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Credo 21: … He became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

Friday, August 10, 2007
This is a pivotal moment in the creed. The first article sweeps ‘heaven and earth’. This article comes to rest on a particular moment in history. It is easy to be misled by the creed’s language here. The Incarnation or the ‘humanisation’ (as it was sometimes called) of the Word of God is not a matter of someone living in heaven ‘moving’ to live somewhere else i.e. the earth. The Word of God does not come down from the sky to the human level. God is timeless and bodiless, he does not ‘come down’ from anywhere. We talk about ‘coming down’ and ‘becoming’ as kinds of metaphors. Nonetheless, we truly believe the whole life of Jesus is God’s gift to us. In the life of Jesus, God’s everlasting Word truly did something and does something. What seemed far away (another metaphor) became close. That which is eternal and unchanging, meets human beings in the form of a feeble human being. This man is someone who is born, suffers and genuinely dies - just as we all will. He really shares human (Jewish) history. He has a human soul and will and mind, just like ours.

God’s self-manifestation in the flesh is not an event that is like any other. Jesus is not just a messenger. The gospel does not even say that Jesus is like the Father. Rather, in Jesus God appears. This is what God looks like in the human world. Jesus is God’s face; God does not have another human face that we find out about only later.

In Jesus, everything in heaven and on earth comes sharply into focus. This does not mean that Jesus’s flesh contains God’s Word in such a way that we must close all other books and block out any other words. It is rather that this Word, spoken in Israel 2000 years ago, helps us to perceive what there is that is true in all other words, in all other languages and cultures. By seeing these languages and cultures in the light which is Christ, we also learn more about that light.

God’s word in Christ cannot be summed up in a neat and tidy formula - God sent his Son to us and not a slogan. If we had to say, briefly what that life means, we might say that it changes the whole way in which the world looks. In the light of Christ, the world looks like a different place. It is not a place where violence and meaninglessness reign. It is a place where God’s peace and generosity and truth reign and cannot be vanquished, even though their power is constantly being attacked.

This birth is wholly God’s act. Yet it also comes to be through Israel’s faith as it is present in the daughter of Abraham, Mary. Mary’s faith is more important than her biological virginity. The consistent heart of the doctrine of the virgin birth (as expounded by Augustine and Aquinas, neither of whom doubted for a moment that Jesus had no human father), is that the birth of the Saviour is wholly due to God’s act, done through the instrumental agency of Mary’s faith. Augustine said in a sermon on the creed ‘by believing, she conceived him whom she bore for our belief’. Or as a modern commentator on this article puts it: ‘God’s Word fleshed in faith that welcomes it: that is the message of this clause in the Creed’.


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