"He became incarnate
from the Virgin Mary and was made Man."
When Jesus came "down from heaven" - He did not appear as a spirit-being - or an angel. The Mystery laid before us is that the God beyond time and space became fully human - a person of flesh and blood - bound by time and space. He did not appear as a ready-made adult - miraculously appearing in Jerusalem - to begin His ministry. He took flesh in the way we all do - being conceived in the wombs of our mothers - being nourished by her - being born - learning to breathe independently - and then moving through babyhood - childhood - to maturity in adulthood.
When the creeds were being developed, the gap between what most people saw as the divine and the human was felt to be virtually unbridgeable. In the myths and religious stories of the time, the gods might visit the earth and take on human - or sometimes animal - form - but it was always a disguise - something they put on and took off at will. They pretended to be human - but werent.
The early Christians were faced with the fact that Jesus was born. For the first and last time in human history, a god had fully taken on human form - not as a whim or to play with human creatures- but to enter fully into the unfolding story of humanity.
And how did they know this? Well, the very early Christians would probably have met His mother. She could speak of His miraculous conception - of His birth - of His childhood - His adult life - and His death and resurrection. As mothers in all places and all histories, she would have told stories about her sons life which spoke of the truly human nature of the person Jesus. This wasnt a god playing at being human - this was God becoming fully human - taking flesh - and being born in the way that all humans are born - from the body of a woman.
We know that this is how human beings begin life - but stand before the Mystery that God became fully human.
Luke describes the encounter between Gabriel and Mary and the words of destiny spoken over Mary - "The Holy Spirit will come upon you - and the power of the Most High will overshadow you....therefore the child to be born will be holy; He will be called Son of God....nothing will be impossible with God" As so often in Scripture - this does little to offer Mary an answer to a simple question - How? It does even less to explain to us how anyone can be born from a virgin mother!
We are not told where Mary was when this happened - but we get the sense that Lukes scene could be played in a small room - the divine stepping into the ordinary.
Matthews account, however, has a cast of thousands! - not quite - but close. He paints a picture of a vast landscape - peopled by generation upon generation upon generation of people. The birth of Jesus into the world is the fruit of thousands of births - He is born into a real human history.
Perhaps we are too familiar with the Christmas Story - and have seen to many Nativity plays. These are delightful - but can make the events of the Birth of Jesus too sentimental. We lose the power and the Mystery of what it meant.
Perhaps before we enter the stable, we should do as the shepherds and the wise men did - gaze into the heavens and sense the greatness of God - and then, like them, enter the stable and recognise just Who is lying in the manger... and meet the woman who proves His humanity....
Drinking from the Wellspring
© 1999 Wellspring