In the prologue to St John’s Gospel, chapter 1, St John the Theologian refers to Christ the Logos as the “Light that enlightens everyone (coming into the world)” [John 1:9]. It is highly significant that St John chooses to begin his Gospel not with the birth and infancy narratives as found in the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke but rather with the cosmic frame or context to that human birth. He is concerned to show how the coming of Christ in the world has a universal significance. He does this by assuming, in a very natural and unforced way, what he regards to be an obvious truth; namely that God, the Light, enlightens everyone. The Incarnation, the Logos becoming flesh, makes that truth even more bold by asserting that universal truth now shines forth in the God-Man, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is both the God-for-all and the Man-for-all; but on the basis that, in some measure, all people already know Him.
This positive doctrine stands in stark contrast to the pinched, ungenerous view, even sadly to be found among some Orthodox themselves, that God only loves or reveals Himself to the righteous. This, of course, is arrant nonsense. The most powerful refutation of this narrow-minded blindness is to be found in the person of St Paul who in no way could be described as righteous (except as to the law) before his conversion. He was temporarily blinded by the Divine Uncreated Light outwardly in order that he might see inwardly the same Light, the Light that enlightens everyone, coming into the world. This is why he was so passionately committed to evangelising Gentiles, not because they were without God but because now was the time in which they could truly come to know Him more clearly and deeply. Their existing understanding of God could be completed by the Incarnation in the same way that this had now become possible for the Jews. The universalism of the gospel in St Paul’s writing matches that of St John in this regard. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, [Galatians 3:28].
As we know there are two major feasts in the Christian Church, Christmas and Easter. At Easter we hear the aforementioned Christmas Gospel of St John in his first chapter. At Christmas we behold the Nativity icon and we are struck immediately by the darkness of the cave and the myrrh for burial brought by the Magi, indicating this child’s obedience to death for the salvation of the world. So the two feasts act as one but of course we are now focusing on the truth of the Gospel that Christ was born to save us and later on the truth that Christ died and rose again to save us; yet, this is one truth not two.
Christ was born to save us, but what does that actually mean? If we start as St John did in his Gospel from the premise that God enlightens everyone already, and has been doing so throughout the countless millennia of human history, and will continue to do so into the far future, then we can only answer that question in a most majestic and positive way. Everything that is good, wholesome, loving, just and true in the affairs of men and women, has been, is and will be the action of the Logos, God the Word. Now we know indeed that all that is of the very best in humanity has a human face in Jesus Christ. Jesus, being also God, shows in His Own Person how that which is good in us may become better. This is what it means to say that God was born to save us. It is an ongoing process in the affairs of humankind, the implications of which have to be worked out for each generation. Humanism does not belong to the atheists. Divine humanism has been and is the gift of Christ to the world.
This Orthodox Christian approach to the Incarnation has profound implications for evangelisation. We are not taking the gospel out to benighted pagans who are utterly bereft of the knowledge of God in their heathen idolatry. No, rather, with great humility and joy, we are showing anyone who cares to see and hear, Jesus Christ. It is He who is rightly to be regarded as the fulfilment of all their wisest inclinations and most beautiful dreams. The only thing we need to do is to be bold about this presentation of Christ, but it must be a boldness in holiness; in other words, we must not get in the way of this divine revelation. That is why personal and social repentance and transformation is the vital prerequisite of any preaching of the gospel, lest we be a scandal to the One Whom we proclaim.
In celebrating this joyful feast of the Incarnation let us all, therefore, redouble our efforts by divine grace to become a people receiving a double endowment of the divine Light. The first expression of this Gift, as we have seen, is in our created human nature. It is shared by all to a greater or lesser extent. The second endowment or gift of the Light is perhaps the greater, for it is the work of God and us, new in each generation, of going beyond and deeper than the natural life into the life of union with God. In this ongoing unification of humanity and divinity our human nature becomes doubly radiant. It serves as a guiding Light for all who seek Christ the Light, the One whose radiance they already to some degree perceive. Let us then ourselves become light bearers for this enlightenment of all.