Christ is Born!

Christ is Born!

(Implications of God's Incarnation)

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware

The Incarnation (God made Man) God's supreme act of deliverance, restoring us to communion with Himself.  But what would have happened if there had never been a fall (of man)?  Would God have chosen to become man, even if man had never sinned?  Should the Incarnation be regarded simply as God's response to the predicament of fallen man, or is it in some way part of the eternal purpose of God?  Should we look behind the fall, and see God's act of becoming man as the fulfillment of man's true destiny?

To this hypothetical question it is not possible for us, in our present situation, to give any final answer.  Living as we do under the conditions of the fall, we cannot clearly imagine what God's relation to mankind would have been, had the fall never occurred.  Christian writers have therefore in most cases limited their discussion of the Incarnation to the context of man's fallen state.

But there are a few who have ventured to take a wider view, most notably St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Maximus the Confessor in the East, and Duns Scotus in the West.  The Incarnation, says St. Isaac, is the most blessed and joyful thing that could possibly have happened to the human race.  Can it be right then, to assign as cause for this joyful happening something which might never have occurred, and indeed ought never to have done so?  Surely St. Isaac urges, God's taking of our humanity is to be understood not only as an act of restoration, not only as a response to man's sin, but also and more fundamentally as an act of love, an expression of God's own nature.  Even had there been no fall, God in His own limitless, outgoing love, would still have chosen to identify Himself with His creation by becoming man.

The Incarnation of Christ, looked at in this way, effects more than a reversal of the fall, more than a restoration of man to his original state in Paradise.  When God becomes man, this marks the beginning of an essentially new stage in the history of man, and not just a return to the past.  The Incarnation raises man to a new level;  the last state is higher than the first.  Only in Jesus Christ do we see revealed the full possibilities of our human nature;  until He is born, the true implications of our personhood are still hidden from us.  Christ's birth, as St. Basil put it, is "the birthday of the whole human race,"  Christ is the first perfect man:  perfect, that is to say, not just in a potential sense -- as Adam was in his innocence before the fall -- but in the sense of the completely realized "likeness."

The Incarnation, then, is not simply a way of undoing the effects of original sin, but it is an essential stage upon man's journey from the divine image to the divine likeness.  The true image and likeness of God is Christ Himself;  and so, from the very first moment of man's creation in the image, the Incarnation of Christ was in some way already implied.  The true reason for the Incarnation, then, lies not in man's sinfulness, but in his unfallen nature as a being, made in the divine image and capable of union with God (The Orthodox Way, pp. 70-71).