Some time ago a fundamentalist “inquisitor” tried to test my orthodoxy and interrogated me about the divinity of Christ (ministers occasionally receive these kinds of strange telephone calls. You might have had similar experiences with your more conservative relatives, friends, or coworkers.) Holy innocence, I wondered, they are truly hopeless, what a pudding-head question! Not the divinity but the humanity of Christ constitutes the greatest theological mystery. Anselm of Canterbury (1034 – 1109) marveled: Cur Deus Homo - Why God (became) Human? I am not particularly fond of his motives and conclusions, but his question outlines the true mystery of incarnation. The Gospel of Matthew (1:22f) approached this mystery by referring to the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14:
Therefore the Lord himselfe will giue you a signe. Beholde, the virgine shall conceiue and beare a sonne, and she shall call his name Immanu-el. (I quote in the delightful Renaissance English of the Geneva Study Bible.)
Immanu-el, Immanuel or Emmanuel means “God with us”. But who was the original “God-with-us” of the Isaiah prophecy? No one really knows. The Prophecy was most likely directed to Jerusalem’s King Ahaz. The sign was to be the conception and birth of a royal baby to a young noblewoman (this is the exact meaning of this word (g'almah/t) in old Semitic languages, not a virgin but a young noblewoman). Who was this young noblewoman and who was this baby boy? She was probably one of the king’s wives and the boy was his son; some point to Ahaz’ son and successor king Hezekiah, but it is not certain; only a few names of queens and very few names of their children survived. Their original identities remain a mystery. But we can know other things with greater certainty. Isaiah himself had already quoted and combined several older religious formulas. The pre-biblical myth from Ugarit (KTU 1.24.8) used the identical childbearing phrase of hope: “a noblewoman will bear a son...” Biblical legendary stories record a similar hope-inspiring name-giving angelic prophetic instructions: “You will have a son and will call his name....” (Gen 16:11). All these ancient archetypal references point towards a powerful message of hope in the birth of a child. Why would the birth of a mythical baby, a royal baby, Mary’s baby, or any baby, mean that God is with us? It remains a central mystery of incarnate divine love.
Indeed, not the divinity of Christ, but the humanity of God has been one of the deepest mysteries of divine love. How and why is God coming in the form of babies? How does it transform our view of the world? Why is God bringing help and hope by becoming one of/with us? What does it mean, that God is human? What does it mean for our ethics, for our personal, social and political behavior? But even further, why is the creator becoming creation? What does it mean to eliminate this important conceptual distinction? What does it mean for our relationship towards creation, other creatures, and the natural world? Isn’t it possible that by asking these questions our perspectives and our lives are already being transformed and hope is being born and reborn?