The Feast of the Annunciation always compels me to give some thought to Our Lord's Incarnation. It is such a strange thing. In fact, if it does not jump off the page to you, if you are not utterly confounded by the idea, I would humbly say that you do not understand it as well as you could. In the Republic , Socrates rejects the possibility that any of the Greek gods would ever accept to be embodied, because that would entail going from a more perfect mode of existence to a less perfect one. The understanding of the body is different between the Platonic and the Biblical worldview, but Plato’s claim is true of the Christian God a fortiori . The Greek gods are far from perfect, not only for reasons that Socrates rejects, but also due to their conception as such. They are multiple, finite, created, and limited. The Christian God, on the other hand, is the Creator. He is one, infinite and infinitely perfect, and omnipotent. Why would such a God accept to do such a thing as to take on a form infinitely lower than Himself?
The answer is, of course, love. Paul most beautifully expounds on this point when he says, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant" (Phil. 2:5-7). Imagine that, the Son did not regard equality with the Father something to be held on to! And for whose sake? Yours and mine. I do not know about you, dear reader, but as far as I am concerned, I am only a sinner, a rebellious servant who is impeccable only in finding new and creative ways to be peccable.
Nonetheless, God loved me so much that He took on human flesh for me. Not only that, "Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:8). Not only that, He spoke to me through the Apostles, saying, "No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15), though it was for my sake that He endured death. Thus, Paul exclaims the depth and extent of the love of God by saying "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). Well, what can be said of this love? It is utterly beyond human comprehension, utterly above us in every way, a paragon of love that we can only gaze at from afar and contemplate humbly.
Not quite. God did give us a gift in His Blood that we can never repay, but He still expects some repayment from us. The Apostle admonishes the Philippians--and us through them--to have this same attitude in us. Before that, he says, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others" (Phil. 2:3-4). In our culture, we have heard words like this so often that their bite has been blunted, but the reason why Paul goes from what he says in verse 4 to what he says in verses 5-8 is that it in order to do what he proposes, in order to really do it and not merely to feign at it, it really does require us to reflect outward God's own love toward us.
But how could we ever do that? To love someone, to truly put someone else in front of yourself is a justifiably horrifying proposition, because it entails dropping your defenses when you don't have to. It entails opening up your soul to another fallible and sinful human being, who will--despite their best efforts--undoubtedly let you down. It is precisely for this reason that John advises us to caution, "The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:8). It is only in loving the person next to us that we can be truly sure we love God and it is only through "the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5) that we can love. Love, then, entails suffering. And, if Christ's suffering has merited Him "the name which is above every name" (Phil. 2:9), we can trust in the Lord that the suffering we partake under the banner of love will obtain for us also the grace to be called children of God.