Incarnation and Image

Spurred on by St Athanasius’ quote that I highlighted in my previous post, I have been reflecting on the Incarnation. I’m once again astonished at the magnitude of God’s work through Christ. It’s in that startling and mysterious event when God became man and heaven and earth uniquely merged that we find a realigning of humankind’s and creation’s conjoined trajectory toward salvation and restoration.

Truly, we discover our salvation in the Incarnation of the Word of God. As St Athanasius states, “He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become god.” The Incarnation is intimately connected with the Image of God. We are being saved as we are reimaged into God. Our salvation is a forward movement in that we are not being saved backward into the original image of God that we find in the opening chapters of Genesis. Rather, we are being saved forward into the full maturity of the image of God as embodied in Jesus, the genuine human being.

And as the image of God that is depicted in Genesis was expressed through the proper stewardship of creation, the fullness of this image, as embodied in Christ and to which we ourselves are being saved, is expressed through a restorative and transformative stewardship of creation. We see this subtly demonstrated in the Eucharist.

During the Divine Liturgy, as we move closer to the Eucharist, the priest states, “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, in behalf of all, and for all.” Our offering experiences a threefold movement. First, our offering is given to us by God. God gives us wheat and grapes from the ground. He is the Treasury of good things and Giver of Life and we gratefully receive his benefaction. Second, our offering is the work of our hands as we present to him not wheat and grapes, but bread and wine. We do not simply offer back the raw fruits of the ground. As creation’s stewards, we cultivate, transform and return God’s gifts, mingled with our creativity and labor. Third, our offering is then transformed by God into his very presence and life — the actual Body and Blood of Christ — of which we then partake and carry into the world. In this way, heaven and earth merge in accordance with God’s original design.

Frankly, God could have skipped us in the process. Yet it has always been his intention that heaven and earth intersect through our creative cooperation with his will. We reflect his image into creation through our stewardship. We impart his life as we live in him, the Source and Giver of Life.

Simply put, as goes humanity, so goes creation. As humanity finds life in God, so creation finds life in God. As humanity fell and became distorted, so creation fell and became distorted. As humanity is rescued back into the life of God, so creation is rescued back into the life of God. In Christ’s Incarnation, God’s life fills human life. Then through human life, God’s life seeps into all of creation, reclaiming, reconciling and renewing every bit of space, time and matter from its destructive trajectory and resetting creation’s course toward the future God intended.

The threefold movement of the Eucharist forms a paradigm of our stewardship in the world as we are being saved and formed into the image of Christ. God graciously gives to us. We thankfully receive his gift, creatively and cooperatively develop it, and then humbly offer our work back to God. God then fills our offering with his very presence, transforming it even further so that it becomes a source of his life to us and to the world. This sacramental paradigm applies to all of the various areas and intricacies of daily life. In this way, we are the Body of Christ, his ongoing incarnation within creation.

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