Today, we stand on the other side of Christ’s first coming and long for his ultimate return. As we live in this time between Christ’s first advent and his second, the interadventum, we live in faith that although he is bodily absent from us, the ascended Emmanuel has not abandoned us.
In John‘s prologue we are given a transcendent perspective on the identity and mission of Jesus Christ. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Unlike the other Gospels that begin the story of Christ with his genealogy and virginal conception (Matthew and Luke) or his public ministry (Mark), John guides us behind and above these events and history itself to the eternal ground of Jesus’s identity: The Son of Mary is the eternal Son of God.
This is the essential mystery of Christmas—that the babe of Bethlehem is Emmanuel, God with us. But to truly be God with us; he must remain God without us. In the Incarnation, the Divine Son assumes a human nature, taking on a unique relation to his creation, without undergoing change to his eternal relations with the Father and the Holy Spirit. One in substance with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit—Blessed Trinity, and one in substance with us—Emmanuel. In the following article, I will seek to show from Scripture and Church History that in becoming everything that we are, excluding sin, Christ remained everything that he was, including omnipresent. Then, in the spirit of Christmas, I will offer a word of comfort and joy as we reflect on this truth.
If Jesus Christ, in coming into our human nature, is the true way to the Father and the full revelation of God, he must remain one with the Father in divinity. John combines both Jesus’s coming and his unique relationship with the Father in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” To grasp what John means here by the glory of Christ we must not look only to the manger but to the eternal foundation of Christ’s identity as the only-begotten Son. For Christ to be God in human flesh he must also be God beyond human flesh.
Learning from Church History
This recognition that Christ was wholly present in his human nature and yet simultaneously beyond (extra) that nature as the eternal Word of the Father, who is transcendent and everywhere present, is often named the extra Calvinisticum. However, despite the Genevan Reformer’s name given to this idea (which is actually better called the extra Carnem [beyond the flesh]), ample support exists in the Church Fathers and across the Christian tradition for this biblical idea. For instance, Athanasius can say:
For [Christ] was not, as might be imagined, circumscribed in the body, nor, while present in the body, was he absent elsewhere; nor, while he moved the body, was the universe left void of his working and providence; but, thing most marvelous, Word as he was, so far from being contained by anything, he rather contained all things himself.
One should not think that God the Son was shrunk down or limited himself by becoming a human being. Rather, he remained who he eternally was with the Father and continued as the upholder of Creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), while also taking to himself human particularity and weakness. This is the mystery the angels celebrate when they cry before the Shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14).