Just over 2,000 years ago the most amazing event in human history occurred: the God of the universe became incarnate - took on human flesh - and became one of us! In contrast to the many legends of ancient gods of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, this event actually took place in time and space. It is tied to real, historical political figures: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king" (Mat. 1:1) and the reign of "Caesar Augustus... when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Luke 2:1-2).
I emphasize this because "Without the Incarnation, there is no salvation." If God did not actually come into human history in the form of a human baby born of the Virgin Mary, we cannot be saved from our sinful nature and from death unto eternal life in communion with God. Of course, it is not enough to merely agree with the historical fact of God's Incarnation in Jesus the Messiah: the devils also believe this as a fact, and they tremble in fear of coming judgment. It is also vitally necessary to believe in Him, in the sense of placing our complete trust and hope in Him. But the historical facts are necessary in order for our faith to be anchored in the material reality of His birth, not in a myth or fable. There seems to be a conscious effort in recent decades to link the Christmas Story to the modern myth of Santa Claus with his elves and reindeer, and with Frosty the Snowman, that children are eventually told is just fairy tales. But there was a real Sankt Niklaus and Kris Kringle ("Christkindl" or "Christ Child" in German), it's just that these stories have been greatly distorted into myths.
Luke's Gospel begins with the story of an angel announcing to Zacharias and Elizabeth about John the Baptist's conception, birth, and ministry, also anchored in human history: "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness" (Luke 3:1-2). John the Baptist's ministry signaled the end of the Old Covenant and the beginning of the New Covenant: he was both the greatest of the Old Testament prophets and the messenger who introduced to his followers Jesus as the Messiah.
The miraculous conception of Jesus the Messiah is recorded later in the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was like this; for after his mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, before they came together, she was found pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, being a righteous man, and not willing to make her a public example, intended to put her away secretly. But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, don't be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She shall bring forth a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins." Now all this has happened, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, And shall bring forth a son. They shall call his name Immanuel;" Which is, being interpreted, "God with us" (Mat. 1:18-23).
Why is the historical fact of the Virgin Birth of Jesus important? Because if Jesus was not conceived of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, He could not be the Son of God, but merely an illegitimate child of a teenage girl who "got in trouble" by some young man, perhaps by a Roman soldier. The Pharisees accused Him of this very thing: "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father, God" (John 8:41). Thus we must emphasize the purity and holiness of the Virgin Mary in order to protect the Incarnation of God our Savior.
The Evangelist John addresses this issue indirectly in the same chapter 8, giving us the story of the woman caught in adultery:
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman taken in adultery. Having set her in the midst, they told him, "Teacher, we found this woman in adultery, in the very act. Now in our law, Moses commanded us to stone such. What then do you say about her?" They said this testing him, that they might have something to accuse him of. But Jesus stooped down, and wrote on the ground with his finger. But when they continued asking him, he looked up and said to them, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first stone at her." Again he stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground. They, when they heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning from the oldest, even to the last. Jesus was left alone with the woman where she was, in the middle. Jesus, standing up, saw her and said, "Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more" (John 8:3-11).
These days some who call themselves Christians will bring up this story of the woman caught in adultery as an excuse to be "caring" and "loving" and "accept diversity," but they ignore Christ's summary of this event: "From now on, sin no more." Certainly, we should be forgiving, but that implies there are sins to be forgiven. Today I was reading in the book of Zechariah, one of the last of the Old Testament's prophets: "Behold, the cover of lead was lifted up, and there was a woman sitting in the midst of the ephah basket. The angel said, 'This is Wickedness;' and he threw her down into the midst of the ephah basket; and he threw the weight of lead on its mouth" (Zech. 5:7-8). This seems to be quite a strange prophecy: what does it mean? The context in previous chapters is the Temple in Jerusalem, the Old Testament equivalent of the Church, and the worship in it.
The Apostle John who wrote the above Gospel, also wrote the following in the book of Revelation: "I have this against you, that you tolerate your woman, Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. She teaches and seduces my servants to commit sexual immorality, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her into a bed, and those who commit adultery with her into great oppression, unless they repent of her works" (Rev. 2:20-22). And...
