The Beauty of the Incarnation

Gentile da Fabriano's "Adoration of the Magi"
Gentile da Fabriano’s “Adoration of the Magi”

Christmas celebrates one of the most shocking and beautiful events in all of history––the Incarnation––when the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

In my study of theology, I’ve found that many of the great theologians break from their typical prose into a higher, poetic language when they come to the Incarnation. This piece of our Christian faith calls for something that bare prose can’t seem to satisfy. I want to share a few of my favorite quotes with you.

Martin Luther:

It is not for the angels to be proud of Christ’s incarnation, for Christ did not assume an angelic but a human nature. Therefore it would not be a surprise if the angels looked at us with envy in their eyes because we human beings, creatures far inferior to them and sinners besides, are placed above them into an honor so high and great. They worship Christ, who has become our Brother, our flesh and blood.

(from Luther’s Sermon on Colossians 1:18–20, as cited in Thomas C. Oden’s Classic Christianity, p. 274)

And now listen to how Augustine talks about Christ’s birth in a sermon on Christmas Day:

My mouth shall speak the praise of the Lord (Ps 51:15);
of that Lord through whom all things were made (John 1:3),
and who was himself made among all things;

who is the revealer of the Father,
creator of his mother;
the Son of God from the Father without mother,
the son of man from his mother without father;

great as the day of the angels,
little in the day of men;
the Word, God before all times,
the Word, flesh at the appropriate time;

the maker and placer of the sun,
made and placed under the sun;
marshaling all the ages from the bosom of the Father,
consecrating this day from the womb of his mother;

remaining there,
coming forth from here;
producer of heaven and earth,
appearing on earth under heaven;

unspeakably wise,
wisely speechless as an infant;
filling the world,
lying in a manger;

so great in the form of God,
so small in the form of a servant,
in such a way that neither the greatness was diminished by the smallness,
nor the smallness overwhelmed by the greatness.

(from Augustine’s Essential Sermons, edited by Daniel Doyle, translated by Edmund Hill, p. 245)

We haven’t grasped the significance of the Incarnation if we haven’t been overwhelmed and awed by it. So this Christmas we celebrate with Augustine, who remarks, “That men might be born of God, God was first born of them.”

We’ll have only understood half the truth if we stop here –– even at Christmas. Why did God become man? Anselm presents it well:

Death entered through one man’s obedience
Life is restored through one man’s obedience

Sin came through the temptation of a woman
Salvation came through one born of a woman

The enemy conquered humanity by tasting of a tree
Christ conquered the enemy be bearing suffering on a tree

(from Anselm’s Cur Deus Homo)

Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die!

3 thoughts on “The Beauty of the Incarnation

  1. Ambrose of Milan also had a wonderful one:

    “He was a baby and a child, so that you may be a perfect human. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes, so that you may be freed from the snares of death. He was in a manger, so that you may be in the altar. He was on earth that you may be in the stars. He had no other place in the inn, so that you may have many mansions in the heavens. ‘He, being rich, became poor for your sakes, that through his poverty you might be rich.’ Therefore his poverty is our inheritance, and the Lord’s weakness is our virtue. He chose to lack for himself, that he may abound for all. The sobs of that appalling infancy cleanse me, those tears wash away my sins.”

    1. Wesley,

      That’s a great one, very Augustinian. There’s an even better Augustine piece in his Essential Sermons, but I don’t have it with me here and couldn’t find the quote.

      Merry Christmas to you and your wife.

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