I had coffee with a friend the other morning, and he related a conversation he had had with a mutual friend. Rather, an argument. It was about the chief, the central article of the Christian faith. My friend had said: It's the incarnation. Our mutual friend had maintained: It's justification.
I've thought about this a bit since that day. I have enormous sympathies with either direction, because I do not think you can at all ultimately separate the two.
First, for any who would pooh-pooh justification, remember that our Lord sent our the Apostles "that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations." (Luke 24:47) Further, the Jesus that the Apostles witness as raised from the dead is the one to whom "all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name." (Acts 10:43) So Peter preached. And Paul's preaching agrees with Peter's. He announced in Antioch: "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man, forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses." (Acts 13:38) And when Paul speaks of forgiveness in the Epistles, twice he defines it by apposition: "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7) and "in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col. 1:14).
Second, for any would pooh-pooh the incarnation, remember that it is precisely our Lord's incarnation that is announced by the angels as "good news of great joy for all people." (Luke 2) That Paul can speak of the purpose of our Lord's forgiveness as "a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." There the ultimate honor goes to Incarnation where in the flesh of Christ earthly things and heavenly things are joined as one.
So which is it? Which is the chief article? Yes! Jesus Christ, incarnate, crucified, dead, risen, ascended, glorified, forgiving sinners and calling all from idolatry and into the worship of the true God by the Gospel message - an embassy of pardon that invites to union with God through Christ. The Who and the What. They belong together, not played off against each other. The one presupposes the other and neither makes sense if it is made "the biggy" against the other.
It's as though one had to CHOOSE which was more important: Christmas or Triduum/Easter! No thank you, I'll take them both and see them as two vital parts of one all-encompassing Mystery.