Are you still celebrating?” I hope you are! The Christmas season isn’t over yet. The last day of the Christmas season is the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord (don’t sigh, it used to continue until Candlemas, February 2). And so, with Vespers this Sunday, all the celebrating ceases and we get back to the hum-drum of our Lord’s life…or do we? Maybe Ordinary time would not be so ordinary, if we took a minute or two to consider how the Solemnity of the Incarnation has prepared us for the rest of the Church year.
Michael Card, a Christian artist, released a song in 1987 entitled, The Final Word. The lyrics are worth a short read:
You and me we use so very many clumsy words.
The noise of what we often say is not worth being heard.
When the Father’s wisdom wanted to communicate His love,
He spoke it in one final perfect Word.
He spoke the incarnation, and then so was born a Son.
His final word was Jesus, He needed no other one.
Spoke flesh and blood so He could bleed and make a way Divine.
And so was born a baby who would die to make it mine.
And so the Father’s fondest thought became flesh and blood.
He spoke the living luminous word, at once His will was done.
And so the transformation that in man had been unheard,
Took place in God the Father as he spoke that final Word.
And so the Light became alive and manna became Man.
Eternity stepped into time so we could understand.
Michael Card sums up Christmas, and all the associated celebrations, with the lines, “When the Father’s wisdom wanted to communicate His love, He spoke it in one final perfect Word. He spoke the Incarnation, and then so was born a Son.” This alone should make our hearts leap for joy! The Father has made the deliberate choice to reveal the mystery of His love through the Word made Flesh.
Going deeper, we quickly realize that the Incarnation is the door through which the human body enters into theology. Even more importantly, upon reflection, we suddenly become aware that the human person finds its deepest meaning only when understood through the person of Jesus. Venerable John Paul II constantly reminded us of this and loved to quote throughout his Pontificate, the words found in paragraph 22 of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World(Gadium et Spes),
The truth is that only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light…by the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear (n. 22).
Our understanding of who we are is directly rooted, and thus finds its origin, in the Incarnation. Even our theology must finds its locus and be guided by the conception and birth of the Christ-child. John Paul II writes in Fides et Ratio,
The chief purpose of theology is to provide an understanding of revelation and the content of faith. The very heart of theological inquiry will thus be the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune God. The approach to this mystery begins with reflection upon the mystery of the Incarnation (n. 93).
The Solemnity of the Incarnation is not just the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. It is the “decoder ring” as it were for understanding God Himself. This in turn, becomes the very foundation of our Christian Anthropology which helps us answer the deepest questions in our lives, “Who am I? What is my purpose?”. We cannot even begin discussing the rest of the mysteries of our faith without a proper understanding of the Incarnation. In other words, as a speaker I once heard said,
If the language of Israel is Hebrew and the language of Islam is Arabic, the language of Christianity is the body.
How we understand the Incarnation must affect the way we view the rest of our theology. Our catechesis has always taught us that Original Sin necessitated the Incarnation for our redemption. St. Thomas, using St. Augustine’s formulation (De Verb. Apost. viii, 2), when responding to three objections, as he answered the question, “Whether, if man had not sinned, God would have become incarnate?” says,
Therefore, if man had not sinned, the Son of Man would not have come. And on 1 Timothy 1:15, “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners,” a gloss says, “There was no cause of Christ’s coming into the world, except to save sinners. Take away diseases, take away wounds, and there is no need of medicine.” (ST III, Q. 1, Art. 3, sed contra)
In the end, the Incarnation was simply a remedy for sin. Being a self-proclaimed Thomist, it pains me to say that I think there is a deeper mystery to consider apart from St. Thomas’ (and St. Augustine’s) position. In fact, I believe that the Franciscan Blessed John Don Scotus has something to add to the discussion. Peter J. Leithart, during his discussion on Necessary Incarnation, explains the Scotian position as such,
For [Scotus] the Incarnation apart from the Fall was not merely a most convenient assumption, but rather an indispensable doctrinal presupposition. The Incarnation of the Son of God was for him the very reason of the whole Creation…The main emphasis of Duns Scotus was on the unconditional and primordial character of the Divine decree of the Incarnation, seen in the total perspective of Creation.
In other words, from all eternity, God the Father called forth creation in order to have a place for us to encounter His Son in the flesh. WOW!!!! Many of the mystics (i.e., Sts. Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, etc.) would take it a step further and say that from all eternity the Father intended to give a bride to His Son and creation is His bridal chamber. The Incarnation then is the only way for humanity to encounter its heart’s desire.
This Scotian view can also found also in the thought and writings of two immanent Doctor’s of the Church: St. Lawrence of Brindisi, the Apostolic Doctor and Doctor of Conversions and Missions and St. Francis de Sales, Doctor of Love of God.
St. Lawrence of Brindisi wrote,
God is love, and all his operations proceed from love. Once he wills to manifest that goodness by sharing his love outside himself, then the Incarnation becomes the supreme manifestation of his goodness and love and glory. So, Christ was intended before all other creatures and for his own sake. For him all things were created and to him all things must be subject, and God loves all creatures in and because of Christ. Christ is the first-born of every creature, and the whole of humanity as well as the created world finds its foundation and meaning in him. Moreover, this would have been the case even if Adam had not sinned.
Additionally, St. Francis de Sales, the great Doctor of God’s Love wrote with some of the most beautiful words in discussing the why of creation. Fr. Lewis Fiorelli, O.S.F.S., in an essay appearing in: Human Encounter in the Salesian Tradition (Rome: international Commission for Salesian Spirituality, 2007) pp. 399-408, argues convincingly this de Sales Scotian view. By way of example, he says,
Many texts from de Sales could be cited in support of his Scotian understanding of the relationship between creation and Incarnation, but the words of his final Christmas sermon are especially apt. Just as a contractor designs a house that will suit the personality and wishes of his client, “the eternal Father did just that in creating this world. For his intention was to create it for his Son who is the Eternal Word.”
Fr. Fiorelli continues and discusses how St. Francis de Sales in his Treatise on the Love of God speaks of the Incarnation as “God’s Kiss to Creation.” I don’t think there is a more beautiful image to share with our wives and children-that the Word made Flesh is God the Father’s kiss to creation. From here, one has to admit that the rest of Jesus’ life is a wooing of his Bride into this eternal love affair. Every action, ever gesture now explodes with meaning with the understanding that Jesus called forth creation in order to woo His Bride.
In one sense, we suddenly understand that the cosmos was created, just because He wanted to present a gift to His Bride. Continuing that train of thought, in an age that needs to know the “why” to everything, the answer to the popular question, “Why did He created the billions of stars and galaxies if we are the only rational life?” is “Because He could. He desired to capture the love and affections of our hearts with sheer magnanimous beauty.” And, isn’t that what a Bridegroom does? Doesn’t He adorn His bride and her bridal suite so as to prepare her for that personal exchange of love?
It is true that regardless of our speculation, the Fall of Man happened – non contendere! But it is also true that the love of God for us is beyond compare. Is it so hard to believe that if He was walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the Garden that he would not want to further unite our hearts to His in eternal love? To embrace this Scotian view does not cheapen but only deepens our understanding of God’s love for us.
And, how did we get to these considerations? All of this because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
 I should also point out, in an effort to be fair (I need to redeem my Thomistic roots), St. Thomas did not exclude the possibility of an Incarnation that was necessitated by the need for redemption in the same sed contra,