i believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
    he was conceived by the Holy Spirit
        and born of the virgin Mary.
    he suffered under Pontius Pilate,
        was crucified, died, and was buried.
    he descended to the dead.
    on the third day he rose again.
    he ascended into heaven,
        and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

the central distinctive christian confession is the incarnation: that Jesus, a first century palestinian jew, was the Son of God made flesh. in the words of the evangelist John, he pitched his tent among us.

in the confession that Jesus was born of a virgin, the church has always seen that his birth was by the special activity of God, that this is not some accidental event, but a carefully planned and articulated one. moreover, because of this singular grace given to his mother, who is therefore described as the theotokos, the God-bearer or the mother of God, we ascribe her special honor and devotion. she is the type of all christians, the example of faithful service and humble devotion, of commitment to the poor and oppressed and service of God.

the central fact about Jesus is that he died for us; indeed, the nicene creed is careful to say that he became a human being for us and for our salvation, and that for our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate. the facticity of his death is underscored in the apostles' creed here by the assertion that he descended to the dead. many have been embarassed by Jesus' humanity or suffering, but these are central to the christian confession.

it is a God who emptied himself, who became a human being, whom we worship. it is in this act of humility and self-giving that we see the divinity most fully revealed to us. it is not therefore primarily in acts of great power and majesty where we find God. it is in acts of humility and service. and indeed, the action of Jesus' dying on the cross is depicted in the gospels, especially by the evangelist John, as an act of power and majesty, precisely because it is an act of humility and self-giving.

however, this death would be meaningless if it were all there were. Jesus did not cease to be the beloved child of God, and he was raised on the third day. he ate and drank with his friends; he continued teaching them. nor is he gone from us even now; he has been exalted, and our humanity with him to the very right hand of God, above the angels.

nor is this the end of the story. God's plans and purposes for the world involve the setting to rights of all that is wrong. the central act of the incarnation of Jesus among us and his rising from the dead is the first fruits of a harvest still being reaped. we confess that Jesus will return, and that all, living and dead, will receive what is their due, and indeed, more than this.

there is only one paradox in Christianity, one mystery, and it is the mystery of this incarnation: of the union in one person of the divine Son and a human being. the mysteries of the sacraments, of the church, of our redemption, all go back to this central and most important paradox. the impossibility of God's miraculous interventions in history, even, are connected here.

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