(Painting: "The Nativity," by Fra Diamante, c.1465-1470)
34.) The Incarnation - With the birth of Christ, we enter once again into a new phase of the story of salvation history—indeed, the crux of the whole story. Christian tradition (with the possible exceptions of a few heretical side-groups) has unanimously affirmed the historic belief in the Incarnation: the belief that Jesus of Nazareth was the human “enfleshment” of the Second Person of the Trinity, “the Son of God.” In the incarnation, the nature of God himself was mystically united to human nature, both human nature as a whole (since it is interconnected itself) and the specific human personhood of Jesus the son of Mary. According to classical definitions, he had, within himself, two complete natures in one person. As fully human, he could represent the human race as the spiritual “firstborn” of the new creation. Just as all of humanity in the old creation was affected by the life and choices of the first true humans, so all of humanity in the new creation is affected by the life and choices of Jesus Christ. As fully God, he was also able to begin in himself the healing that human nature needed and to open the way for the union of human natures with the divine nature. This idea of the end goal of our salvation as "mystical union" or, more strongly, theosis, is a core idea of the early church fathers and the current theology of the Eastern Orthodox churches. According to this theology, then, it is the Incarnation itself that begins our salvation--though the cross and resurrection are absolutely central aspects of our soteriology, evangelicals have too often put all their stress on those two events and have forgotten the early church's teaching that the incarnation itself has soteriological impact. The fact that God has united himself with us is our salvation, the redemption of our natures. That redemption is progressively played out through Christ's life, death, resurrection, and ascension, but it begins at the moment of the Annunciation. The Incarnation, then, representing the joining of human and divine natures, gives us our firm hope and belief that we too “participate in the divine nature” in ever-increasing measure.