There are a number of stories that try to illustrate the Incarnation, and try to explain why Jesus came.
One of my favorites is about a boy and an anthill. The boy is fascinated with the ants. He likes to watch their activities and business. They look like their whole world is the anthill, and that they have no idea about what’s going on in the wider world around them.
But the boy finds out that his dad, the Farmer, is going to plow the field where the anthill is. This little world that he has been watching will be destroyed. What can he do? How can he warn them?
He tries speaking, but no ant listens. He tries putting up signs, but the ants can’t read. He’s stumped.
The boy is frustrated, and he says, out loud, that he wishes he could become an ant so he can warn them about the disaster to come.
By some bit of unexplained magic, the boy is transformed into an ant, and he crawls into the anthill and goes to work. He tells every ant he meets about the coming danger. He tries to describe his father, who is going to come and plow up the field and destroy the anthill. He tries to tell them that they should follow him and crawl away from the anthill, and travel far into the next field where they might be safe.
You can guess what happens. The ants, because they can’t understand all this stuff about the father and the coming disaster, and about a world outside the anthill, quickly become tired of the Boy Ant’s warnings. They beat him up then, depending upon the version of the story, they either kick him out of the anthill, or they simply kill him.
Then, the Plow comes. No more anthill. No more ants.
Three barriers to salvation
This is a pretty good story, and it succeeds partway in explaining some of the reason why Jesus Christ came to this earth, and why the Son of God became man.
But it doesn’t go far enough. The whole idea of the disaster is all wrong. The triple disaster of darkened human nature, sin and death is much deeper than the destruction of the external world. This disaster is not just on the outside: it is happening, more specifically, on the inside … in the heart.
St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote that there are three barriers that Jesus overcame in bringing us salvation, the Grace that is the gift of the Holy Trinity. These three barriers were 1) the corrupted human nature; 2) the rebellion of sin; and 3) the dread consequence of death.
Jesus Christ overcame the darkened human nature by His Incarnation, starting with His Nativity and extending throughout His Gospel Ministry. He overcame sin by the Cross. And He overcame death, of course, by the Resurrection.
Jesus became incarnate -- or “en-fleshed” -- in order to overcome the “disaster of the ants,” to be sure. The world and all the Created Universe is heading for an End Moment, when the Uncreated Light of God will overwhelm everything, and transform all that participates in God’s love into eternal glory. All that rejects God’s love … everyone that does not repent and seek His Grace … will be permitted to spiral down into a smaller and smaller, private and passionate existence (if you could call it that), forever shrinking into grudges, bitter memories, and rehearsals of “it might have been …”; or “if only I could have gotten a lucky break …”; or “I could’ve done it my way, but something always got in my way.”
The meaning of hell
This is the Orthodox teaching about Hell. No one is pre-destined to go there. The only ones who do are those who refused their destiny of communion with God, who refused His forgiveness, and who preferred the death of isolation to the community of the Trinity and all the Saints.
I suppose you could draw a similarity between the Plow that took care of the Anthill, and the Day of the Lord that will take care of the Universe. Certainly, on that Day, St. Paul said that that very same Uncreated Light that is the condition of Heaven is also the same Light that is described as Divine Wrath: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth (Romans 1.18).
We get the same sense in Colossians 3.5-6, where St. Paul commands us to Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
It is certainly true that the Lord is jealous for His Creation, and will not abide its pollution by evil. He intends to draw everything to Himself, to restore His fellowship with all of His creatures.
The thing that is missed by a longshot in the Anthill Story is this simple fact: God’s very act of restoring this Trinitarian Fellowship to cover all of Creation will have two effects. To those who repent, who want forgiveness, who want God’s loving Grace and who desire with all their hearts to enter into complete communion with God, that Restoration will come as the Light of Delight, Beauty and Peace.
But to those who want to be their own god, who want to live according to their own law, than that same Restoration will be felt as caustic fire. It is the Grace of God that is the Fire at the Last Day, not some arbitrary, cruel and enraged Tool.
You might be surprised at this. I confess that I am, too, at how many people seem to prefer their own private misery and self-justifying bitterness over the humbling sweetness of repentance and reconciliation. As scandalous as it might seem, there are those who really do prefer despondency to joy. There are those who would choose, every time, the familiarity of passion over the scary new reality of self-control, love and the fellowship of the Body of Christ.
So yes, there are those who would freely choose, on the Last Day -- even with everything made plain to them, even in the Face of the Resurrected Christ returning with His Angels -- even then, they would freely choose the bitterness of wrath to the family of Heaven.
Shhhh … listen, you can hear their voices even now, muttering even out of the precincts of Hades: “No one’s gonna tell me I’m wrong, or tell me what to do.”
