Incarnate in Us: A Christmas Reflection

“Hark!” the herald angels sing. “Glory to the newborn king! Peace on Earth and mercy mild—God and sinner reconciled!”

Every Christmas we join the triumph of the heavenly host in the worship of God incarnate. At long last the human ransom from Eden was to be paid by the Word made Flesh at that first Christmas. Man, made in the image and likeness of his Creator God, was to be redeemed of his original sin and once again share in the divinity for which he was intended.

The joyful mystery of the Incarnation is a lot to unpack. By it, man’s relationship with God was permanently changed. Formerly, in the Old Testament, God’s Chosen People had been marked by obedience to rituals and legal code. The appearance of the Messiah, however, marked the beginning of a New Testament—a fulfillment of God’s ancient promise and the institution of a new faith.

This was made possible because mankind itself was fundamentally changed. The coming of Christ was the final act of Creation—the “Eighth Day,” as some have called it. Man had been made into a New Creation, and Christ is the New Adam. This perfection of Creation in him was meant for all mankind to share. When Christ, in perfect obedience to the will of God the Father, was crucified and conquered death, he thus became the Tree of Life whose fruit forgives the forbidden sin in Eden. In order to share in it, we need now only faithfully consume his sacred fruit.

That fruit—the Eucharist—purchases our own divinity. As the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ, so too are we. We literally become, as St. Paul writes, part of the Body of Christ (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:12-27). The Eucharist thus becomes the new mark of God’s covenant, for as Christ said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (John 6:22-66).

The miracle of the Incarnation is therefore not merely that God became a man; rather, God became Man, allowing us to physically participate in the divine mysteries. The Sacraments instituted by Christ are the forms of that participation, filling us with God’s grace to prepare us for full Communion with Him in our own death and resurrection. As we grow in that grace, we physically take on Christ’s divinity by becoming more complete in the image and likeness of God. We are crucified with Christ, dying to our originally sinful will and reshaping ourselves in obedience to God.

The Incarnation celebrated at Christmastime is thus not merely the remembrance of Christ’s first coming and anticipation of his return; it is also a reminder that God is incarnate in us because Christ has purchased us for himself by his sacrifice. When we grow in faith in him, we share in his physical divinity. That is why the holiest saints were marked with the physical traits of Christ’s Glorified Form, bearing his stigmata and incorruptible flesh. The Sacraments purify our being for God because they invite God to inhabit us and reflect man’s salvation to the world. Truly we testify with the herald angels: “God and sinner reconciled!”

May we reflect that joy of the Incarnation—the joy of Christmas—in our hearts today and every day.