The word incarnation is derived from the Latin carnis (“flesh”) and means “becoming flesh” as in John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” It refers to the act whereby God became man in Jesus of Nazareth.
It was at the Council of Chalcedon in a.d. 451 that the Church declared that Jesus Christ is “truly God and truly man.”
The Incarnation means that we can point to the historical Jesus and say, “He is God.” At the same time, we can point to the very same person and say, “He is a man”, a particular man, a first century Jew subject to all the conditions of living in this world.
Everything we mean when we say “God” applies to Jesus. And everything we mean when we say “human” applies as well.
We must remember that true humanity is sinless humanity. Sin is not an essential ingredient of human nature, but always a distortion of it. Jesus is the perfect example of humanness.
Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. In answer to the question, “What is a real human being?” Christian Faith answers: “Jesus.” And in answer to the question, “What is God like?” Christian Faith answers: “Jesus.”
An understanding of salvation requires both affirmations. Jesus must be divine, or his life, death, and resurrection are not God’s saving action in the world. And Jesus must be a human being, or his saving action is not within the world of our human affairs, and has nothing to do with us.
There is mystery here. It is an affirmation of faith. It takes our minds as far as they can go to say it, but we have to say, “Jesus is truly God and truly man.”
*article originally released on December 21, 2014*