3rd Day of Christmas: St. Athanasius, from “On the Incarnation of the Word”


December 27: St. Athanasius, from “On the Incarnation of the Word”

The Word visits the earth, where he has always been present, and sees its evil condition. He takes a human body, born of a pure virgin in whose womb he makes human flesh his own, in which to reveal himself, conquer death, and restore life. For this purpose, [to restore creation, to suffer for us and to appeal on our behalf to the Father] the incorporeal and incorruptible Word of God comes to our realm. But he was never far from us, because no part of creation has been emptied of his presence: he fills all things everywhere, while remaining present with his Father. But he humbled himself and came to show his love for us, and to visit us.

He saw the human race perishing and death and decay reigning over them. He saw that the penalty for our sin gave this corruption a firm hold over us, and that until the law was fulfilled this could not be changed. He saw how awful it was that his own work was passing away. He saw the great wickedness of humanity, and how it had grown little by little to an intolerable pitch. And he saw all humanity under penalty of death. Seeing all this, he took pity on our race, and had mercy on our weakness, and lowered himself to our corruption. He could not bear to let death have mastery, to allow these creatures to perish, and his Father’s handiwork come to nothing, and so he took on a body, no different from ours. He could simply have appeared to us, coming to us in some grander way, but this was not what he wanted. He took a body like ours, from a pure and spotless virgin who had never been with a man. Being the powerful creator of everything, he prepared this body in the virgin as a temple to himself, and appeared in it and lived in it.

Having taken a body like ours, because we were all under the penalty of death he gave his body up to death in our place, offering it to the Father. He did this out of love, so that we who are counted as having died in him might be freed from the law that meant our ruin. The power of this law was completely spent in the Lord’s body, and so has no foothold left against his fellow human beings.


Dr. Jonathan A. Powers is Assistant Professor of Worship Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, where he shares his passion for the intersection of liturgy and spiritual formation in the life of the church. Jonathan is the author of 12 Days of Christmas Sermons, and co-author with Jason Jackson and Teddy Ray of Echo: A Catechism for Discipleship in the Ancient Tradition, both published by Seedbed. He and his wife Faith have two daughters.