11 August 2013
This week we continue our focus on the Creed as part of our Year of Faith.
Article four of the Creed reads “For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
The previous articles address our belief in God’s universal omnipotence as creator of all things and our belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, the second person in the Blessed Trinity.
The fourth article brings us personally into the picture and tells us the reason that Jesus was born.
“For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven”
The word “men“ in this phrase comes from the Greek word anthropos and very definitely does not refer to the male gender. It’s unfortunate that the English translation does. The original word means all mankind, all humanity, the whole human race – and that’s how we should understand it. And we can’t simply leave the word ‘men’ out of the sentence and say ‘for us and our salvation’ because that implies that salvation is only for us, the people reciting the Creed. And that’s not true. Jesus came into the world to bring salvation to the whole world – not just a select few.
Our starting point in understanding this article is the fact that it is God who makes the move to redeem us. We were and are created in love to be in a loving relationship with God. That original perfect relationship was ruptured when mankind chose to question the wisdom of God and their trust in God died in their hearts. At that moment all possibility of eternal life with God was destroyed. As my junior school catechism teacher used to say “the gates of heaven were slammed shut and locked.” And while it was mankind who needed to seek and find reconciliation with God, in our fickle human nature that was never going to be possible. And so God comes to us. The Word became flesh; humbly, perfectly, lovingly, in the person of Jesus; born to bring about our salvation; to open the gates of heaven again.
In this article we have the first mention of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, ‘the Lord, the giver of Life,’ was sent to sanctify the womb of a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee; and she conceived the only-begotten Son of the Father; the Word became flesh.
The Virgin Mary’s role in God’s plan of redemption is obviously vital. Without Mary’s consent, the Christ-child could not be born. When the Archangel Gabriel addressed Mary, he said “Hail Mary, full of grace.” She was full of grace because from the instance of her conception in her mother’s womb, Mary received the sanctifying grace that freed her from the stain of original sin – her Immaculate Conception. She didn’t earn or merit it. God gave it to her, so that she could provide a worthy, spotless, and untainted human nature for Jesus.
The words ‘incarnate of the Virgin Mary’ mean literally that Jesus was ‘en-fleshed’ in Mary; he took his human nature from his mother. Think about that. Perhaps Jesus had her eyes, her mouth or her nose; perhaps her hair or her hands; perhaps his toes looked like hers or his smile.
Mary’s title Mother of God goes back to the Council held in Ephesus in the year 431. Prior to that Mary was called the Mother of Christ. Mary, Mother of God, doesn’t mean that we believe she was divine or that she had any divine attributes. But Mary is the mother of Jesus who is the Son of God and as such she most certainly is the Mother of God.
The phrase “and became man” were added to exclude the erroneous idea that the Son of God merely “dwelt” in Jesus, but that he did not actually become a human being. There was a serious heresy in the second and third century that had no doubts about Jesus’ divine nature, but they could not believe that He had a human nature. It is quite mindboggling and difficult for us, limited as we are in our mere humanity, to understand this remarkable miracle of the incarnation of Christ.
In times gone by, we would briefly kneel at this point in the Creed as a sign of our reverence for the awesome mystery of the incarnation of God. We no longer kneel but we do still bow humbly as we acknowledge the most important event in human history.
Recognising Jesus to be truly and fully human is such a vital and important aspect of our faith. It means that our world is no longer only the ‘work’ of the Son of God; he is now part of it. He no longer merely sees its life; he is caught up in it. He knows at firsthand what it is to be human – with all our limits, including the final limit of death. He has experienced our world of joy and sorrow, hunger, weariness, hatred, fear, frustration, anguish and pain. He knows about temptation and understands how difficult it can be to be faithful to God, the Father. The fact that Christ has genuinely shared our experience from the inside can persuade us that God personally understands and loves us; that we are uniquely precious and loveable in the sight of God.
Jesus is the beauty of God in person. When we fall in love with his beauty, we are well on the way to accepting his truth and imitating his goodness.
“For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
The most remarkable event in the entire history of humankind!