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Friday, December 26, 2014

Et incarnatus est

The Word became flesh. I wonder, Is that a reversible process? Once God committed self to humanity so completely, is it possible to become God again?

Christmas season always makes me think thoughts like that. Who created whom? It’s not a startlingly original thought that it was humanity that created God, and not the other way around, but I have to think it’s fairly startling to think that if we created this God, the God who did not deem equality with God something to be clutched, but poured himself out, then we have really reached beyond ourselves as a race. We’re all about accumulating, self-preservation, and survival of the fittest; it’s etched into our DNA. And yet, somehow, we have conjured a God who is precisely the opposite of that: kenotic, self-emptying, so utterly other-oriented that we cannot imagine this God except as a community of love, a Trinity. This, to me, is a strong argument for revelation and the truth at the heart of the Scriptures: the God who is revealed in its pages is different than the one we ought to have made, were we to create one in our own image and likeness.

I don’t have much more to say about this. There is a beautiful prayer from the Roman liturgy that is rarely spoken aloud in the Sunday celebration, usually covered by the assembly’s singing. But at the moment when the priest pours a drop of water into the chalice during the preparation rite, he says the words, “By the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” Every time we celebrate the mass! What an awesome thought and daring prayer. And yet, it is doxology - it’s the Church’s faith expressed in its most decisive ritual. God, irreversibly poured into humanity, becomes human so that human people might become God. There’s not another explanation for John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” Eternal life is an attribute of God, not of creation. The Catechism says, undilutedly, in paragraph 460: "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God." (St. Irenaeus) "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God." (St. Athanasius) "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods." (St. Thomas Aquinas).

I guess as long as the “baby Jesus” hoopla of religious Christmas keeps us focused unromantically on the fact that this God became this child who became this man, it’s all to the good. Remembering who Jesus actually became, and what God (of Exodus, creation, and liberation) became human, ought to serve as a corrective to our desire to make the man Jesus back into a God on earth with apocryphal stories of clay birds becoming alive or conquering emperors coming on clouds. Let’s grapple with the reality of the Word taking flesh, becoming one of us. Maybe it takes a God to be willing to set divinity aside, and not lust after its apparent power the way people do. Finally, maybe Christmas ought to  give us the courage to become human. If it’s good enough for God, it ought to be good enough for me.