Amid the ringing of bells, silver and otherwise, the press of the crowds in stores, and the congenial cheer that seems to come with this time of year, there is a tendency to forget the nature of much of the Incarnation.
The miraculous events in the life of Christ punctuate the mundane character of much of his human existence. This is a truth that sometimes gets lost in the tinsel.
The Full Significance of Christmas
Crèches displayed in public venues highlight the miraculous birth Jesus of Nazareth, but they don’t tell the full story of the significance of this holiday.
The virginal conception of Christ and his birth into poverty is theologically significant. It is, however, a mere prelude to the wondrous works of God through the Incarnation.
St. Athanasius, in his classic text, On the Incarnation, helps to explain the significance of God coming to live within the creation as a perfect human:
[Christ] has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of love and goodness for His Father, for the salvation of men.
Moreover, to help his readers comprehend the nature of the work of salvation, he writes,
The first fact you must grasp in this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both his works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word who made it in the beginning.
Christ created all things, he sustains all things, and he is restoring all things (cf. Col 1:15–17). The eternal work of the Word of God includes both creation and salvation.
More narrowly, Christ’s earthly life is bookended by miraculous events, first his birth and then his resurrection and ascension. Yet his earthly life between those points is also significant.
Restoring the Image of God
In order to banish corruption from the created order, God himself took on flesh. He did this to show what human existence could be without sin.
He did it to restore the image of God, as Athanasius notes:
You know what happens when a portrait that has been painted on a panel becomes obliterated through external stains. The artist does not throw away the panel, but the subject of the portrait has to come and sit for it again and the likeness is re-drawn on the same material. Even so was it with the All-holy Son of God.
Christ’s life was a demonstration of the perfect image of God displayed on a created, fleshly canvas.
Celebrating the Incarnation
Communicating the perfect nature of God and the eschatological picture of life in the New Heavens and New Earth was a central aspect of the Incarnation according to Athanasius:
For this reason He did not offer the sacrifice on behalf of all immediately [when] He came, for if He had surrendered His body to death and then raised it once again He would have ceased to be an object of our senses. Instead of that, He stayed in His body and let Himself be seen in it, doing acts and giving signs which showed him to be not only man, but also God the Word.
Christ’s actions on earth are described, in part, in the four Gospels. Thus John 21:25 states:
Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
The default for many contemporary Christians is to suspect that John is referring to miraculous works done by Christ to demonstrate his deity; indeed, John hints at this in John 20:30–31.
Some of these events were certainly miraculous, but most of them were probably ordinary evidences of the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth.
Though they were mundane, they were still magnificent because they painted a portrait of an undistorted image of God – the portrait which had been stained but which was redrawn on the same material.
As we celebrate Christmas, we should celebrate the Incarnation. Not only should we rejoice in the salvation that came through the enfleshment of the Word of God, we should also celebrate the life Christ lived in which he did such ordinary things as eat, sleep, and work.
The mundane acts in the life of Christ remind us there is meaning in our daily tasks. The Incarnation shows us that every moment of every day can have eternal significance. When we file paperwork or sweep the floors we have the opportunity to do it as the image of God, portraying him accurately as Christ did.
Leave your comments here.