“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.” John 1:14
Though Advent is not a penitential season in which we regularly fast, you wouldn’t know that based on the way we eat once Christmas arrives. Our tables are spread with sumptuous and savory delicacies and some of us tend to eat ourselves into unconsciousness. Why do we do that? “My body made me do it,” may be the most honest answer to that question. Our bodies stir up our narcissism. Our bodies seem to know where happiness is to be found – at least it feels that way. And yet our bodies betray us. Our hope waxes with our vitality and then droops with our sagging, aging bodies. We are odd creatures – a jumble of matter and spirit and thought and feelings and passions that are not at peace with one another. Our body or our mind always seems to be seeking to rule the other.
It would seem that the material part, our slumping flesh, is the baser part – but not according to this Feast Day. According to the Nativity, God has become flesh himself. But why? Why has the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Eternal Word of the Father – why has God entered into our world as one of us? And this commitment is deeply personal for God because the Word of the Father, the Son of God himself is committed to his human flesh to be coeternal with his Divinity.
What does that mean? Our Lord did not merely use human flesh as a means to an end. The Incarnation is not an example of high utilitarianism. Jesus did not throw away his flesh once his earthly work was finished. When he ascended to the Father, fifty days after his resurrection, he did not “escape from his human body.” Not at all! He actually “became flesh.” He was conceived of the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and grew in her womb as one person of flesh. Nine months later she gave birth to a child of flesh and blood – our flesh and blood. We are both flesh and blood human begins. Flesh is not very stable. Flesh is not strong. Flesh has to be protected, covered up, and handled with care. Flesh is no match for steel. No match for wood. No match for nails. No match for bullets.
Permit me to say a word about the killing of the children in Newtown. There are those who will ask how a good God can permit such evil – and that is a fair question. There are usually two banalities that rise up to explain these evils when they occur. There is the point-of-view that God is simply detached or for some other reason he is not able to intervene in such evil. And then there is the equally banal point-of-view that says that the atrocity is providential, even preordained by God for a mysterious good that we cannot fathom. Regardless of their denials, this point-of-view makes God the engineer of evil. Both viewpoints are deceitful. The fact is that what occurred in Newtown was in violation of God’s will. And the only answer I have to that or any other evil is not some quasi-Gnostic rumination on God’s secret sovereign will, but only what God has said himself:
“So God loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son…”
God has entered into this broken world of suffering as a man of flesh himself. God’s answer to evil was to be made as vulnerable, as contingent, as weak and opened to death as his beloved creature man. He does not keep us at arm’s length – “God became flesh” and flesh is no match for nails or bullets.
I don’t understand why God loves flesh, but he does. He has anchored his divine life, his unlimited power, his perfect beauty and his perfect love in flesh forever. The immutable, unchangeable, invisible God has become visible and he has entered so completely into our life that God experienced suffering himself. He has entered our mutability, our changeableness by what theologians call the “hypostatic union.” What that means is that when Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother, God, without forfeiting his divinity became a real human being. He did not merely “clothe himself with divinity,” he did not use the shell of a human body to mask his true self. Not at all. He became a real human being and he is flesh this very day, and in his flesh that bears the scarred tokens of his love for us he takes his fitting place at the “right hand of the Father in Heaven.” As I have said many times before, a Man, a Human Being of flesh is seated at this moment upon Throne of the Universe. But before that, as a baby in swaddling cloths, Mary’s lap was the all-sufficient Throne of God. Not some concept or ideal, not Spirit, but a Man, Mary’s son, a person with a navel rules over creation.
Christ’s Incarnation has changed everything. St. Paul got it. Paul could almost say, “Just forget everything you thought you knew about God and man. Because God has become one of us!” And he has established a New Family in his old creation. And he has built his Family a Home – the Church. Through the sacrament of baptism children are born into that New Family. And like all people who are related to one another, you begin to take on the features of your New Family. People would have said back then, about Jesus, “That’s Mary’s Son – he looks just like her. He has her eyes…” Children look like their parents. Thus a child of God begins to resemble God, who is his Father. Christians grow into the semblance and the likeness of God. That’s what Athanasius was talking about when he said, “God became man so that man might become God.”
This day we celebrate the Nativity of God Almighty, our only Savior Jesus Christ. This day we bow our knees and we worship the King of Kings. This day you will taste of God and you will see that He is Good. And we will sing with the angels: