It's easy to find this inappropriate and even bizarre. But the truth is that many liturgical Christians also downplay the meaning and significance of the Incarnation. After all, our salvation was accomplished on Good Friday and Easter Day, not Christmas. So the Incarnation was merely a necessary prelude to the Paschal mystery. It follows from such reasoning that Christmas is of secondary importance to those other observances.
In a Christmas Eve sermon, Fr. John D. Alexander of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island invites us to rethink the idea that Christmas isn't as important as Holy Week and Easter, and that if humanity had not fallen into sin the Incarnation would never have happened. Here's part of what he said:
... the notion that without the Fall there would have been no Incarnation is not the Christian tradition’s only or last word on the subject. In the fourth century, for example, Saint Augustine of Hippo wrote that “in the Incarnation of Christ, other things must be considered besides absolution from sin.”Amen!
Beginning in the twelfth century, medieval Western theologians began to debate whether Christ would have come into the world even if Adam had not sinned and the Fall had not happened. Some theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas, answered in the negative, arguing that if there had been no Fall, there would probably have been no Incarnation either; while others, such as Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus, answered in the affirmative, arguing that even in the absence of the Fall the Incarnation would very likely still have taken place.
Far from being a stereotypical case of logical hair-splitting along the lines of how many angels can dance on the point of a needle—which, by the way, is an early modern caricature rather than anything ever seriously debated in the Middle Ages—the question is one of enormous significance. It profoundly affects how we view not only the person and work of Christ, but also the nature and destiny of all creation. Duns Scotus argued, for example, that the Incarnation was the very purpose of creation. Christ’s coming into the world was so great and glorious "that it seems unreasonable to think that God would have forgone such a work because of Adam’s good deed, if he had not sinned."
Long before Duns Scotus, the seventh-century Greek father Saint Maximus the Confessor elaborated a similar argument. The Incarnation, he wrote, should be regarded as the absolute and primary purpose of God in creation. When God created the universe, he did so precisely so that he might become incarnate in it; and so he created it with all the goodness and beauty befitting a creation in which he himself might make his dwelling. Moreover, by becoming one of us, the Son of God shares in our temporal human life, so that united with him we—and all creation with us—might come to share in his eternal divine life.
The tradition represented by such disparate figures as Maximus the Confessor and John Duns Scotus thus understands the Incarnation as integral to God’s purposes in creation. Prior to and apart from the Fall, the divine plan required the Son of God to became incarnate in order to unite creation to himself, imbue it with his glory, and gather it into the eternal life of God’s kingdom.
According to this tradition, then, if humanity had not fallen into sin, there might not have been any need for Christ’s crucifixion and Resurrection; but there would still have been an Incarnation. Even without Good Friday and Easter Sunday, there would still be Christmas. Now, none of this is meant to deny the reality of human sin or of our need for redemption. The good news, however, is that when we had fallen into sin, Christ stuck to the original plan and came down from heaven anyway, to redeem us and reconcile us to God.
It follows that Christmas need not be thought of as merely a logical prerequisite to the real thing, the truly saving events of Holy Week and Easter. It’s possible and permitted to believe that the Incarnation has its own independent place in God’s plan. One of the blessings of our Anglican tradition is its characteristic emphasis on the wonder and beauty of Christ’s incarnation considered in its own right. So let’s rejoice unabashedly in the celebration of the Lord’s Nativity, and have no more talk of Christmas being secondary to Holy Week and Easter. Those feasts are indeed of central importance in the Christian year, but so is Christmas.