“The Lord did not come to make a display…For one who wanted to make a display the thing would have been just to appear and dazzle the beholders. But He who came to heal and to teach the way was not merely to dwell here, but to put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him, and to be manifested according as they could bear it, not vitiating (blemishing or spoiling) the value of the Divine appearing by exceeding their capacity to receive it.” (On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria (296-373))
Athanasius’s 4th century sentences keep running through my mind. My modern interpretation of his long-ago phrases goes like this: The Lord didn’t arrive to dazzle and then disappear, leaving us blown through and blown over and bewildered. He sure could have. Instead, He lived among us, and revealed and explained Himself as we could bear it. He even put Himself at our disposal.
If I dazzle and then disappear, I’m all about me; but if I put myself at your disposal, I’m all about you.
When I think on these beautiful thoughts — on God’s kindness in His appearing, and on His choosing, for our good, to not exceed our capacity to receive it — my heart leaps. How good and kind is our Lord! For He could have squashed us with His power and otherness. Instead, He didn’t overpower. He disclosed what we could bear.
Athanasius’s words also remind me of another set of words — of Mary’s words, which she speaks as she arrives at Elizabeth’s home. Elizabeth exclaims that Jesus, within Mary’s womb, is the Lord, and with humility and joy, Mary responds:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
Luke 1:46-47, 49
When I think of the Lord choosing not to exceed our ability to receive his appearing, and in so doing, not spoiling the value of His Divine appearing, one thing happens: My heart leaps with the same awe Mary’s, Elizabeth’s, John’s, and Athanasius’s did. My spirit rejoices in God our Savior! He who is mighty has done great things for us, and holy is His name. Oh, the goodness and the kindness of our God!
17 centuries later
And one last thought: Today, if I feel blown through and blown over and bewildered by circumstances beyond my control, I’m to lean into my Lord. He will not squash me with His power. He will disclose what I can bear, and will not exceed my capacity to receive it.
Painting: Pool of Siloam by James Tissot