Why Did the Word Become Flesh?
The first chapter of the Gospel of St. John tells us that the Word that had no beginning but was there in the beginning became flesh and dwelt among us. The Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, was begotten of the Father before time had been created yet. And then. At a particular moment in time, that Word, spoken with love from the bosom of the Father, took on a human nature in addition to his divine nature. The word “flesh” is actually rather intense if you think about it. We’re so used to hearing this that we might be tempted to forget the enormity of what we believe. God, who is not bound by time or space or matter chose to become bound by time and space and, above all, matter, all of which are His own creation. Time, space, and matter are all extremely limiting, and he chose to come at a particular time, in a particular place, into a particular family. Not only did he choose to take on our nature, but he chose to do it the regular human way – through conception and birth. Now it was no ordinary conception as he was conceived by a virgin girl through the Holy Spirit, but he was born of an ordinary mother, that is to say, a very human one. She was spared the stain of Original Sin, but she was in all other ways, a very ordinary human being. He was raised not as a king, but as an average child Why would the God of the universe choose to do this? In the Nicene Creed we confess: Qui propter nos homines et propter nostrum salute descendit de caelis: for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven.
The Word became flesh for us men and our salvation. But what all does this mean?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states four wondrous and beautiful reasons for the Word becoming flesh in paragraphs 456-460:
#1 “The Word became flesh for us in order to reconcile us with God” (CCC 457)
#2 “The Word became flesh so thus we might know God’s love” (CCC 458)
#3 “The Word became flesh to be our model for holiness” (CCC 459)
#4 “The Word became flesh to make us ‘partakers of the divine nature’” (CCC 460)
In Order to Reconcile Us with God
In the beginning, man and woman were in right relationship with God. Then the serpent came into the garden. He convinced the woman and man to disobey God’s command to not eat the fruit of the tree. The serpent convinced Eve to commit disobedience and pride and Eve convinced Adam to do the same. In this, the Original Sin, the relationship between God and man was ruptured. The chasm between them was infinite. Man could not breach it, and yet he was the one to cause the rupture. Only someone who was both man and yet somehow infinite could heal the breach. So the Word became flesh to reconcile the relationship between God and man and to save us from our sins. By his birth, death, and resurrection, Jesus Christ accomplished the restoration of man’s relationship with God.
So Thus We Might Know God’s Love
God made himself known to his people throughout Salvation History in different ways – through speaking to his prophets, and through the written word. The establishment of his covenants with his Chosen People told them of his love for them. The Israelites knew of God’s love for them through the spoken and the written word. But then the Word fell silent. For about four hundred years before Christ’s birth there were no new prophets and no new prophecies. The Chosen People could only look back on the Word already spoken, on the deeds already done by the Lord. The Word became flesh so that he might be the love of God in the world, that those who know and believe in him might know the love of God. Jesus Christ came to preach the kingdom and to heal – to heal the sick in body, and above all, to heal the human soul. The Word is the living and breathing love of God, and he came that we might know the Father’s love for us and the promise of the Holy Spirit.
To Be Our Model for Holiness
Adam and Eve failed to be the models for humanity. They are models for what not to do. But the Word became flesh and became the New Adam – the New Man. He shows the way for how to interact with others in his preaching and in his deeds. First he modeled for the disciples how to heal the sick and cast out demons and then he commissioned them to do the same. He taught the multitudes and modeled for the apostles how to teach and minister to many so that they might do the same. In the books of the New Testament, the Gospel writers and apostles communicate how to follow him in holiness and righteousness. He ultimately models holiness through his sacrificial love in the Passion and Crucifixion and his tenderness in the Resurrection. He tells us to be “perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect” and he shows us the way to this perfection.
To Make Us Partakers of the Divine Nature
The Word took on a human nature to reconcile us with God. But he made it possible not only to be reconciled – he did not merely return us to our former state – he made it possible to become sons and daughters of God and to become partakers in his divine nature. Through communion with Jesus Christ, the Sacraments on earth, and forever in Heaven we are able to be adopted children of God.
The miracle of the Incarnation encompasses these bewildering truths: even though man caused the rupture, God wanted to be reconciled to us badly enough to take on his own created humanity; God loves us and wants us to know that love and love him in return; God desires our holiness and came to model what that looks like; God not only wants us to be his creatures but to be his sons and daughters, and he made this possible for us by sending his only begotten Son.
May we spend this Advent season meditating more and more on the bewildering joy of the Incarnation. May we come to a fuller understanding of our need for redemption. May we come to a deeper awareness of God’s love for us and come to love him more. May we spend time in the Sacred Scripture observing Jesus and imitating him in our lives. May we not take for granted our status of divine sonship through the Sacraments. May we remember why the Word became flesh and remember to proclaim the Good News to those we encounter by word and deed.