I write this in December, 2021, just two weeks before Christmas Day, reflecting on the incarnation of God through Jesus Christ as declared by the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.John 1:1-4
Every year at Christmas, we reread the Gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus, and take time to ponder the mystery of God’s coming to us in human flesh, as John declares boldly in his opening chapter:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.John 1:14
One of the greatest books ever written by a follower of Jesus ponders the mystery of “the Word become flesh.” Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373), author of On the Incarnation, has been widely praised throughout Church history for clearly articulating in his writings the wonders and mystery of the person and work of Jesus Christ, including the doctrine of the incarnation.
Literally, our English word, incarnation, coming from Latin incarnari, means “to be made flesh.” God who is Spirit chose to enter Creation, and be made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ.
In nine short chapters, Athanasius relfects upon this wonder of God’s Son entering into the physical universe in human form to led humanity back home to God. The whole purpose of the incarnation was God’s rescue of humanity. Here’s an online edition of this classic work if you are interested in reading it for yourself.
ON THE INCARNATION: Table of Contents
Introduction by C. S. Lewis
1. Creation and the Fall
2. The Divine Dilemma and Its Solution in the Incarnation
3. The Divine Dilemma (continued)
4. The Death of Christ
5. The Resurrection
6. Refutation of the Jews
7. Refutation of the Gentiles
8. Refutation of the Gentiles (continued)
Athanasius was born into a Christian family in the ancient city of Alexandria, one of the leading centers of ancient Christianity and a leading port city of the near east. Athanasius was ordained as Deacon in 319. On the Incarnation was one of Athanasius’ earliest works. written before 319. In 325, Athanasius served as secretary to the Bishop of Alexandria at the Council of Nicea. At this Council, the teachings of Arius were condemned as heretical, especially regarding the identity of Jesus Christ as fully God and fully human. These orthodox teachings, drawn from scripture, informed by Athansius’ teachings as found in On the Incarnation, were formulated into what is now known as the Nicene Creed.