The incarnation of Jesus Christ: the key to our redemption
January 7, 2021
God the creator of the universe becoming one of us – a pivotal moment in human history.
The Lord’s incarnation, meaning literally “enfleshment,” changed everything for the human race. Having become man, Jesus saved us from sin, death and eternal separation from God.
As the Church prepares to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Catholic Voice asked two priests of the archdiocese to explain the importance of God becoming human in the person of Jesus, and reflect on why the incarnation is essential to our salvation. They shared their insights via email.
“When Jesus becomes human like us, he does so to redeem us, which means he is the one human to actually live the divine plan of God to its fullest,” said Father James Buckley, associate pastor of St. Cecilia Parish in Omaha.
He said that to redeem is to give something its true meaning, which in the case of human beings is to be in union with God and all creation according to his plan.
He offered the example of a pizza coupon.
“We have to take it to a pizza parlor in order to redeem it, to get what it really is worth, a pizza,” Father Buckley said. “As humans, we are not worth what we were intended to be worth unless we live a life of total union with God, self and other(s). Jesus does this. Thus, he redeems us.”
HUMAN BODY, HUMAN NATURE
Father Matthew Niggemeyer, associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in West Point, St. Boniface Parish in Monterey Township, St. Anthony in St. Charles Township and St. Aloysius in Aloys, wrote of the significance of Jesus assuming both a human body and human nature in achieving our redemption.
“The Fathers of the Church have an amazing little dictum: ‘What was not assumed was not redeemed.’ … Because sin is the antithesis of our human nature, it actually deforms our human nature because it twists it away from its original purpose – to love, adore and glorify God.
“Had Jesus just come by taking on only flesh, human nature would not have been redeemed, as it would have remained in the power of sin and death. … Jesus, however, took on our flesh so as to bring life to that which had been touched by death, and he took on our human nature so as to bring freedom to that which had been enslaved by sin.”
By taking human form, living in our world and experiencing what we experience, “God comes to enter into complete union with his people and, by virtue of that union, undo the result of sin entering the world,” he said, “and to ‘take possession’ of the people of God.”
“In this context, the coming of Christ is meant to be seen as an ‘exorcism’ of the world’s ruler (Satan), who in truth is the enemy of our human nature.”
‘A MODEL OF HOLINESS’
God coming in human form in the person of Jesus offered even more. Jesus offered humanity a model of holiness.
Because humanity was damaged by sin, it needed to be shown how to fulfill God’s plan, Father Buckley said.
“To fulfill the purpose that God has for human beings means to know what choices people must make as they relate to each other and things, and then to make that choice.
“So human beings need someone to tell them how to fulfill God’s plan, because they cannot do it on their own,” Father Buckley said. “They need a communication from God to inform them. Thus, God sends the ‘Word’ to communicate how human beings should act.”
He explained that Jesus also reveals man to himself, as St. Pope John Paul II wrote in his 1979 encyclical “Redemptor Hominis” (“The Redeemer of Man”).
“Christ reveals man to himself, because we do not see God’s plan clearly. Sin diverts our attention from God to our own perceived needs,” Father Buckley said. “Instead of real union, we seek limited union such as momentary pleasures, or even worse, that others would treat us as their source of truth instead of God. This is what Satan has chosen.”
Father Niggemeyer said that John Paul proposed that “Christians would see in Jesus the purpose and fulfillment of our human natures and our human body – communion with the living God for all eternity.”
“The pope is also clear that we cannot enter into this communion without entry into and union with the Cross of Christ,” he said.
He explained that our human experience points out that by dying to self, we find true fulfillment and happiness.
“Look at the happiness of those who, living a life of prayer, sacraments and virtue, continuously pour themselves out for the good of others. Then compare that to the happiness of those who refuse to do any of that and, instead, give themselves over to their base desires which the world tells them will make them happy. Who is the happier?”
JESUS REMAINS WITH US
As described in the Gospel of John, before Jesus left this earth he promised not to leave us orphans; he indicated he would remain with us in a tangible way through his Church and the sacraments, until he comes again.
“The sacraments are truly wondrous gifts that we have from Jesus Christ,” Father Niggemeyer said. “They are, following (St.) Augustine, ‘visible signs of invisible grace,’ just as our Savior was 2,000 years ago and still is today.
“He unites us to himself and breaks the power of Satan in baptism, seals the grace of baptism in us through confirmation, forgives our sins in reconciliation, forgives sins and heals through anointing of the sick, calls men to continue his Church through the sacrament of holy orders, unites man and woman to each other and to himself in marriage, and unites us all to himself in preparation for heaven in the Eucharist.”
And as members of the Mystical Body of Christ (the Church), we continue the incarnation of Jesus Christ, Father Niggemeyer said.
“The choice of God to continue to be with us is ‘acted out’ in the sacraments,” Father Buckley said. “They are ordered by God the Father, accomplished by Christ and given to us by the knowledge of faith by the Holy Spirit.”
“We are hungry for union because that is our nature and that physis will never change,” he said, “because God has chosen to create us in his image and likeness. He meets that hunger with the bread of life come down from heaven.”
He explained that Eucharist means “thanksgiving,” and that we give thanks for our redemption every time we receive the sacrament. And we can be with the Lord anytime for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.
“The great gift of prayer before the Eucharist has, through the centuries, carried the faithful through the worst of times,” Father Buckley said.
“(A)ll who gaze upon the face of Christ are offered the portal by which the mind and heart may see into the eternal light as it transforms the darkness of a sinful world. But by continuing to look into a face that never looks away, all can come to know that God, in Christ, will never leave them – neither in this life or the next.”