Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Incarnation and Anthropology

As Christmas draws near, we begin to think again of the significance of what CS Lewis called “The Grand Miracle”. It has been said that the early Christian debates were all about Christology, the Reformation debates concerned Soteriology and modern debates are all about Anthropology: what it means to be a human person. In our modern (or postmodern) world, we are all struggling to work out what true humanity looks like, especially when faced with the man-made destruction we see in Yemen, Aleppo and the rest of Syria. And it is at this time of year that we focus on the Christian answer to that question. 

Athanasius, in his great work De Incarnatione, describes human nature as so damaged that it is barely recognisable from what it was originally meant to be. He offers the wonderful image of a portrait that has become so defaced by stains and dirt that the artist needs to sit down and re-paint the image in all its original glory. This is what God does in the Incarnation: “He, the image of the Father, came and dwelt in our midst, in order that he might renew mankind made in his likeness.” 

CS Lewis uses a different image of the descent of the Word into human flesh – that of ‘a diver, stripping off garment after garment, making himself naked, then flashing for a moment in the air, and then down through the green, and warm, and sunlit water into the pitch black, cold freezing water, down into the mud and slime, then up again, his lungs almost bursting, back again to the green and warm and sunlit water, and then at last out into the sunshine, holding in his hand the dripping thing he went down to get. This thing is human nature, but associated with it, all nature, the new universe.

In Jesus Christ we see not only the face of God the Creator, we also see our own faces as they were meant to be and as they one day will be. We see human nature restored, redeemed and refreshed - re-booted as we would say now - with the invitation to be radically re-made in the image of the one born in Bethlehem. As John Chrysostom put it: “For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His Spirit; and so he bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life.” The invitation for us this Christmas is to celebrate the rescue of humanity, to hold out the hope of human life made glorious again, to look again into the face of Jesus, the one complete human – one who touches lepers, sits with the mourning, forgives sinners, weeps for those who have lost their way, confronts the powerful and raises the dead – so that we, in our own unique ways, might be redeemed and come to resemble him. 

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