And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men. (St. Luke ii. 13,14)
One of the most compelling instruments to foment belief in the Christ as the Son of God are the details that describe Him as the Son of Man. What I mean is that the New Testament is not full of particular moments that overturn or destroy nature and her course. Rather, on the whole, we read of a very human situation being bettered or perfected. What one finds then is a very broken, wounded, sick, diseased, and disordered human condition that is being healed and sanctified, improved and saved by the Son of Man. Now, to be sure, it is here that you may want to object. What about all those miracles? you ask. And, if you mean that they are not exactly normal, you might have a point. But even the miracles are instances in and through which Jesus heals and sanctifies a disordered condition. The miracles are not reminiscent of divine interruptions, the likes of which might be read in Homer or Virgil. The miracles do not involve some radical destruction of the objects of healing. Rather they take what is in the state of sickness and move it into a state of health.
And this is what the Incarnation is all about. The Incarnation is about the healing, sanctification, and salvation of the human condition from the inside out. What I mean is that God comes to save us by insinuating Himself into our condition. He does not come from outside to magically shower it with some extraordinary Divine mystical wash. Instead He comes into the predicament of our sinful condition in order to reconcile it with God. He takes on our nature in order work His redemption into it. From the inside of human nature He works out our salvation.
Last night we read that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. (St. John i. 14) And what we believe about this is that God’s Word, God’s Wisdom, God’s Love, and God’s Power all became flesh. Again, it is important to remember what this means. Christians believe that in one Jesus Christ God’s Word is enfleshed or humanized. This, of course, shouldn’t be much of a shock to us, since God’s Word always intended to be made flesh. What does it mean for Adam to obey God if not that God intends that His Word and Commandment should rule and govern the human nature or flesh of the creature? And just because Adam didn’t end up acquiescing to God’s intention for his nature doesn’t mean that God’s Word doesn’t intend to save him. Adam is a Son of God. God’s Word, despite Adam’s Fall, always intends to be made flesh so that he might once again be a Son of God. And in Jesus Christ this perfect obedience of the Son of Man to God’s Word is revealed to us.
Of course we must also see that this process of being obedient and faithful is neither automatic nor necessary. That God becomes flesh is a process in which man must shun the evil and cleave to the good. That God becomes flesh is a journey in which man’s soul matures in proportion to His obedience to his Maker. This process is taken on by Jesus Christ. This journey is undertaken by the Son of Man so that in following Him we might become the Sons of God once again. So the process by which we are redeemed and saved never forsakes or denies the spiritual struggle that must perfect both reason and free will. Man’s journey back to God in Jesus Christ will be fraught with all of the distractions, temptations, and disruptions that Fallen Life entails. None of this battle or warfare need be evil. It is merely the way in which man comes to know and love God through seeing and fleeing evil.
Jesus comes to insinuate Himself into our human condition in order to save it. From the very beginning of His Incarnation, his life was confronted with obstacles. His conception in the womb of His Virgin Mother is doubted and questioned by the confused St. Joseph. His birth is virtually unknown, except for the fact that Joseph must register the Holy Family with the Roman Governor Cyrenius. Little did the world civilized by Augustus know that the one whom Rome was enrolling would be in the process of identifying and enlisting faithful men into the service of God’s census! Then there is the fact that he is born in Bethlehem. Bethlehem means House of Bread. Who would have guessed that He who would call Himself the Living Bread which came down from Heaven (St. John vi. 51) would begin to feed the world from this inconspicuous and unknown place? Most men would have thought that God the Saviour should come to His people in a more radically Divine and otherworldly way. But instead He comes quietly, silently, and a way that is hidden to vision and knowledge and reserved for belief and faith in the human heart.
Then in this unknown little backwater village, we read that He isn’t even born with a roof over his head. He is a stranger to what men consider to be civilization. He is a stranger even to the basic elements that tend to serve and facilitate childbirth. He is born in a cave, a cratch, or a manger on the side of a hill. St. Luke tells us that there was no room for them in the inn. (St. Luke ii. 7) The birth of God’s Word, the coming of God’s Son is not naturally afforded a space and place in a Fallen World. Men cannot provide a place for His birth until their souls are made ready to believe His true nature. The beasts and elements of nature can serve Him, since by the laws imposed upon them they are already close to His coming. And then there are shepherds. Shepherds will be closer to His coming since their poverty and nomadic vocation bring them close to the creation and any alterations in her demeanor. Shepherds don’t have the luxury of being tempted and tried by the false gods of the city’s worship of Mammon.
So the first beginnings of Christ’s coming to save us are not exactly what we might have expected. And yet they are human. They are human in the best of ways. Here is a humanity that finds a kind of desert or wilderness in which to focus on the coming of God’s Son. Here is a humanity that can take nothing for granted, can expect little from His fellow men, and must rely only upon God. Here is a human birth that can be seen as the beginning of God’s work of Redemption because the false gods and idols have been left behind. Here is a human birth that can speak to simple and industrious shepherds whose senses are alerted to any changes that God brings into the world because spirit and matter are intertwined in the simple life. Here is a human birth that can make shepherds and angels the best of friends because both are close to God and unlike Satan and his friends. Here is a mere human birth that can lead simple souls back to God because in all humility God has stooped down from Heaven to begin to reconcile man to God.
Here we find that humility, self-emptying, and meekness that are the seeds that begin to return our souls to God. In humility, self-emptying, and meekness let us welcome the birth of the Baby Jesus. In this Christ Child let us find the beginnings of the birth that will mature us into His Sons and Daughters. In the Son of Man let us find that nature which alone can give us that new birth which must begin our journey home as the Sons of God. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons