On the Incarnation of the Word 8 – The Word Became Flesh

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Having described the breadth and depth of the problem, Athanasius turns again to God’s response. As you read Athanasius and my own thoughts, also rest in the above passage from John’s prologue. It’s important to keep in mind that the Word becoming flesh does not describe a distant God coming near us, for God was never distant.

For this purpose, then, the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God comes to our realm, howbeit he was not far from us before. For no part of Creation is left void of Him: He has filled all things everywhere, remaining present with His own Father.

No, the purpose was not to come near us, for the Word who creates and sustains us could not be nearer or more present. No, the purpose was much grander and fearsome.

He took pity on our race, and had mercy on our infirmity, and condescended to our corruption, and, unable to bear that death should have the mastery—lest the creature should perish, and His Father’s handiwork in men be spent for nought—He takes unto Himself a body, and that of no different sort from ours.

A body of no different sort from ours. That’s hard to wrap our heads around. But when the Word became flesh, he assumed the totality of our nature. Even today, Christians often want to back away from that statement. They want to make Jesus less than fully human in one way or another, often subtly. We feel more comfortable, somehow, with the superhero Jesus. I suppose that’s a less intimate, less frightening, and less intimidating view of the Incarnation.

And thus taking from our bodies one of like nature, because all were under penalty of the corruption of death He gave it over to death in the stead of all, and offered it to the Father—doing this, moreover, of His loving-kindness, to the end that, firstly, all being held to have died in Him, the law involving the ruin of men might be undone (inasmuch as its power was fully spent in the Lord’s body, and had no longer holding-ground against men, his peers), and that, secondly, whereas men had turned toward corruption, He might turn them again toward incorruption, and quicken them from death by the appropriation of His body and by the grace of the Resurrection, banishing death from them like fire from the straw.

The power of death was fully spent in the body of Jesus. It no longer has any power over us. We are made alive again by and through his body (which certainly reads like a reference to the Eucharist). We are made alive by the grace of the Resurrection. That phrasing makes no sense if ‘grace’ is simply unmerited favor, as many present it today. But if grace is the energy and action of God, if grace is the presence and power of God himself, then it makes perfect sense. The Incarnation and the Resurrection bring the fullness of God into humanity.

Christos Anesti! Christ is Risen!

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