25 December 2006

Be Yourselves the Word Made Flesh

The Nativity of the Lord 2006: Isa 52.7-10; Heb 1.1-6; John 1.1-18
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation


The Word speaks and everything is. The Word names everything that is “Very Good.” On stones, the Word etches wisdom and truth and promises His human creatures abundant blessings, strength, prosperity, and children like the stars. Wild men wander out of the desert to speak the Word again and again to bring back to memory and mind promises made and received, vows of obedience and fidelity, a covenant of identity, power, singular divinity. The Word of the Law and the Prophets recites for us a litany of loving deeds—miraculous acts of mercy, rescue, healing—deeds done for us, and repeats with near-chant solemnity His promises of salvation, fidelity, holiness, belonging, love, peace, fruitfulness, and friendship. The Words calls. Whispers. Bellows. Pleads. Bargains. Threatens. Cries. The Word came to what was his own, but his people did not accept Him. And so, the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we saw—finally!—His glory.

What have we heard of this Word? What have we seen? We hear the cry to repentance and holiness, the cry for justice and peace. We hear the promises of eternal healing and glory. We see the reparation of disease and injury, the repair of sin’s ruin among us. We see the blessings of God’s hand in our lives, the abundant flood of riches—for some: health, wealth, education, children, loving family, a perfecting vocation; for others: gifts of intelligence, influence, generosity, strength to persevere, patience, peace; and still others: gifts of music, speech, art, wisdom, counsel, true holiness and insight. We hear the rustling Word moving in hearts spacious with joy, emptied of anxiety and fatigue, and the whispered invitation is clarion-clear: become my children! I became a Child among you so that you might become my children.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, and we see His glory. The Nativity of the Lord celebrates a unique event in human history, a miraculous intervention in space and time—Bethlehem some 748 years after the building of Rome: the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Son takes on human flesh—one person, two natures: human and divine. The Word at creation, the Word of the lawful stones and the prophets, the Word of the whirlwind, the pillars of fire and dust, the Word of destruction, and the Word spoken to Mary, our Mother; this Word, the Son of God, becomes the Son of Man and lives here among us. The Christ Child has arrived. Infant Grace, Infant Mercy is here. We see and hear his glory as the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth and ready to fulfill for us His promise of salvation!

Are we ready to hear this promise? Ready to reach and grasp the covenant that will save us? Our history with God has not been an exemplary story of careful attention and compliance! As a race we have been willfully ignorant, prideful, disdainful of being taught, and violent with God’s prophets. And we have been sacrificially generous, gracious, truly humble, and welcoming to the stranger and the outcast. It is this spark of charity, this flicker of holy light in our history that speaks to our readiness for the promises of God. A readiness, by the way, that is fundamentally a readiness to love and a readiness made ready only b/c God loved us first!

If you will stand to receive the promises of God in His Son’s birth among us as Man, you will stand ready to receive the promise of your own godliness, that is, you will stand ready to become God with God. Our salvation is no mere rescue mission, no simple matter of healing the God-Man rift. The purpose of the Incarnation is our divinization. God became Man so that we might become God. The purpose of the Incarnation is our transformation into the Christ Child, our transformation into the Anointed One for the mission of preaching the Gospel to the world. If the Son became flesh to reveal the Father, then flesh, once healed, is revelatory of divinity, that is, made ready to show out Christ. The Son did become flesh to reveal the Father. Your flesh is healed in baptism—freed from sin, no longer bound to disobedience and angst. Therefore, you, O Healed Flesh!, you reveal the Father!

