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.
Our Advent preachers have not only brought us consolation and succor, but they have stirred us up, encouraged us, to pursue God’s finality, God’s will, for our lives with courage. Over and over again they brought us back to the Incarnation and our enfleshed lives in the context of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven. Fr Sean showed that death has no dominion over the children of God and, in fact, to follow Christ is to intentionally embrace death daily as we present our bodies of flesh to God as a living sacrifice. Presenting our bodies to Christ, isn’t so much a way, a method of laying hold of happiness, as it is the way God’s happiness lays hold of us. Then, Fr Dan showed us that Christ coming in judgment is first of all, above all, as a matter of historical fact, a judgment of blessing, of peace, of salvation, and of restoration for his whole creation, things seen and unseen, the material as well as the spiritual. And Fr. Gene even showed us that hell itself is a mighty judgment of love. Hell, an unavoidable biblical reality, will not have the last word, for even its reality cannot vanquish the conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. As St. Symeon the New Theologian wrote, “God is fire and when He came into the world, and became man.” God became man and that man, Jesus, was consumed by the 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 for God. But the same fire of Divine love that kindles the virtue of love in hearts of the faithful — that same fiery love is experienced by those who are rejecting God as the fire of hell. For the Children of God it ignites a yearning for God, for those rejecting God’s love, his love is experienced as a devouring fire.
And yesterday, Fr. Mark, while taking us into the Heavenly Kingdom, brought us back to our senses, back to our bodies of flesh and blood and spirit: “These bodies of ours are not superfluous fleshy containers of what really matters. Our bodies are, rather, the creation of God Himself, incorporated as the very members of Christ’s mystical Body here and now, ultimately to be resurrected and glorified in the life of the world to come.”
What a world we live in! What a creation God has wrought! It is enough to stop here and move on the Mass, but I cannot. I must confess, I have to ask, 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. One’s body is a hopeless guide for the person because it only knows its immediate need. Furthermore our flesh seems to manipulate our emotions; our hope waxes with youthful vitality and then droops with our sagging, aging bodies. 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 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 & exterior life is so easily agitated and unsettled? I have to learn, as Fr Sean preached, how to die daily with Christ.
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 — 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 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! He actually “became flesh.” He was conceived by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and in her womb grew the true humanity of the Word of the Father. True God, assumed true humanity into his divine life — 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 superman who would bend nails and stop speeding bullets, 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 bullets and evil are no match for God.
I still do not understand why God loves flesh, but he does. He has anchored our flesh 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 in 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…”