That’s just it, isn’t it? There are “previews” of Hell all over society and culture even now, aren’t there? Because that’s just what every Passion is, at its base. Whether it’s dejection or lust ... whether it’s gluttony, addiction or greediness … whether it’s anger, arrogance, or self-centeredness … whether it’s forgetfulness of God or any other Passion … these are all the same old scripts of corruption. Small wonder, then, why the demons are attracted to passions like flies to excreta: we sink, even in this life, down to their world when we suck on the fruit of bitterness, and luxuriate in the decadence of passion. We breathe their air when we hate: it follows, then, that we breathe in their inspiration.
These are all rehearsals of an existence that is contrary to everything natural, contrary to Human Destiny, contrary to the whole meaning of Life, our logos, our being made in the Image of God.
Every passion or sin is our irrational refusal to attain the Likeness of God -- a destiny to which Adam and Eve and all mankind were called to, but a destiny made impossible by sin.
Today is the day
My main problem with the Anthill Story is that the Plow was threatened for only Later. You are reading these words, right now, as God telling you that for history and the world, there will be a Last Day on a Later Day, but for you right now, there is only Today: Today is the Day of Salvation if you would but hear His voice. (Hebrews 3.13-15)
Today the Ants don’t listen, and they play their silly Anthill games. Today some people practice the dark arts of spite, glowering and sullen self-centered bondage to passion. Some even reject the greater spiritual reality, and squint only at the material world, in a pitiful attempt to preserve their mind’s autonomy.
Today, at every moment, a free moral decision is set before you. Choose the scripts of corrosion, where nothing changes. Or Choose the New (which is the only meaning of Time). Choose your Destiny of Freedom and Light. Choose to accept the Love of God the Father, Revealed by His Son, and Actualized by His Spirit.
Accept Jesus as Your Saviour
Accept Jesus the Humble Infant into your heart. Accept Him as the Twelve Year Old Youth in the Temple, as the Royal Lawgiver of Love. Accept Him as the Preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, and the Poet of the Beatitudes, the Only Rhetor Who could speak on multiple levels of meaning at once. Accept Him as the Reformer of the Temple, Who cleansed the House of God of the stain of Moneychangers, so that Prayers could be whispered from the heart, and the Mysteries could be celebrated in purity.
Accept Jesus Christ, Your Saviour, Who as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, assumed our whole human nature (body -- even a body hurt from sin -- and soul, with a human will in constant obedience to the Father). Accept Him as the Good Shepherd Who left the Company of the Angels to seek the One Lost Lamb in the wilderness of Hades -- the Lost Sheep that is the Human Race. Accept Him Who Spoke -- with the Voice of Creation -- Peace to the Tempest, the Wind and the Wave. Accept Him Who created sight for the man born blind ... Who evicted demons from the holy precincts of the human soul … Who cleansed the legacy of lustful decay from the bodies of the unclean squatters outside the gate … Who raised up dead little girls with the Mighty Word of Joy.
Accept the Body of Christ, Your Eucharist, Who gave His Life for the Life of the World, and for you. Accept His Body as the mystically transformed gifts of the Bread and the Wine, given from His own to be His own, in behalf of us all and for us all. Accept His Body as the Covenant of Prayer, and a Life of Self-Sacrifice. Accept His Body as your recognition of the Body of Christ, this Church and all the Apostolic Church, reigning along the strand of Mystic, Holy Tradition.
Accept His Body, accept this Christ, as the Jesus Who in His Perfect Personhood, completely abandoned His Self, and gave the Life of God away to all Creation in the Dark Night of the World, but at that very Moment on the Cross, prefigured by the Rough Wood of the Manger, He transmuted the grave Darkness into the Light of Grace.
And in so doing, God hath highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name which is above every Name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.
Accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Who came to Save You, not just for the future … not just from a Disaster to Come … but for the Forever that Begins in the Here and Now. Accept this Jesus, made present to you now by the Spirit, sent by the Father to Reveal Him in His Effulgence:
He has come to find you, His lost lamb, His lost precious coin, His pearl of great price, His neighbor who is lying wounded along the way. He has come to find you. To heal you. To save you. To cleanse your nature from the leprosy of sin. To save you from the damnation of spiritual death.
But more than all this, and embracing all of this: He has come to make you His friend. He has come to fill you with His Spirit. To make you like Him. To raise you up from the repetitious cyclism of the natural world to the complete meaningfulness of Life. To deify you, to draw you in, completely, freely, joyfully, into the infinitely-petaled Rose and Firelight of God’s Trinitarian Grace.
You are not an Ant. You are Woman and Man, Boy and Girl, Infant, Youth, Adult and Senior. You bear the Royal Sign of the Image of God, and all of the Spiritual World knows who you are: you will live forever in splendor or spite, whichever you choose. But you are only Meant to be embraced by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to shine with the Theosis Light of Transfiguration.
Jesus is Born in Bethlehem to make that possible.
He is Here. Today. Adore Him. Receive Him. Let Him make you His Own.
And that is why He came.