Advent, the Incarnation and mercy
Saint Athanasius, the great fourth-century bishop and Doctor of the Church, wrote the following in his work entitled On the Incarnation of the Word: “After the Word of God was revealed in the body and made known to us his Father, then the deceit of the demons disappears and vanishes, while men, looking to the true divine Word of the Father, abandon idols and henceforth recognize the true God.”
These words can serve as a starting point for our consideration of the Advent season. In a certain way, Advent is the preparation for our celebration of God’s new creation. When the Word was revealed in the body, the mystery of God’s purpose begins to be made known as he restores his creation and endows it with a yet greater dignity.
Genesis tells us that “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” But we sinned, disfiguring the divine image and losing our likeness to God. But God now reveals the mystery of his purpose, which he had from the beginning to restore, not destroy, his creation. The Word, the image of the unseen God, and the image according to which we were created, takes to himself our human nature so that, in our same nature, he may restore what was fallen.
In absolute love he is obedient to his Father’s will, even to death. By absorbing into himself all the evils of sin and the final enemy, death, and by his wondrous resurrection and ascension in our same human nature, he brings to fulfillment God’s original plan of salvation. Even more, God reveals that he has already raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus!
When the Word of God came among us in our own humanity, he revealed to us our true human nature by his birth, by his life in a family, by sharing the experiences of daily life, by his death in our mortal nature, and by rising to new life. In our Advent and Christmas celebrations, Athanasius tells us that we need to look “to the true divine Word of the Father, abandon idols and henceforth recognize the true God.” The idols and demons of our age would have us turn away from the truth that the Son of God lived among us as a man. They would seduce us to believe that our body is a mere accident with no relation to who we are as a person, to believe that the creation of mankind in the divine image, male and female, is a quaint and outdated myth, and that gender is a malleable social construct.
“After the Word of God was revealed in the body and made known to us his Father,” Athanasius writes, “then the deceit of the demons disappears and vanishes.” Advent is a time for us to renew our confidence in the Father’s wondrous plan of creation and salvation. It’s a time for us to renew our faith and our witness to the truth that Jesus has revealed about the Father — and about our own human nature.
Advent is also a time to marvel at the mercy and kindness of God, who did not abandon us when we were weak and fallen. The book of Genesis — after telling the story of creation and the fall, and outlining the cancerous spread of sin — begins the great story of God’s plan to gather this fragmented community together again. God calls Abraham and promises him descendants more numerous than the stars in the heaven. From among these descendants, after countless centuries of waiting, arose the Son of God, the Savior, in his human nature.
Since such great mercy has been shown to us, our witness to the Truth against the idols and demons of our present age should be tempered as well by great mercy. As the long centuries of preparation for the Christ were often tempered by setbacks and failures, we also must be patient. As we prepare to celebrate the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ our Lord, let us have great confidence that God’s love made visible in us — through the work of the same Holy Spirit which once overshadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary — will finally cause the deceit of the demons of our day to disappear and the Kingdom of God to be made manifest.
ABBOT PLACID SOLARI, OSB, is Belmont Abbey College’s chancellor and chaplain of Legatus’ Charlotte Chapter.