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The Word Became Flesh

“The whole man would not have been saved, unless he had taken upon himself the whole man.”

I get lost in my thoughts when I reflect on the manhood of the Man, Christ Jesus. Do you ever feel as though you walk the border of blasphemy when you dwell on the extent of His achievement and of what He became. In Him, two very different things are brought together in one person – and it is hard to treat both of those things appropriately when you think of them joined together.

My Muslim friends have told me that I “humiliate God” when I speak of Him becoming a man, and I can’t deny it. If He didn’t do it and we say He did, we blaspheme, pouring contempt and disrespect on the Most High.

Yet according to the gospel, this is precisely what He did. Go to a Muslim web site that deals with who Christ is, and you will almost certainly find a strong argument making the case that Jesus was a man. Any non-Christian religion will do the same. Nor is it difficult for them. The Bible makes it far more clear that Jesus is a man than that He is God.

I offer you one all-sufficing example: when our Lord was on the cross, He cried out words that only a man could possibly say: “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me?” Need I mention that He was born of a woman, circumcised on the eighth day, grew hungry, wept, suffered physically and mentally, walked, had to put his thoughts into words to be understood (and, even then, he often wasn’t), lived in a particular place and time (how very unGodlike and unspiritual), and ate, drank wine, and apparently even danced.

Jesus Christ was every bit as human as you and I. I’ll go even further: He is more human than you and I. Nothing that is true of an authentic human being is untrue of Jesus. We didn’t even know what a man was until Christ became man. The rest of us limp around like starfish without arms, stars without rays, food without taste, trees without figs.

Pontius Pilate spoke wisely when he said, “Ecce homo! Behold, the man!”

Jesus is all man.

There has always been a tendency, however, for some to deny the totality of his humanity. For example, Apollinarius, in the 4th century, argued that the Divine Logos replaced the mind of the man Christ, so that He did not have a man’s mind any longer, but God’s. In other words, He had a human body, but not a human mind.

One of my favorite books on theology, The Cruelty of Heresy, by Bishop Fitzsimmons Allison, explains the specific cruelty of Apollonarianism when he says,

Apollinarianism… violated the everlastingly valuable Cappadocian axiom: “what he (Christ) did not assume he could not redeem.” The soteriological question, “How can humanity be saved?”… exposes the ultimate cruelty of Apollinarius’ teaching: we are “saved” by “replacement,” by destruction… The mind of Jesus was replaced and therefore lost.

Maybe this all sounds very technical, but I hope you see that it is in fact both practical and pastoral. The incarnation of the Word is the story of God coming to save, heal, and restore us. To do so, He became fully man because He had to. The Christian has taught and believed from the time when Jesus was the only Christian that He is fully and completely man. He has a human body, a human mind, a human will, a human spirit, a human soul, human appetites. All that makes us human, He has.

Why? Because He came to save us completely. He came to save our bodies, our minds, our wills, our spirits, our souls, our appetites, all that makes us human. He came to restore in us the Image of His Father. He could not do this without taking on Himself the totality of our humanness.

St. Gregory the theologian said, “The unassumed is unhealed.” Bishop Kallistos Ware expanded this point when he said, “Salvation must meet the point of human need. Only if Christ is fully and completely a man as we are , can we men share in what he has done for us.”

The author of Hebrews said, “For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering…. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death.”

Here is the limit of God’s care and devotion to us: He became one of us, joining us in our joys but also in our sorrows and trials. Perhaps I have reached the point of redundancy, but I will say one more time:

At the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, we celebrate the realization in flesh and blood of the teaching that Jesus Christ is fully and completely man.

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