Saturday, December 25, 2010

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.

That the Word became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us is a cause of offense to Gnostics, Enthusiasts, Post-Modernists, and to even some High Calvinists. Nothing could be more reprehensible to those striving to escape the trappings of fleshliness, its desires and impulses, its weakness and mutability, than the thought that the pure, spiritual Divine Word would take on the form of a decomposing meat sack like us. Whether they believe that the flesh is evil or simply that the finite is not capable of the infinite, having spent all their time and energy mortifying their flesh, depriving themselves of food, alcohol, sex, and dancing, they have nothing to show for it, for God was pleased to take on a human, flesh and blood body, with all its needs and weaknesses, desires and deficiencies, to be born in blood and uncleanness in a barn for livestock, and to be laid in a feeding trough for animals.

To make such a distinction between spirit and flesh is surely the result of sin, for in the beginning God created both the spiritual heavens and the fleshly earth, and there is nothing before the beginning. God made all things in the beginning, which means that God is the source of all things, spiritual things and fleshly things alike. God made man in His image, male and female He created them, and He took pleasure in walking and talking with His flesh and spirit creatures in the world that he had made. They were the ones who inexplicably shook their angry fists at their Creator in rebellion and sent it all to hell, not God. Their eyes became open to know both good and evil, which is to know God’s will in opposition to their own will, and to choose the latter and die.

Indeed, man’s desire to free his spirit from his derelict flesh is as much the result of sin as is his derelict flesh. God has never viewed humanity that way. God who created the heavens and the earth in a beautiful unity would not allow for it to be ripped apart. And, since finite, sinful man could not approach the infinite, holy God, God assumed the flesh and blood of man to restore the unity of things spiritual and things fleshly. Or, as St. Athanasius put it, God became man so that man might become God.

God prepared His people for the Incarnation, the enfleshment of His spiritual Word, in many ways, but principally through the tabernacle and, later, through the temple where His shekinah glory was present, though veiled, in the midst of His people in the Holy of Holies. But, when the time was right, God’s glorious presence transferred to the womb of the Virgin Mary when the Holy Spirit of God came upon her and she conceived through the very Word the Archangel Gabriel spoke. Thus, our hymn has it correct: Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity! Pleased as Man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel!

So it is that Christmas is what follows the Fall in Genesis three. Man’s sin and rebellion, the uncleanness and corruption of the flesh does not prompt the Creator to destroy His creation, but He is moved, by His own mercy and love, to restore His creation. God restores His creation, not by leveling it and rebuilding, or by wadding it all up into an unformed ball of clay to begin anew, but He, Himself, in His holiness and spiritual purity, stepped right into the muck and mire, the blood and the filth, the uncleanness, pain, suffering, and death of humanity to redeem it and to make it holy. For, God is not corrupted by taking on human flesh, but, rather, human flesh is made to be holy by its union with the incorruptible God. This truth we confess in the Athanasian Creed saying: Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ – one, however, not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the humanity into God.

Further, the union of divinity and flesh was not just for a time that has now passed and the two are now separate, but Christ remains the God-Man for all eternity, seated now at the right hand of the Father that He might fill all things, but soon, coming again in glory to raise our perishable bodies to be like His imperishable body. Thus, though our flesh is still corrupted, though we still sin and though we still die, we are not unclean, for our flesh has been sanctified in the flesh and blood of Christ. We have been given a second birth, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. In believing this you are God’s children.

The Incarnation of the Word of God, the Son of God made man, has changed everything. He was like a seed planted in dry ground, unlikely to flourish, but whose shoots have branched out in every direction far and wide bringing the earth into fruitfulness. The Incarnation means that God has assumed all of human existence into Himself in the very condition of its rebellion and opposition to Him. God loves sinful man in his sinfulness! The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. Reflect then, dearly beloved, and in the light of the Holy Spirit carefully turn your mind to perceive, Who it is that has received us into Himself, and Whom have we received within us; for since the Lord Jesus Christ by being born has become our flesh, we also, by being reborn, have become His Body.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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