If God entered our world as a baby in Bethlehem, then God must have made our world for the purpose of becoming a baby in Bethlehem. And thus it demands that we recognise that humanity is not a self-defining, self-advancing, self-worshipping species; or at least, we are not designed to be, and the attempt is doomed to failure. For we were made by God so that God could come to live with us. Christ came down to earth from his heavenly throne in order to bring us back up with him. To make us truly human by turning us humans back to our creator.
The incarnation, celebrated by Christians at Christmas, was described by CS Lewis as not only the central thing about Christianity, but, if true, “the central event in the history of the Earth — the very thing that the whole story has been about”. It is perhaps for this reason that one hears so little about it, even at Christmas. It is far easier to talk platitudes about a “season of goodwill” than think about something which, if it is worth talking about at all, must redefine our entire understanding of reality.
But our moment in history, as we end 2021, demands that we must think about it. Many of the social malaises currently afflicting us arise from abandoning the Christianity which provided the structural timbers of Western culture, central to which is the Incarnation. If the timbers of the house are allowed to rot, it is only a matter of time before the roof falls in.
Let’s start with what this “central event in the history of the Earth” is. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”, says the Apostle John. God became man. The creator became part of his creation. In-carn-ation means “becoming flesh” (it’s the same root as “carn-ivore”, a creature that eats flesh); the infinite, eternal God the Son became blood, brain, muscle and bone. He became what he was not without ceasing to be what he eternally was. And so Mary’s Son is simultaneously the infinite, creator God, higher and greater than us in ways we simply cannot conceive, and normal, finite man, like us in every way — except without sin.
Now if this is new to you, you will find it almost unbelievably strange. It is a mystery which the human mind cannot fathom. And yet, strange as it is, it is this teaching which (along with Jesus’ death and resurrection) has given birth to some of the most precious and revolutionary ideas which have been foundational for Western society; and which, as Christian influence wanes, we are now seeing crumble.
The first of these ideas is that it gives huge value to our bodies. Most people in the Greek-influenced ancient world thought of the body as a mere container or, worse, an unfortunate prison for the soul. But if God the Son has deliberately taken to himself a human soul and body, then the very opposite must be true. Christ’s body is now as integral to his existence as his deity. And as we start 2022, technology seems to be more and more alienating us again from our bodies. The “metaverse”, whatever it is, promises almost total liberation from actual physical existence. Countless schoolchildren are being constantly told that their body is alien to, and perhaps the enemy of, who they really are. So the value of our bodies, and their essential importance to our being, is a message that is desperately needed.