“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger…”
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.”
As St. Symeon the New Theologian wrote, “God is fire and when He came into the world, and became man.” God became man and the man, Jesus, was the living fire of Divine love. And, like the Burning Bush, the Fire of God’s love flamed out of the heart of Jesus, but no limb or leaf of God’s creation was singed by that dazzling flame. Indeed, the heart of the creature was set afire by the Presence of our Incarnate God. “Did not our hearts burn within us as he opened up the Scriptures,” declare the Emmaus disciples. The fire of God’s love kindles within his children a love and longing and yearning for God.
What a world we live in! What a creation God has fashioned! But I must confess, I have to ask, as I do every year on Christmas, why on earth has God Almighty committed himself to the material world, to clunky matter? I do not know. What is more baffling than matter and in particular the matter of our bodies of flesh? One’s body of flesh certainly let’s one know what it wants and when it wants it — one’s body stirs up one’s self absorption. A little pain, a little toothache, and I can think of nothing else. Our bodies know where happiness found; at least it feels that way. And yet the existential reality is that our bodies betray us — which reality I experience, as you all know, in January of this year.
Furthermore one’s body is a hopeless guide simply because it only knows its immediate need. Not only that but our flesh seems to manipulate our emotions; our hope waxes with youthful vitality and then droops with our sagging, aging bodies. Certainly, I am not merely my body, but I am not me without my body. We are odd creatures; a jumble of matter, mind, spirit and intelligence and passions — faculties that are not as unified and harmonious as we would like; but rather, as a person, one seems frequently to be at war with one’s self. My mind wants control over me, but then my body refuses to give in without a struggle. How can I expect to have peace with others when my own interior life is so easily agitated and unsettled?
It would seem to many folk, often very religious folk, very “spiritual” folk, that our material part, this body of flesh, was a bad idea, or at least true obstacle to spiritual happiness — but not according to this feast day. According to the Nativity, God himself has become flesh. Why? Why has God Almighty who is Spirit, who is “without body, parts or passions” — why has the God who is God committed himself to human flesh when we human beings can’t live with it and can’t live without?
The Beloved Disciple writes: “The Word became flesh…?” This is what it means: Our Lord did not merely use human flesh as a means to an end. I’ve told you before about the Christian here in town who told me that he believed that when Jesus ascended to the Father after his resurrection he simply shed his human body since its job had been done. That is heresy. God is not a utilitarian. Jesus did not throw away his flesh once his earthly work was finished. Not at all! True God, the Second Person of the Trinity, assumed true humanity into his divine life, which event we celebrate in the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25 — and nine months later Mary gave birth to a child of flesh and blood. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of the Father, is now our flesh and blood forever and ever.
God has entered into this broken world of suffering as a man of flesh. God’s answer to evil was not to send his son in the form of a super hero — but rather his Only Begotten Son was made as vulnerable, as contingent, as weak and opened to death as any of us. He does not keep us at arm’s length — “God became flesh” and flesh is no match for nails. But nails and evil are no match for God. As I said, the Son of God became the Son of Mary — a true human nature — but he did not cease to be the God the Son.
I still do not understand why God loves flesh, but he does. He has anchored our flesh, our created DNA, in his divine life — his unlimited power, his perfect beauty, goodness and his perfect love has covered our human flesh with everlasting glory. The immutable, unchangeable, invisible God has become visible and he has entered so completely into our life that God has personally experienced human suffering himself as a real human being.
Christ’s Incarnation has changed everything. Through Christ, God has given birth to a New Family in his old creation. And he has built his Family a Home of their own which is Holy Mother Church. Through the sacrament of baptism children are born into that New Family. All of this is true because God has become flesh and that is why we are here today. A Man, a Human Being of flesh is seated, this very moment, upon Throne of the Universe. But before that, on the night we memorialize this evening, God Almighty, in the form of a baby in swaddling cloths, made of Mary’s lap the all-sufficient Throne of his Divinity.
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first born son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger…”