Jo 1:7,8). But this creation was not accompanied by Christ, but by the “logos” of God. This is indicated by several passages:

        a. “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” “For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” (Ps 33:6,9). See also Ps 107:20; 147:15,18,19; Isa 55:11).

        b. ”  …  by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water  …  But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” (2Pe 3:5, 7).

        c. See also (Heb 11:3) cf. (Jer 10:12, 13).5

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      4. I didn’t suggest St. Paul said God created a being that could only sin. St. Paul simply says everyone has sinned. 1 John 1 says this as well, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” That makes you a sinner, me a sinner, everyone a sinner. If Jesus is just a man, how is He able to avoid these statements that Paul and John are applying to everyone?

        “But it is wrong to think man would not be capable to keep to God’s commandments. When this would be so than you are implicating that God has given mankind commandments He knew no man would be able to keep them.” Where is that written? That’s not in the Bible. Is there anywhere in the Bible God says “I won’t make a commandment you can’t keep?” You’re placing a limit on what God can do. The Bible makes no such claim, for God is within His rights and authority to make any kind of commandment He wishes, even if we can never keep it. However, Adam and Eve could keep all of the commandments perfectly, even with the fuller explanation Jesus gives for them in His Sermon on the Mount. Ever since then, “No one is righteous, no, not one.”

        Your statement regarding John 1 doesn’t quite work. I’m aware of the Greek (λόγος) and its various usages. You say, “That Word or saying is from God and is God.” However, that doesn’t follow. Is “The Word” a saying or is it God? John says the Logos was there at the beginning with God, a separate and distinct entity, yet John also calls the Logos God. How can the Logos be both? John is absolutely making a comparison to Genesis 1-2. His wording is intentional, I agree. This is why John is reflecting on the use of the plural in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'” Do angels, plants, or animals have the power to create life? Is God creating mankind in the image of something other than Himself? Who has the power to join God in the creation of man except God?

        Jesus is making a claim to His pre-existence in Matthew 22. David is already calling Him Lord before His coming as the Son of David. Matthew even says no one argues Him on this point. Jesus is pointing out that He is called “the Son of David,” which could only have come after David, yet David is already calling Him “Lord” in the present and that the two Lords David refers to in the Psalm are having a conversation with each other in the present.

        I neglected the even more straightforward passage of John 8:48-59, where Jesus explicitly states, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” At the very least, Jesus is claiming to have existed prior to Abraham. As I said previously, Jesus makes the same claim in Revelation 22, using the same language as the Father in Revelation 1, referring to Himself, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Jesus is setting Himself at the same level as the Father.

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      5. You seem to forget that even an angel came to the young girl who was going to be with child, that she would carry the son of God.
        “30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. 31 And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God.” (Lu 1:30-35 ASV)

        “21 ¶ Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that, Jesus also having been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form, as a dove, upon him, and a voice came out of heaven, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. 23 And Jesus himself, when he began [to teach], was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the [son] of Heli,” (Lu 3:21-23 ASV)

        Why do you not accept those words of God “You are my beloved son”?

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