Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas 2014: "The Word became Flesh"

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
John 1:1-5, 10-14

“Action is always superior to speech in the Gospels, which is why the Word became flesh and not newsprint.”  Colin M. Morris, Mankind my Church

The cosmic battle between Good and evil had been raging long before the birth of Jesus, so our Lord found it necessary to do battle with the evil one on his own territory, to free us from death’s grip.  Yet it often is that we become so fixated on a single moment of “birth” that we overlook something much greater and more enduring.  In this great battle, then, it might be said that The Lord became one of us so that we could become Him in the world – empowered by the Spirit and in the Word to take up His mantle.

I was reminded by a recent essay that the earliest Christian writer – St. Paul – makes no mention of a manger, wise men from the east following a star, or even faithful Joseph whisking the Holy Family away in the dark of night to escape Herod’s evil plot.  The earliest known Gospel account – Mark – begins his story with the Baptizer; he does not mention the “birth”, but he and St. John write extensively about “Incarnation” (even as the word itself is not used).  Matthew and Luke each have “birth” details the other ignores.  Nothing seems to match universally.

Do the seeming conflicting accounts suggest what we read may not be true?  No.  Or that we are focusing on the wrong things?  Not necessarily.  It is the practices of today which suggest that while we acknowledge and celebrate the “birth” of Messiah, the meaning of “Incarnation” has been lost in all the contemporary celebrations, many of which are undeniably of pagan – rather than of biblical - origin.  And these will all come to an end.

The twist is ironic given that the early Church fathers actually “invaded” these pagan celebrations to bring “light into darkness” by introducing the Light of the World into the solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year.  The irony is that these pagan practices have since invaded Christian hearts and minds.

This isn't about the consumerism of the “shopping season” that has overwhelmed the Advent season, however.  This is about becoming more fully aware of and coming to more fully understand the significance not of a mere birth event but of an Incarnation – when “the Word became flesh and dwelt with us” – the Incarnation which continues to unfold even today with every new baptism and every new profession of faithIt is entirely about how the Word which spoke the world into existence was utterly rejected by the world created by that Word.  And it is about what this Incarnation means to the Holy Church, the Body of Christ in the world today.

Though in the case of Jesus there seems a fine line between a “birth” and an “incarnation”, it nevertheless falls to the Church to understand – and convey to the world - that there is, in fact, a profound difference.  It is not enough to merely acknowledge the birth of a child even as we are talking about the very Son of the Most High God.  If this is all there is to the Incarnation, then there is nothing more to say beyond this moment, beyond this Day we declare by our words to be Holy but prove by our deeds to be secular, pagan even, and thus meaningless beyond the moment, beyond the season. 

There clearly is much more to say, however, because in the Incarnation we are talking about the “embodiment” of the Word of God – that same Word which was in the beginning and will be forevermore.  As our Lord Jesus spoke, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Luke 21:33).  It is The WORD which is incarnate and eternal; not the world it creates nor the seasons that celebrate it.

It was written in the late 13th century by a Dominican monk (Meister Eckhart): “What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His Son if I do not also give birth to Him in my time and my culture?  This, then, is the fullness of time: when the Son of Man is begotten in us.”

Heaven, earth, your mortal bodies, my mortal body, even Jesus’ own mortal body would not long endure.  The Eternal Word, however, was embodied in mortal flesh so that mortal flesh could embody the Word.  This is the Incarnation.  This is what we are called to embrace, for this is Christ in the world today.

In the name of the Eternal Father, the Enduring Word, the everlasting Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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