Last week we celebrated the Incarnation, the moment when the “Word Became Flesh.” Through our rituals, prayers and festivals, our sharing of gifts, and enjoying family, friends, and food we honor the joyous occasion. I remember the anticipation I felt as a child waking up with my brothers on Christmas morning and waiting for my parents to wake so we could open our presents. My wife is Italian every Christmas Eve we would celebrate with a dinner of seven fishes.
We would cook all day and in the evening have 25-30 folks over to feast. For many, the celebration of the Incarnation could and should be the most joyous time of the year. The incarnation changed everything. Even in our Gospel reading in the story of the Magi traveling to see the baby, we hear about the joy they experienced when first encountering the baby Jesus. It says: “They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage.”
During this time of joy and celebration do we stop and ask why? Why did the incarnation happen? As a child I was taught that Jesus came to save us from our sins. Most of this theology this comes from the 11th century bishop and theologian, St Anselm. In his book Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became a Man), Anselm argued that the crucifixion of Jesus was necessary to atone for man’s fall or original sin. He said that it was necessary for the atonement to take place in order to satisfy the justice of God. This argument would suggest that the incarnation happened only so that Jesus could be crucified so as to pay our debt. As Anselm puts it: “Divine justice demands restitution for sin but human beings are incapable of providing it, as all the actions of men are already obligated to the furtherance of God’s glory.” This is sometimes referred to as the ‘satisfaction theory of atonement.’ A theory that Jesus suffered and died on the cross as a substitute for human sin satisfying God’s justifiable wrath against humankind’s transgression.
A few hundred years later, St.Bonaventure argued that Jesus’ arrival can’t be limited to his role in saving creation from sin because God’s decision to become incarnate precedes creation itself. Another Franciscan theologian, Blessed John Duns Scotus said, “The Incarnation of the Son of God is the very reason for the whole Creation. To think that God would have given up such a task had Adam not sinned would be quite unreasonable! I say, therefore, that the fall was not the cause of Christ’s predestination and that if no one had fallen, neither the angel nor man in this hypothesis Christ would still have been predestined in the same way.”
During this time we often hear about the true meaning of Christmas. Religious leaders will talk about how we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. Maybe we should take some time and reflect on what truly is the Incarnation. What changed the moment the “Word became Flesh?”
Peace and All Good.
FAN Executive Director
Reminded by the gifts the magi brought to the infant Jesus, this week, consider what type of gift you could give without expectation of return.
In the new year, may Christians and all people of goodwill be moved by the nativity narrative to reflect on how we are responding to vulnerable people. We pray…
For all elected officials, may they be open to work collaboratively across political divides for the common good. We pray…
Collect Prayer (from Mass During the Day)
Oh God, who on this day
revealed your Only Begotten Son to the nations,
by the guidance of a star,
grant in your mercy
that we, who know you already by faith,
may be brought to behold the beauty of your sublime glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.