Why did God become human?
Many theologians have asked this question throughout the centuries. Perhaps most famously, St. Anselm (Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 until 1109, by the way) wrote an entire work on the topic: Cur Deus Homo? (“Why was God a Man?”).
Now, according to Anselm, God became a human in order to pay humanity’s debt (of withheld honor) to God. Because only God could pay such a debt, and only humans owed such a debt, a God-human was required if humanity was to be saved (and God’s honor restored).
Why did God become human? Our collect this week offers another, complementary answer to the question:
God became human in order (1) to defeat Satan and (2) to make us God’s children, heirs of eternal life.
Here’s the collect:
O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Like many of the collects, this prayer contains allusions to Scripture, most notably to 1 John 3:8:
Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
You’ll notice that both the collect and the verse build upon the biblical idea that children display the character of their parents. So, when humans languish and delight in sin, they reveal their captivity to the devil, who “has been sinning from the beginning.”
This is a problem. Why? Because God created us humans to be his children, to enjoy perfect fellowship with him forever – eternal life. When humans rebelled against God and fell into captivity to sin, death, and the devil (Genesis 3), God’s work as Creator and Father was at stake.
So what did God do? He invaded the devil’s “territory” (in scare quotes because, well, it’s still God’s world), in order to rescue us humans and bring us back to God. This is, admittedly, a bit different way of thinking about Christmas and the Incarnation of Jesus than we’re normally used to! That baby in the manger was on a commando rescue mission.
How should we respond to this? In hope, as we await Christ’s return and our glorification, we ask God to help us become more like him in the meantime (sanctification).
Remember, children display the character of their parents! If we are God’s children, we will display God’s character.
But, of course, we cannot display God’s character without God’s constant help. Hence those two very important words in the prayer: “Grant that…” We don’t try harder, on our own, to become better people and earn God’s love! No! Instead, we respond to what God has done for us by becoming more like him, through the work of his Holy Spirit, as we await the day when we will “be made like [Christ] in his eternal and glorious kingdom.”