God Became Man and Dwells Among Us — This Changes Everything

Saying yes to the incarnate God ought to be the easiest thing in the world to do.

Matthias Stomer (1600-1650), “Adoration of the Shepherds”
Matthias Stomer (1600-1650), “Adoration of the Shepherds” (photo: Public Domain / Public Domain)

When we speak of Christianity as something totally new — which is to say, an event entirely unlike any other — what exactly do we mean?

Do we mean to imply that because it is so special, so distinctively different from anything else, that it therefore stands superior to everything else? Do we really want to leave that impression, that we possess an exceptionality so rarefied as to eclipse everything else in the universe? Because, in putting it that way, in seizing that high ground, are we not exhibiting an arrogance of mind, an exclusivity of manner abhorrent to the practice of civility and tolerance?

And yet is that even Christianity? Or is it not rather a stolen base, leaving in its wake a crude caricature of the Catholic Thing? Because to insist upon the singularity of something — indeed, to showcase its unprecedented excellence — can only be adjudged as arrogant or bumptious if the assertion itself is not true. In other words, if the thing itself were actually a false and dishonest representation of reality, then to say otherwise would be a lie, an egregious and insupportable refusal to face the facts.

And what are those facts? What is the judgment of the world, the ground of its rejection of the Christian claim? That the appearance of faith in the first century was not the result of a sudden eruption from another world, and that to attribute to faith the power to change anything in our own world, is therefore a most damnable lie. 

And for us to impose such a deception upon others, moreover, even to the extent of anathematizing all who disagree, would surely amount to an exercise in arrogance and exclusivity, no more insufferable than which could be imagined. The world would need no other evidence to justify the aim of so many to cancel Christianity. 

But, again, that is not Christianity. In fact, Christianity is the furthest thing possible from religious imperialism. Because, just to begin with, Christianity is not a “religion,” and its adherents have never pretended that it was. What it is rather is a revelation, the source of which is God himself, who has come unmistakably into our world to rescue us from mere “religion,” whose many pretensions notwithstanding, cannot save anyone. And this same God who invented Christianity, will not force himself upon anyone, but instead offers himself freely to everyone.

What then is Christianity? Nothing less than God himself deciding to become like us in order to enable us to become like him. The humanization of the one for the sake of the divinization of the other. That’s all. It is not rocket science. Nor is it any arbitrary imposition from above, but a proposal freely offered from below. And what does that mean? It means we’re free, entirely at liberty to refuse, to spit in God’s eye, as it were, burning every bridge Christ ever built to bring us safely home to heavenly beatitude. 

“Let us picture the world as an immense plain,” writes Luigi Giussani, “where numerous groups of human beings, under the direction of engineers and architects, are busy working on disparate projects to build bridges with thousands of arches serving as links between earth and heaven, between the ephemeral place of their existence and the ‘star’ of destiny.” And having pictured that scene, he then asks us to imagine what would happen if, all at once, a mysterious Other were to show up, urging them all to stop. “You are great and noble,” he tells them. “You are making a sublime effort, but it is an unhappy one because you will never manage to build a road linking your world with the ultimate mystery. Abandon your projects, lay down your tools. Destiny has taken pity on you. Follow me and I will build the bridge, for I am destiny.”

What is the implication of this?  It is very simple, says Giussani: “At this point, we no longer find ourselves facing a theoretical (philosophical or moral) problem, but an historical one. The first question we must ask is not: ‘Is what the Christian message says reasonable or right?’ But ‘Did it happen or not?’ or ‘Did God really intervene in history?’”

How wonderfully simplifying faith can be! Saying yes to the God who has come among us, ought to be the easiest thing in the world to do. And why would anyone want to say no? Who wants to thwart the deepest desire of the human heart, which is union and intimacy with God? Is there some percentage I’m not aware of accruing to those who dismiss what is most determinative of what it means to be human? For we have all been made for God, each of us a hollowed-out space only he can fill. If the heart of man, as St. Augustine reminds us on the first page of his Confessions, were to remain ever restless until finding rest in God, why would any sentient being wish to frustrate that, to block so basic a desire for final and lasting fulfilment?

“And is it true,” asks the poet John Betjeman, “This most tremendous tale of all, / Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue, / A baby in an ox’s stall? / The maker of the stars and sea / Become a child on earth for me?”

And if it is true? Then there is nothing more necessary to know than the answer to that question. Nothing will ever remain the same again, the whole blooming world having been permanently upended by that Event. We cannot go back to a time before God chose to be born in our world, pitching his tent in our midst. The centerpiece of the Christian claim, therefore, which is that God became man in a place called Palestine, and dwells even now amid the accidents of bread and wine, is not a matter of secondary moment. It is the heart of the matter. Period. Punto.