The Salvific Nature of the Incarnation

With Easter coming up our minds naturally turn towards the Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the time we deliberately set apart to pause and remember and let the power of our Lord’s Passion impact and refresh us.
There is a greater issue that is closely related to this remembrance. It is that which stems from the Christ to directly impact our lives – salvation. Thus to remember Christ at Easter is to reflect and praise God for our very salvation. However, even in this time of remembering the Death and Resurrection, and not wishing to detract from their importance in anyway, I believe that we must remember, even in this time, the incarnation and its own salvific significance.
These thoughts find their root in the words of St Athanasius in his work On the Incarnation. In talking about the Fall, Athanasius writes:

“For the transgression of the commandment was making them [humanity] turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good.”
On the Incarnation, Chapter 1, Section 4

Athanasius makes clear that, after the fall, men were falling into corruption, which leads to non-existence. However he clarifies that not only were they falling or returning to non-existence, but it was because they lost the knowledge of God. According to Athanasius, it is the loss of the knowledge of God that is ultimately corrupting for man. To lose the knowledge of God is to lose communion with God Himself, with existence Himself. To not know of, inevitably leads to not knowing. Athanasius describes the results of this loss as a return to non-existence.
God, in His infinite grace, and in the decision to save humanity from this non-existence is faced with a fundamental problem: how can He save man?
His answer to this question of salvation is, as we know, Jesus Christ, the man made flesh, God incarnate. However, the very idea of “God incarnate” being linked intimately with salvation brings up an interesting point. Where salvation tends to conjure up images of the Savior with arms outstretched upon the cross, we often miss out on the incredibly salvific nature of the Incarnation itself. If we are saved from non-existence by knowledge of God then who can better teach that knowledge than God Himself?
And indeed, this is the very nature of Christ:

“…in these last days he [God] has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
– Hebrews 1:2-3, Italics added

Christ by being God was best able to teach us about God by showing us His very nature in His person. Athanasius phrases it this way:

“Wherefore, in all naturalness and fitness, desiring to do good to men, as Man He dwells, taking to Himself a body like the rest; and through His actions done in the body, as it were on thier own level, He teaches those who would not learn by other means to know Himself, the Word of God, and through Him the Father.”
On the Incarnation, Chapter 3, Section 14

Jesus says this of himself when asked about his Father by the Pharisees:

“You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also”
– John 8:19, Italics added

God becomes man and, by this revelation of the nature of God to humanity, man is saved. By coming once again to the knowledge of God through the revelation of God in flesh, man is prevented from descending completely into corruption and thus, ultimately, non-existence. This by no means belittles the death and resurrection because they act as the final defeat of death, a necessary part of salvation. However, viewing the incarnation as salvific drastically reorients our view of Christ’s life. Not only did He finally save us and complete his “mission” on the cross, but his very life, as he lived it day to day saved us as it reintroduced us to the very nature of God.
The question remains, of course, what significance does the Incarnation play in the consideration of Easter? As I mentioned above, with the overarching theme of salvation being considered and weighing on everyone’s hearts it is a marvelous wonder to consider not just Christ’s Death as our salvation but His Life as our salvation.
By showing us Life, He gives us Life and by ultimately defeating Death as He does on the cross He gives us Life eternally. By showing us God’s nature, He saves us and through His resurrection and defeat of Death we have eternal life in Him. The Incarnation itself saves us and is a vital part of this twofold understanding of salvation.
May God Bless you in this time of remembrance and praise for the salvation found in Christ’s Death and Resurrection as well as His Birth.
-MT

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