18 December 2022


4th Sunday of Advent

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

During my time at the studium [Dominican seminary], it was customary to start the academic year with a prayer service. Friars, lay students, sisters, professors, everyone associated with the school got together to pray. One year, we addressed our communal prayers to Peace, Justice, Mercy, and Love. Not God the Father or Jesus Christ or the Lord. But to Peace, to Justice, etc. That struck me as incredibly odd. Why are we praying to concepts? Why are we asking abstract nouns to hear us and help us? Ours is an embodied faith. Flesh, bone, blood, fire, water, bread, wine. I didn't understand why Christians were addressing Platonic Forms, generalized Ideas. As was my habit, I asked why. And I was told to “let it go.” When I pressed harder, as was also my habit, I was told more firmly, “let it go.” Apparently, there were political forces at work here that a mere student brother best avoids! So that we do not make the mistake of worshiping concepts, Isaiah prophesies, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.” The BVM is pregnant with a child. Not an Idea. She gives birth to a baby boy. Not a concept. God-is-with-us. Not above or beyond us. But with us. Among us. And we live and move and have our being in Him.

This vice of describing God with abstract nouns is an old one. It's been around since the beginning. The very first heresies in the Church taught that Christ was an illusion, not really there, not really flesh and blood at all. Some objected to the idea that God could take on human form. Others objected to the idea that He would take on a male human form. A few argued that Christ was only human, a creature like the rest of us, just really, really advanced spiritually. All of these are heresies b/c they take a piece of The Truth and make that piece into the whole Truth. So, yes, Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is Peace, Justice, Love, and Mercy. All abstract nouns. But he is also Jesus – a divine person with both a human nature and a divine nature. Blood, bone, and flesh. Son of God, Son of Man. St. Matthew couldn't make the point any clearer, so he just quotes the prophet, Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel.”

Emmanuel. God is with us. Here with us. Right here among us. As a man. Like us in every way except sin. Concepts do not weep. Ideas do not eat flame-broiled fish. Abstract nouns do not die covered in blood on a cross. Emmanuel, God-is-with-us, was flesh and blood and bone so that we might have a saving friendship with a man, a real person. So that our eternal lives will not be left in the ever-shifting definitions of ideology or popular opinion or corrupted power. We eat real bread and drink real wine. We light real candles with real fire. We come together shoulder to shoulder and speak real words in prayer. Our worship is real, concrete, and makes use of the ordinary things of the ordinary world. And by the invocation of the Holy Spirit all of these, all of us are taken up and made into a holy sacrifice for the salvation of the world. This is the Father's love and mercy made manifest. Born from flesh in the flesh and risen in the flesh and set to return again in the flesh. We wait for him during Advent b/c flesh and bone needs time to come together. To gestate. To grow and take full form. So, we wait. We anticipate. And we prepare.

If Christ were merely a concept, an idea, then there would be no need for us to wait or prepare. Ideas are easy to conjure up. We could all stay at home, synchronize our clocks for 9.00am, and just think about Jesus for an hour or so. We could think about Peace and Joy and Happiness. No need to get dressed and fight traffic. But our Father wants real communion with us in real time. This is why we celebrate His son's birth into the world. To reset our faith in Him. To remember our hope from Him. And to reinforce our love for Him. Joseph welcomes the pregnant Mary into his home b/c he knows that she carries the living Word of the Father. We too carry the living Word into the world. We're not always welcomed by the world. But we have said and still say Yes to the Spirit. And there is nothing else for us to do but to show the world God's mercy and love. In thought, word, and deed. . .to be the body and blood of Christ in sacrifice for the whole world. If you want to see Christ in the flesh, look around you. This chapel is filled with imperfect Christs, growing in holiness, being perfected into the Christ who died and rose again to save us all. While we wait on the birth of the Christ Child and the coming of the Just Judge, we also wait on the perfection of our bodies and souls. Christ is gestating. So are we. Are you prepared to be born again as Christ for the salvation of the world?

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