Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States

What is the Meaning of the Incarnation For Youth in 21st Century America?

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It is difficult to explain to the modern mind the idea of a religious mystery. Our notions of the word have been completely swallowed up by terms like "murder mystery" or "mystery of science". When it comes to our faith, however, mystery refers to another dimension of life. Modern American education accustoms a person to thinking of the world in terms of rigid rules and formulae; calculus and Newtonian laws and are the ultimate descriptors of the universe. But for the Orthodox faith this will not do. The church plunges deeper, she soars higher, into the realities of existence. Regarding the Christmas feast, modern, "practical" Christianity will ask, "How does Christ's birth impact my life?" It is a good question. But Eastern, mystical Christianity asks, "How does Christ's birth transform my spirit?" It is a deeper question.

One of the most famous theological quotes on Christ's birth comes down from one of our own Coptic fathers, St. Athanasius: "God was made man, so that men could be made gods." It's a tricky statement, but we may simplify it thus: "God stooped down to our level, that He may raise us up to His level." Why is this so important?

For centuries before our Lord's advent (or coming), the world languished under the yoke of sin. Believe it or not, historians agree that the time our Lord came into the world was spiritually one of the worst eras in human history. The violence, crime, treachery, and sexual immorality of the old Roman empire were unrestrained, and human nature reached its worst limits. Man had hit rock bottom. The world thus was crying out for redemption – not for "improvement" or "repair" – but for complete transformation of life. And in this "fullness of time," God sent His Son in to the world.

There is not a single person, who sincerely knowing God, has not gotten on his knees at least once and begged God for transformation. For we are all very inadequate spiritually. A Christian will often receive God's grace to see himself as he really is, and then the cry comes, "Change me, Lord, change me!"

There is especially something about modern American life (though living here is a gift of God) that makes a person constantly need changing. The rush and busyness of life, the meetings and deadlines, the immense industry of entertainment, advertising, and merchandise – magnified during the holiday season – all make a person get "too caught up" with the fuss and weaken the spirit into a state of fragility and staleness. This, combined with the sin, frustration, and personal failures that always go along with human life, all cry out for change, for total inner transformation. "I don't want to live this way!" is the common plea of many modern youth.

And here comes the mystery: as Christ took on our own flesh so we have been given His divine power and boldness to overcome the world and our own weaknesses. Why? "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33) and therefore, "You have overcome the world." How? By the Incarnation. In other words, we exchange gifts: He takes from us our humanity, and its defeat; and we take from Him His divinity – and victory. How this "exchange" occurs, and how our human nature is transformed, is a mystery. But it happens, and praise God that it does! What is required of the Christian is a patient, persistent, and faithful request made to God every day of the fast (and of the year) that this inner change might take place. And it certainly will: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you" (Luke 11:9).

I saw all creation today:
glowing with a bright light:
because of the great manifestation:
which was announced to us.

For the One without flesh was incarnate:
and was born of the Virgin:
like everyone else:
but as God as well as man.

(Doxology for the Nativity Paramoune)

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