Incarnation—Eternal Process

We have to identify some misconceptions about the Incarnation. Otherwise, we will not appreciate God’s action in eternity, in creation, in history, in the present, in the hereafter. The source of our misconceptions is that we relate the Incarnation to a single event in history (Christ’s birth and life), and thus pigeonhole the Incarnation. Rather, the Incarnation is a continuum—from before time to after time.

Incarnation in Eternity. The usual timeline of human salvation is creation, fall of the human race, and then the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ. However, that standard chronology is not correct, states Biblical Scholar Stephen Doyle, OFM. “Before creation, before our first parents, before sin, the Word made flesh takes first place in God’s plan. Christ is not a last-minute rescue plan in God’s plan because Adam and Eve had sinned. Rather, Christ is the heart of the Father’s plan from all eternity. The divine Word would have been incarnated in Christ even if the first man and woman had never sinned. “St. Paul writes that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” (Eph 1:4) So God had great plans for us from all eternity.

Incarnation at Creation. In actuality and in a broader sense, we can say that the Incarnation began with the creation of the universe—with the Spirit bringing order out of chaos as we read in Genesis. God is first and foremost Creator. Incarnation is the way God creates—by becoming intimately part of that which He creates. Father Doyle says: “It helps to look at all created things as if they are scattered pieces of a beautiful picture puzzle. It’s only when the pieces are put back in their proper places that they form the original image of Christ, thus displaying their true beauty and meaning.” So, all is creation, all is incarnation, all is potentially Eucharist—capable of uniting us with God.

Incarnation in History. The process of Incarnation that began in God’s mind before creation, and in creation with the Spirit bringing order out of chaos, makes its spectacular appearance in Christ’s birth. Again the Spirit is at work. In Luke 1:34,35, we read: “Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can I have a child? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied: ‘The Holy Spirit shall come upon you, and the power of God shall overpower you; so that the child born to you will be utterly holy—the Son of God.” The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. At a point in time, God’s Son became incarnate to share His love with us. Jesus came not only as our brother, but as our redeeming brother.

Incarnation in Process. But the Incarnation is not only history; it is the mystery of the on-going process of Incarnation. This understanding of the Incarnation is both ancient and new. Ancient, Theologian Bernard Cooke tells us, because it is a recovery of very early Christian understanding. “New” because this sense of Jesus’ constant presence to believers gave way to the notion that Jesus had left this earth and gone up to heaven. It is only in mid-twentieth century that we have regained the understanding of Jesus’ constant presence. As a result, we also understand that believers function as the “Body of Christ”.

So the ongoing Incarnation is the process of the Spirit penetrating us with Jesus’ presence and power, and each of us attempting to bring to birth Jesus through our lives as members of the Body of Christ.

Incarnation in Fullness of Time. As Jesus has gathered us into His ongoing Incarnation during our lifetimes, in the fullness of time He will gather our resurrected bodies in a radically changed universe that has become Christ’s resurrected body, says Rev. John J. Walsh, M.M. St. Paul describes God’s plan “to gather up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” And happily that includes us!

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