I have just started my way through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation to help with my Advent reflections. For Athanasius, the study of theology always leads to worship and wonder – or maybe it is better said that for him theology and worship are intertwined. His words are in bold italics below.
Now, Macarius, true lover of Christ, we must take a step further in the faith of our holy religion, and consider also the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst. That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word will also be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth. For it is a fact that the more unbelievers pour scorn on Him, so much the more does He make His Godhead evident (page 25).
A placard in Olympia, WA, placed next to Christmas displays at the capitol: “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens our hearts and enslaves our minds.”
That is nothing compared to the current, horrible persecution of Christians in Orissa, India.
Does not our handling and reaction to suffering, persecution, foolishness of the world, etc. reveal who we really are, just as Christ’s sufferings reveal his nature? Is not the world’s hatred of us believers an affirmation of our faithfulness to Christ? The Son could only reveal himself in fullness by taking human form – there needed to be something physical, touchable, to abuse, so that the world could see how a perfect man reacts and so that man’s sinful hatred of God could be even further exposed. In a similar fashion, our handling of suffering reveals our level of sanctification – which is a measure of how like Christ we are.
He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men (page 26).
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV). The Word took on flesh due to a mission, and that mission was to save souls. That mission originated in and was motivated by the love of God the Father for the world. Yes, God takes sin seriously – his Son had to take on a body so that he could die in our place – but love drives the whole enterprise. To ignore such love is utter foolishness and great affront to God.
We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same same Word Who made it in the beginning (page 26).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made…. And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14, ESV).
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.
(Joy to the World, verse 4).
The Son, the Word, was co-creator in the beginning. And he is the One through whom the New Creation comes, both in our experience presently of regeneration and in the new heavens and new earth at his second coming. No act of creation, whether physical or spiritual is apart from the Word. The creator takes on what He created in the beginning, humanity, to redeem humankind. He uses the vessel, humanity, though which sin entered the world, to redeem it. Talk about reversals! Amazing! Athanasius points out that before the Fall, Adam and Eve were in fellowship with the Word, but with the Fall left its life-giving embrace. God had not only made them out of nothing, but had also graciously bestowed on them His own life by the grace of the Word (page 38). So the Word came to man to give life again to all who would respond. The responders are embraced. With just a few sentences, Athanasius connects the beginning of the Bible to its end, showing the Word to be central figure in all of history.