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An Early Advent Reflection: The Incarnation Still Dwells Among Us

By Michael Terheyden
November 25th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)


When we think of the birth of Christ in terms of the fullness of the mystery of the Incarnation, Christmas becomes more meaningful for us because in a very real sense Christ is being born in each one of us. And he will continue to be born in us until his Incarnation attains absolute fullness, and we reach our full stature as God's children. Our celebration of Advent invites us to Reflection on the Christian vocation.

KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - The Incarnation was made visible at the first Christmas about two thousand years ago. Though, in actuality, it began nine months earlier, for Christ truly became present in the womb of Mary at the time of the Annunciation.

Nevertheless, the birth of Jesus Christ is not the only manifestation of the Incarnation; it is merely the first and most obvious. The Incarnation continues on our altars, in the Church and in each one of us. Consequently, the Incarnation is not a one-time event, but a continual unfolding of Christ's presence in creation, the beginning of the new creation reconstiuted in Him.

When the time of his Passion was near, Jesus told the apostles that he would return soon, and they would see him again (Jn 16:16). So where is he? He is in the Eucharist and made visible to us every day on our altars. During the Passover meal, Jesus said, "this is my body" (Mat 26:26). Earlier in his ministry, he said that he was living bread, and we must eat his flesh (Jn 6:51-58).

Many left him as a result (Jn 6:66), but he let them go because he knew their hearts. Although we can only see him with the eyes of faith in this present age, the Eucharist is Jesus whole and entire--body, blood, soul, and divinity. This means that the Eucharist is a continuation of the Incarnation.

The Incarnation is also visible in the Church itself. It is visible in two respects--the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ and the Church as the Bride of Christ. In the first respect, we can say that Christ is the head of the Mystical Body and the members of the Church make up various parts of the Body.

The Mystical Body is a spiritual reality whose head and members, like the parts of our own bodies, are so closely united to each other that they constitute one living body. Saint Thomas Aquinas put it this way, "Head and members form as it were one and the same mystical person."

The second respect in which the Incarnation is visible in the Church is as the Bride of Christ. Speaking on marriage and Christ's relationship to the Church, Saint Paul writes, "The two will become one flesh. This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church" (Eph 5:31-32). In a certain sense, the term "one flesh" indicates that we only realize the fullness of our humanity when we are in relationship with another.

In the Original Unity of Man and Woman, Blessed John Paul II wrote that the most profound and visible sign of this truth is the one-flesh-marital union between a man and a woman (73-77). Based on paragraph 795 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can see that the Church echoes Saint Paul when it says, "Christ and his Church thus together make up the 'whole Christ,' Christus totus."

Imagine, just like the fullness of man and woman depends on their being one flesh, so too has God willed that the fullness of the Incarnation should depend on Christ becoming one flesh with the Church. This is astounding!

Perhaps this is even more astounding when we recall that we are members of this Body called the Church. So it follows that the Incarnation is also being formed in each one of us. We can visualize this formation if we return to the term "one flesh."

When viewed from another perspective, one flesh refers to the shared humanity between a man and woman. Adam said, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh."(Gn 2:23). But this term also refers to Adam and Eve's offspring. When Eve says, "I have produced a man" (Gn. 4:1), she is referring to the human nature of their child.

Similarly, when we are baptized, we acquire a new nature. Jesus says, "Flesh begets flesh. Spirit begets spirit" (Jn 3:6). Thus, beginning with our baptism and nurtured by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, our human nature is being divinized, for "we are children of God" (Rom 8:14). And it is our hope that one day when Christ looks upon us, he will say, like Adam, "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh."

When we think of the birth of Christ in terms of the fullness of the mystery of the Incarnation, our understanding of Christmas changes. It is no longer a remote event. It is near to us, drawing us in and making us a part of it.

Consequently, Christmas becomes more meaningful for us because in a very real sense Christ, the apex of creation, is being born in us. And he will continue to be born in us until his Incarnation attains absolute fullness, and we reach our full stature as God's children and become "little less than the gods" (Ps 8:6).

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Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren. He is a contributing writer for Catholic Online.

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