20 December 2012

An ugly failure made worthy

3rd Week of Advent (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

We read again Luke's account of Gabriel's announcement to the virgin girl, Mary, that God's favor has blessed her, and through her, the whole of creation. Christians of every flavor call this seminal event the Annunciation. We could call it the Proclamation; the Revelation; or the Promulgation. We could exhaust a thesaurus: “God's discloses His Son to us” or “God unveils His Son to us” or “God publicizes His Son to us.” All sorts of verbs come to mind for the public act of divine telling. There's one verb, however, that has never crossed my mind. This morning, I read a poem written by Denise Levertov, a late Jewish convert to Catholicism. She titled the poem, On the Mystery of the Incarnation:

It's when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

Have you ever—in your wildest imagination—thought to say, “God entrusts His Son to us”? He entrusts to man—“to this creature vainly sure/it and no other is god-like”—to us He entrusts His infant son. What if Advent were not a joyful season of anticipation and preparation for the arrival of the Christ Child. What if Advent were instead a trial, a five week test to determine whether or not we—vain creatures that we are—were worthy of being entrusted with the care of God's infant Son? Assuming that we want this grave responsibility and the eternal reward of a job well-done; and assuming that we are confident enough in our holiness, can we look back on the last month or so and say that we have earned the Father's trust? As a race, as made-beings, created in love to resemble both the image and likeness of our Creator, can we stand face-to-face with God and say with all humility, “Yes, Lord, we are worthy of your trust”? No, never. And herein lies the devastating truth of the Incarnation. God the Father entrusts His only begotten Son to us, knowing that we are not now, never have been, nor ever will be worthy of His trust or His love. Yet, yet. He loves us and trusts nonetheless. The Word, the Son takes on human flesh through the virginal womb of Mary despite our ancient history of violence, disobedience, and our perverse love affair with death. 

Knowing human history, why would God do something as monumentally stupid as entrust to us the care of His infant Son? Levertov answers for us, “. . .awe/cracks the mind's shell and enters the heart. . .when we face for a moment/the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know/the taint in our own selves. . .” We are entrusted with the Word made flesh so that God's love for us might penetrate our primate skulls as a spike of awe and enter our unclean hearts as a purifying wave. He has no need for our awe; however, we need to be in awe in Him. Why? For the same reason we need to love, praise, thank, and petition Him: if we are to ever become anything more than highly evolved animals prone to violence and death, we must love, and love absolutely, Someone more than we love our base passions. It is “out of compassion for our ugly/failure to evolve,” out of compassion for our failure to love that God surrenders His infant Son to our hatreds, our fears, our anxieties. The Christ Child is our brother and our guest. And we are made worthy, trustworthy by his love for us. 

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