That God would deign to take on not just our humanity, but that Jesus’ humanity would be united to the Person of God the Son for all eternity, is central to the Christian faith. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14, RSVCE). St. John expresses the central mission of the Son of God in that beloved passage, that God became flesh — that in Jesus Christ he took on a humanity like ours in all things but sin (see Heb 4:15).
Why does this doctrine matter so much? Simply put, without the Incarnation, the human race would still remain in sin and, therefore, separated from God. It is because of the Incarnation that salvation comes to us through Jesus’ cross and resurrection, but it also opens the way to an even greater inheritance.
This greater inheritance begins with eternal life. That became possible because, by taking our humanity to the cross, Jesus crucifies to death the old humanity, conquering sin and death through death. This victory is completed in his resurrection where he is raised from the dead, no longer subject to corruption or death, with a body definitively glorified. His resurrection is the first fruits, a sign and basis for the hope that we will be raised from the dead in glorified bodies. None of this is possible unless Jesus took on not just a similar humanity, but also took on our very humanity. That is why St. Paul says, “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life” (1 Cor 15:22). This is the promise that because Christ has raised humanity to life in his body, so we — members of his body by baptism — are promised the inheritance of the Resurrection.
The Incarnation, however, effects an even greater inheritance. The early Church Father St. Athanasius enunciates it in his famous phrase: “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” This is known in the Church as the doctrine of divinization: that the Incarnation effects not just a restoration of our relationship with God, but that because God took on our humanity, it has been raised to a greater dignity than before. The fact of the Incarnation now lifts our human nature to greater heights than it ever hoped for. As St. Paul says, “You received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rom 8:15).
Because God has become man, man has been lifted up into the very life of God. This all happens in Christ and is made possible through his body, the Church. At baptism, we are grafted to the Body of Christ. Thus where Christ is, there we are also. We, by baptism, are lifted into the very life of God, into the very heart of the Trinity! We cry out to God our Father, enabled to do so in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. That same Spirit animates Christ’s body here on Earth: the Church. It is in the Church that we participate in Christ’s relationship with the Father: we cannot have Christ without his Church, for it is his Church that makes us members of his body. It is in the Church that — through the liturgy and sacraments — we participate in the very life of the Trinity.
Why does the Incarnation matter? Because by it, our humanity is lifted into the very life of God, we are lifted higher than the angels, and given a dignity greater than in the first creation. Because of the Incarnation we are made close to God, because we are made his sons and daughters through the Son.
Father Harrison Ayre is a priest of the Diocese of Victoria, British Columbia. Follow him on Twitter at @FrHarrison.