“Belief in the true Incarnation of the Son of God is the distinctive sign of Christian faith." (CCC, 463)
As Catholics, we profess our belief in the Incarnation in the Nicene Creed: Jesus Christ “came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man."
The Incarnation is a unique and singular event. Its truth informs the way we view God and ourselves.
When Jesus arrived on the earth, he changed the way humanity viewed God. In Jesus, God came down from heaven to earth, without compromising his divinity.
The Incarnation of Christ crowned centuries of divine revelation, God’s slow revealing of himself, making himself known to humanity over time. God’s divine communication was now to be known through the Person of his Son. The Catechism of the Catholic Churchdefines the Incarnation as “the fact that the Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it" (CCC, 461).
This is the deepest meaning behind our Christmas celebrations.
[T]he Incarnation of the Son of God does not mean that Jesus Christ is part God and part man, nor does it imply that he is the result of a confused mixture of the divine and the human. He became truly man while remaining truly God. Jesus Christ is true God and true man. (CCC, 464)
This holy condescension of God means that we can never accuse God of being absent or lofty or unreachable or inaccessible. The Incarnation—the taking on of flesh in the Virgin’s womb—is the moment whereby the inexhaustible, inexpressible, invisible, omnipotent, and almighty Holy One takes on human visage. The divinity of God shines through a human person now.
At the time appointed by God, the only Son of the Father, the eternal Word, that is, the Word and substantial Image of the Father, became incarnate; without losing his divine nature he has assumed human nature. (CCC, 479)
Jesus, coming as a human person, changed the way we view ourselves. The Second Vatican Council declared that the Incarnation raises our own human dignity.
He who is “the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15) is himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam he restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as he assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. (Gaudium et Spes, 22)
Humanity now counts the face of God among its own.
Never again may I look at another person, or myself, with disdain or disrespect, for there is an inherent dignity in all.
For by his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin. (Gaudium et Spes, 22)
This is why we celebrate Christmas; the Nativity is the realization of the Incarnation. This is why we kneel with wonder, praying at the manger. The Christ Child gives us insight into the God who truly knows us, loves us, and still chooses to save us.
As we yield ever more deeply to the love of God, we discover that Christmas’ true meaning brings us a keener understanding of our own true selves.
The Church has always acknowledged that in the body of Jesus “we see our God made visible and so are caught up in love of the God we cannot see." (Roman Missal, Preface of Christmas I)
The individual characteristics of Christ’s body express the divine person of God’s Son. He has made the features of his human body his own, to the point that they can be venerated when portrayed in a holy image, for the believer who venerates the icon is venerating in it the person of the one depicted. (CCC, 477)
Come, the crèche awaits us…. Let us pray and gaze into his holy face.