Thursday, December 25, 2014
Homily for The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord - Christmas Day
John 1:1-18; Titus 3:4-7; Exodus 40:17-21; 34-38
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is a great difference between creating and making. Indeed, for you to have created something implies that you are the source and origin of, not only the thing created, but of it’s constituent materials and parts, the stuff of which it is created. Thus, human beings cannot truly be understood to be creators in any sense faithful to the fullness of what it means to be a creator. Rather, we are makers. That is to say that, we make new things out of pre-existent things, materials, and parts. For example, we take clay and we form it into a pot. We take chemical elements and we combine them in such a way so as to make plastics and metal alloys and all sorts of things. Truly, even in conception and childbirth, where it may appear that human beings are actually creators, sources, and origins of life, we are still dealing with pre-existent created materials – namely, we are the materials, created by God, through which He makes new life. Thus, we even call conception and childbirth by a different term, procreation. Procreation means a moving forward of creation. For, what is truly going on in procreation is that God alone is the creator and giver of life, but He works with us and through us in such a way that He permits us to participate with Him in moving His ongoing creative work forward.
Our God is both a creator and a maker. He creates ex nihilo, that is, out of nothing, because He is the source and origin of all things, even the materials and the parts of which other things are made. He creates by speaking His creative and performative Word, a Word that brings into being what it says. Thus, when God speaks “Let there be light,” there is light. And when he speaks your sins forgiven in Jesus, they are forgiven. Yes, our God is both a creator and a maker, and, in many ways, He is also a builder. One of the things God builds is human beings, men and women. Whereas God created heaven and earth, the sun, moon, and stars, oceans and continents, plants and animals, and all things by His creative and performative Word, ex nihilo, out of nothing, God created humankind in a very different way. He did not speak man into existence, but He made Adam out of the earth He had already created and He breathed his own life into Him. And, then, in an even more unique creative act, He made the woman, Eve, out of the material of Adam: “The LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man.” However, the original Hebrew word translated as made here, literally means built. God actually built Eve, the way a builder builds a house.
Such building language can be found in other places in Holy Scripture. For instance, in Psalm 139, David praises God for His handicraft in forming his inward parts and knitting him together in his mother’s womb. Likewise, in the same Psalm David speaks of his frame, that is, his body, or more specifically, his bones and sinews, being intricately woven in the depths of the earth. David confesses that the LORD has “fearfully and wonderfully made” him, and that He knows and sees everything about him. The precise word for build is used again in Psalm 127: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Likewise, the language of building and houses is used in connection with the tabernacle, the temple, Jerusalem, and Zion. That the LORD builds proclaims His intimate involvement in the lives of His people. That He builds a house proclaims that He intends to dwell amongst His people as one of them.
And that is precisely what we hear in the Old Testament lesson appointed for Christmas Day. Moses erected the tabernacle, and the Most Holy Place within it in which the glory of the LORD would dwell amongst His people. The tabernacle was a tent made of animal skins, wooden poles, and twine. It was meant to be portable so that the LORD’s presence could go with His people as they traveled. And, the materials of its construction reminded the people of its purpose. The animal skins were taken from animals sacrificed to cover the sins of the people, just as the LORD had sacrificed animals to cover the nakedness of our First Parents. Additionally, their blood would be sprinkled upon the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant in atonement for the people’s sins. Still, it was necessary for the sacrifices to be repeated again and again, for they never took away sin, but only covered over sin for a time. The sacrifices were types, pointing to a fulfillment that would come later, when the LORD would tabernacle amongst His people in a tent of human flesh in the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” That’s how St. John describes the Incarnation of Jesus. The word dwelt in the Greek is the same word as tabernacle, meaning, “pitched a tent.” Literally, the Word of God became flesh and tabernacled, or, pitched His tent, amongst us. And, as the tent of the tabernacle consisted of the skins of sacrificed animals, so the tent the Word of God assumed was human flesh, so that He might become the sacrifice of God’s self-offering, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Jesus is the tabernacle and temple built without human hands. When His disciples remarked in awe about the majesty of the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus attested to His body as the true temple saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus is the tabernacle and the temple in which the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily. This means that, when the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Most High overshadowed her, Mary conceived in her womb the fullness of the Godhead. Thus, we call Mary the Mother of God and Theotokos, bearer of God. Mary’s womb became the new Ark of the Covenant and the Most Holy Place in which the glory of the LORD was present amongst His people. And, so it was, that when Jesus died upon the cross, the veil covering the Holy of Holies within the temple tore from top to bottom and the priests wept bitterly because they knew that the glory of the LORD was no longer with them there. Indeed, the glory of the LORD had not been in the temple for over thirty-three years, for it was located within Jesus, the Word of God made flesh and dwelling amongst us, the tabernacle and temple built by God without human hands. This is why Jesus proclaimed, “The kingdom of heaven is near you,” for where He is, the kingdom of heaven is present.
The Word of God made flesh is God’s gift of His own grace and mercy to the men and world He had made that had rebelled against Him and plunged themselves into the captivity of sin and death. “He saved us not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy.” As in the beginning, when He fashioned man out of the earth He had created by the power of His Word, so in the new creation, He has re-created us out of, and in, His Word made flesh, Jesus Christ. In the Incarnation and birth of His only-begotten Son, God has set us free from the bondage of sin. This is His creative work alone, apart from any work, merit, or worth in us. We are as passive and helpless in our second birth as we were in our first. However, God’s gift of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ has changed us. Now He invites us, commands us, and empowers us to procreate with Him and move forward His creation, not only in producing new life in the conception and birth of children, but by moving forward God’s creative work of love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, which also bring life to those walking in darkness and the shadow of death.
We are the recipients of the greatest gift imaginable, the gift of life, true life from and with God, life that never ends. But, more than that, we are invited to participate with God in moving forward His gift of life for all people. We have been gifted to be a gift. We have been blessed to be a blessing. This is the meaning of Christmas. May the God of all grace fill you to overflowing that you may abound in His grace and be a blessing to many.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.