Battles raged among early Christians over the nature of the Jesus. Was he a true person or just a phantasm of some sort? Did he have a human nature? Was he real or just appear to be so? Gnostic groups held that matter was inherently evil, so they maintained that Jesus could not have been really human. Orthodox Christianity believed that matter was not fundamentally sinful. Jesus, therefore, was a real man. The Apostles’ Creed upholds the orthodox position.
The Apostles’ Creed is one of the earliest succinct Christian statements of faith. No one knows for certain who composed the text, but tradition holds that each of the twelve apostles of Christ added a line to it.
Fashioned with a Trinitarian structure, this brief declaration expresses faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It also defines what faith meant for orthodox Christians in order to distinguish them from gnostic sects.
The Apostles’ Creed affirms that Jesus experienced the whole range of humanity in the flesh, not just in appearance. Everything from his conception to his ascension was integral to his humanity — and to ours. Here are the lines that affirm the identity, life, and work of Jesus.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of 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.
His humanity unites Jesus to us, and through faith it gives us a hope to aspire to. Conception, birth, and suffering describe what everyone has experienced. Death and burial point to an inescapable reality that we will undergo. Resurrection and union with the Father point to the future we believe we will attain.
This part of the Apostles’ Creed is especially poignant during the during the Christmas and Easter seasons; however, they have special meaning during Advent too. Throughout the weeks of Advent, Christians contemplate a two-fold waiting; reliving the expectation of his nativity and anticipating his future coming.
“By your endurance, you will save your souls,” Jesus taught. In this season, Christians practice waiting patiently for the Savior. Advent teaches Christians that we cannot hasten the arrival of the Lord. He appears when he appears in the fullness of time and not a moment sooner.
Advent is a messy waiting: one that sometimes doubts, rages, and weeps when confronted with the overwhelming systems of injustice we live in.
Nevertheless, we wait. But not like the servant in Jesus’ parable who took it upon himself to mistreat his fellow servants. That servant abused, exploited, and wounded others — thereby revealing his belief that the master will not come. The violence of that servant is common among those who do not believe they will ever come face to face with the one whom we confess in the Creed as our Lord. They somehow expect to escape the one who will judge the living and the dead.
Unlike that unjust servant, the faithful watch and pray — not with rote acts of religious performance but by embodying the gospel. We express our hope by the way we live in unity with the one we wait for. The Christian hope is not simply personal morality; it involves self-emptying and uniting with same kinds of people that Jesus did 2,000 years ago: people who are poor, ill, weak, imprisoned or outcasts of any type.
Christian hope during Advent expresses a patient expectation for the righteous judge to raise the dead and unite us with the one who died for our sins, rose on the third day, and reigns forevermore.
In this way, we anticipate the consummation of humanity. Drawing from the New Testament, the liturgical prayers profess this hope.
We await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body after the pattern of his own glorious body. We hope to enjoy forever the fullness of the Father’s glory, when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. For seeing God, as God is, we shall be like God for all the ages.
The waiting of Advent is more than looking forward to holiday parties, gift exchanges, or family gatherings. Advent is nothing less than waiting in faithfulness for theosis, for divinization, for being made partakers ofthe divine nature. The Apostles’ Creed calls this “life everlasting.”
Yes, it is a great mystery. But waiting for the mystery of divinization begins by waiting for the mystery of the Incarnation.