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here. I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed sexual immorality, and those who dwell in the earth were made drunken with the wine of her sexual immorality." He carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness. I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet-colored animal, full of blasphemous names, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of sexual immorality of the earth. And on her forehead a name was written, "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF PROSTITUTES AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH." I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus (Rev. 17:1-6).
Jude, the brother of James, wrote of similar distortions of the Gospel, as follows:
Beloved, while I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I was constrained to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all transmitted to the saints. For there are certain people who crept in secretly, even those who were long ago written about for this condemnation: ungodly men, perverting the grace of our God into unbridled lust, and denying our only Master, God, and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I desire to remind you, though you already know this, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who didn't believe. Angels who didn't keep their first domain, but deserted their own dwelling place, he has kept in everlasting bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, having, in the same way as these who have given themselves over to sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, are set forth as an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire (Jude 1:3-7).
The Greek word for "sexual immorality" is "porneo," from which we have the cognate words "pornography" and "fornication," but it also has wider meanings including adultery, homosexuality, and bestiality - all forms of sexual deviancy. In contrast with these descriptions of sexual immorality that distort the grace of God into unbridled lust, the Apostle John wrote what is clearly a description of the glorified Virgin Mary as a symbol of the Church, the Body of Christ, Who came forth from her womb:
A great sign was seen in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child. She cried out in pain, laboring to give birth. Another sign was seen in heaven. Behold, a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven crowns. His tail drew one-third of the stars of the sky, and threw them to the earth. The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. Her child was caught up to God, and to his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that there they may nourish her one thousand two hundred sixty days. There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels made war on the dragon. The dragon and his angels made war. They didn't prevail, neither was a place found for him any more in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, the old serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world. He was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him (Rev. 12:1-9).
Have you ever watched the movie "Gremlins"? It starts with a nice, fuzzy little animal with instructions to keep it away from bright lights and water, and not to feed it after midnight. The teenager who receives this "gift" promptly breaks these rules, and the cute, furry creature quickly spawns into little monsters that multiply into more and more monsters, finally destroying the whole town. There's a saying, "All art is didactic" - the artist, author or screenwriter aims to teach, to communicate a certain message. In this case, it's when the passions are fed and watered, they soon grow out of control and destroy both the individual and society.
All this is to say, "Without kenosis there is no theosis." St. Paul describes the Incarnation as "kenosis" - the Greek word for "self-emptying" as follows: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, didn't consider it robbery to be equal with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:5-9). Only if we empty ourselves of our passions and lusts as He did, can we become purified, sanctified and glorified as He is, and "become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4).
The Apostle Paul further wrote to his disciple Titus, whom he had installed as bishop of Crete: "For we were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior [Jesus, which means 'Yahweh saves' in Hebrew] and his love toward mankind appeared, not by works of righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy, he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, which he poured out on us richly, through Jesus Christ our Savior; that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:3-7). Jesus, God our Savior, has appeared in the flesh! If we have abandoned our various deceitful lusts and pleasures and received baptism, the washing of regeneration, we are justified by His grace, and become inheritors of the divine life!
How does this happen? Again, St. Paul wrote: "We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we will also be partakers of his resurrection; knowing this, that our old man was crucified with him, that the body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be in bondage to sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Rom. 6:4-7). Baptism is becoming united with Christ, sharing His divine nature!
As St. Athanasius wrote, "God became man so that man might become a god." Christ took to Himself our sin-deformed human nature, yet without personally sinning, so that He could confer on us sinful humans His divine nature. Christ's "divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue; by which he has granted to us his exceedingly great and precious promises; that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust" (2 Pet. 1-3-4). The word "partakers" in Greek is "koinos" or "communicants" - receiving into our own bodies the Body and Blood of Christ Himself.
So there you have it: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us - the Incarnation of God the Word, Jesus Christ, is the beginning of our salvation. From that very beginning, the Evil One drove King Herod to try to destroy this future King, the hope of all mankind. And throughout history Satan has been trying to deceive the Body of Christ, the Church, by tempting Her to commit all sorts of abominations in the name of "freedom" and "tolerance." These evils must be rejected so that Christ "might present the Church to himself glorious, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).
When the Wedding Feast of Christ with His bride, the Church, takes place, will you be a partaker of that glorious event?