Most homilies on the Incarnation Gospel reading for December 20 and 21 Masses intone with great solemnity the loving act of God’s Second Person becoming man in the Blessed Virgin’s immaculate womb, as His first step in redeeming the world.
Yet there is an oft-unspoken flipside to this epic message: For all our failings, human beings are good enough for one of us to become the divine Son of God.
In becoming the man Jesus, Christ did not obliterate humanity and replace it with divinity. Rather, He possessed both natures: the man Jesus is also God the Son. And in His life and preaching, Christ showed not just how man can love and serve God, but far more crucial, how the former can become the Latter.
Whoa. Man becoming God? Isn’t that pride, if not blasphemy? Shouldn’t we worship and serve our Father in heaven, hallow His name, and work for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done? So how in heaven’s name can puny earthlings become the Creator we critters bow to?
Answer: The way Jesus did. He was God, too, remember, yet He gave praise and glory to His Father, did the Almighty’s will though He preferred that the cup of Calvary pass Him by, cried out when He felt forsaken on the cross, and finally gave up His ghost into the Father’s loving hands.
All that praising, glorifying, loving, and serving the Father, and expiring into His hands didn’t make the Second Person any less divine than the First. Nor did sending the Third to do God’s will in the world make the Holy Spirit no longer God. Indeed, since the Blessed Trinity wants us to love and serve one another, the Three Persons rightly set the example and do the same toward One Another.
So worshipping, loving, serving, and depending on God doesn’t mean one cannot partake of His nature. In fact, knowing, loving and communing with the divine are not unlike how Father, Son, and Spirit act toward the other two Persons.
Moreover, by opening our souls to His Spirit and accomplishing His will, don’t we become His face, His tongue, His heart and His hands in the world? And that is not too different from Christ being God with us — Emmanuel — the earthly form of the ethereal Supreme Being.
Sin’s the thing that keeps us from the King
Through two millennia of Christianity, however, the idea of God becoming man to redeem us from sin, has dominated dogma. Humanity is saved by letting the searing light of faith and the purging agony of sacrifice sweep away our wayward ways. Then the Spirit can flow in and create a new being in the mold of Christ.
This article isn’t questioning those fundamental and immutable doctrines. However, one wonders if the overarching stress on man’s sinfulness could be driving a wedge between us and God, making us think — wrongly and perversely — that there is hardly any good in us, and we must jettison our earthly nature and pour in the heavenly.
Wrongly, because as God’s creation, man is fundamentally good, just like the rest of created nature. The Creator Himself said so in the first chapter of Genesis with every new thing He brought into existence and at the end of six days of creation: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
Wrongly, too, because Jesus embraced and cherished human beings, especially those disdained by society at the time: children, lepers, women, the poor and the powerless, and all manner of sinners. And He did so not just out of love and mercy for the suffering and the sinful, but also in affirmation and affection for the good in all men.
And perversely, because the doctrine of God’s loving sacrifice for man’s redemption from sin, which is supposed to bridge the chasm between us and Him, may actually widen it.
Just think: how in heaven’s name can the constant hammering of our sinfulness in the face of God’s perfection make us get closer to Him?
Does a pauper feel one with the tycoon who puts P100 in his begging cup daily, if the former is constantly reminded that his income is one-thousandth of the latter’s? Or a C-student being tutored by the valedictorian if their respective IQs are posted on the bulletin board they pass every morning?
A question of balance and completeness
Just to be crystal clear: the point here is not that the doctrine of man’s sin and God’s redemption is wrong or harmful, but that it needs to be balanced and indeed completed by the equally true and scripturally valid belief that there is much good and godly in man, having been created in God’s image.
So, going back to the Incarnation, it may just help bring creature closer to our Creator if homilists tell congregations that the monumental event we daily commemorate in the Angelus prayer expresses not just God’s mercy and redemption of man from sin, but also His affirmation and affection for our goodness, which He deemed worthy enough for His infinite perfection to assume our form and live with us.
Then we won’t see an insurmountable vastness dividing us from God. And we might just try harder to be like Christ, knowing that there is already much goodness in us. Indeed, we are like Him in everything but sin.