If you think your job as a Catholic is to show up here for Mass, drop a check in the plate, and shake Father’s hand on the way out…stop right there and consider what you do here this morning: you will come forward and eat the flesh of Christ, drink the blood of Christ and you will pledge to go out into the world as Christ to be Christ for everyone you meet! Christmas, the Mass of Christ’s Birth, is most certainly a celebration of our Lord’s nativity, but it is also a celebration of our birth as Christs for his mission of grace and truth. You see, this Mass can’t be just a matter of remembering some ancient event, some legend or myth; it can’t be about simply calling to mind again a pleasant childhood story of barn animals, shepherds, and a little drummer boy! This Mass is your Nativity. You are born as Christ b/c Christ took on flesh in birth. Your flesh. You hands. Your feet and tongue and eyes and ears. Your gifts for his mission. From his fullness we have received grace upon grace, gift upon gift, goodness upon goodness, a beautiful completion and a stunning perfection polished for loving everything into eternal life.

The Word made flesh is Love made with bone and blood, mercy given stature and weight. We celebrate a singular event this morning, a one-time grace in history—the sending of the Son among us as Man. We also celebrate a daily event, an hourly grace: our own persistent transformation into Christ, our magnificent fight to be born as Christ, to see and hear His Word rustling in our hearts—a determined murmur or a dramatic call or a silent pause—to see and hear His Word occupying the tabernacle of our one desire: to be filled, satisfied with His presence; all our longing for love and peace, given freely; hunger assuaged, thirst slaked, gnawing need emptied; to breath His glory and to be free. Our one desire: to be free as His slaves.

And the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us and we see His glory! The Christ Child is here. Infant Grace, Infant Mercy is among us. Full of grace and truth He is here. History bends to account for this miracle of giving, this wonder of the Father’s gift of His only Son to us. Make your lives wonders around which history must bend; miracles around which all the stories we will ever tell must flow. With Christ, be the true light which enlightens the world. Go out and be yourselves the Word made flesh.

24 December 2006

On Havin' Your Needs Met in Church

While home for Christmas I saw a public service announcement for a local TV's stations website. There were several of these through the morning, each highlighting a different section of the site. The one that caught my attention was the PSA about the site's "Faith & Traditions" page. The pitchman, a local Methodist minister, gave a ferverino about the search for meaning and the necessity of being "open to the spirit" in this search. He then went on to mouth what I took to be the site's slogan, "Find a place of worship that meets your needs." This, I thought, is exactly the problem. How do most of the people listening to this PSA determine their spiritual needs? My own experience as a Wandering Eclectic Spiritual Seeker tells me that this really means, "Find a place where nothing is demanded of you, everything is given to you, and anything you desire is affirmed as a natural right." How would this PSA sound to your average American if this milksap had said, "Find a place of worship that teaches the truth of the Gospel"? No doubt we would hear the agonized wails of indignant offense echoing across the golden plains. Why? Because that simple sentence defies the current program of religious indifferentism that is plaguing the American church...and I mean all believing Christians here not just Catholics! The idea is to level all claims to religious truth to a common denominator of something like "transcendental affect," or "feelings about something Bigger Than Me" and then make the claim that this Something is the same for everyone. Apparent differences are only superficial. And the truly enlightened will ignore these differences as bothersome to the Grand Project of Uncritical Tolerance. Now, do we need to tolerate different religions? You better believe it. Does "tolerate other religions" mean "all religious are basically the same"? Nope. Not even close. Don't be fooled by appeals to tolerance. Everyone wants to be tolerant. But "being tolerant" does not mean "being uncritical." We can live with religious difference and not hold that those who differ from us religiously are essentially identical in religious belief. My own family is a perfect example of this. My parents are born and bred Baptist and Methodist. I am the only Catholic in my family. My best friends are various forms of Unitarian-Wiccan-Socialist-Technologists. Don't ask. I love my family and my friends, but it is simply not required of me or them that we sacrifice one iota of our "faiths" in order to sit down and enjoy each other. So, when some milksap Catholic DRE or theologian or preacher or priest tells you that we have to "rethink" the notion of truth in order to include obviously contradictory claims about the truth, offer him/her an all expense paid vacation to some remote island...just long enough for the bishop to hire a believing Christian--yes, a Partisan Catholic!--to take their place.