Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve: Considering the Incarnation

Looking through old Christmas posts, I came across this bulletin insert from a few years ago. I found it good to reread and you may also so I present it again here.
Considering the Truth of the Incarnation

No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; that He Who, in the language of Scriptures, could stop the turning about of Arcturus would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; that He, Who clothed the fields with grass, would Himself be naked; that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle; that the feet which trod the everlasting hills would one day be too weak to walk; that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger; that the bird which built the nest would be hatched therein—no one would have ever suspected that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it. ...

No man can love anything unless he can get his arms around it, and the cosmos is too big and too bulky. But once God became a Babe and was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, men could say, “This is Emmanuel, this is God with us.” By His reaching down to frail human nature and lifting it up to the incomparable prerogative of union with Himself, human nature became dignified. So real was this union that all of His acts and words, all of His agonies and tears, all of His thoughts and reasonings, resolves and emotions, while being properly human, were at the same time the acts and words, agonies and tears, thought and reasonings, resolves and emotions of the Eternal Son of God.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Life of Christ
PMRMaeyaert, Sint-Walburgakerk, Oudenaarde, Belgium
via Wikipedia, Creative Commons License 3.0
In our meditations upon the Incarnation we encounter many familiar images. This is natural and to be expected. It is automatic to think sentimentally and comfortably about the little babe, the adoring parents, singing angels, startled shepherds, and Magi with gifts, while traditional carols echo in our ears.

However, as Fulton Sheen reminds us, the reality of the Incarnation is not comfortable at all. It is God breaking into human time and nature and history to effect a miracle so outrageous that no one would have thought it up in their wildest dreams. The Second Person of the Trinity willingly takes on our limited human nature, purely for love of us. Shocking? Yes. Amazing? Yes. But comfortable? No.

This also is a good reminder that it is very easy to read into Scripture what we would like to see. Pulling the truth out of Scripture, also called exegesis, is considerably more difficult. That truth may prove quite a bit more surprising than we expect. God does have a habit of showing us truth in surprising ways.

To think of the Christ child at Christmas is natural. Undeniably those are the images of the season. However, the meaning of this baby for us and for all mankind is far from a sentimental picture. Jesus comes to us as a baby so we will learn something of his real nature and of the beginning of the path that he will tread and that we must follow.

Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898), The Nativity
Pope Benedict XVI helps us to consider further the layers of meaning in the Incarnation. In a Christmas homily* he said:
God’s sign is the baby in need of help and in poverty. … God’s sign is simplicity. … God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendour. He comes as a baby – defenceless and in need of our help. … He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child. He wants nothing other from us than our love, through which we spontaneously learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will – we learn to live with him and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. ...

In our meditations upon the Incarnation we encounter many familiar images. This is natural and to be expected. However, let us not settle for comfort. Let us dig deeper and discover the true nature of the Lord, he who is Love incarnate, who came to show that love for you and for me.
* Read online Pope Benedict XVI’s entire homily from Midnight Mass 2006, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord 

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