Reflection for Saturday, December 20, 2014: 3rd week in Advent..
John A. Creighton University Chair; School of Medicine
Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
Psalms 24:1-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
196. Year I, Advent.
196. Year I, Advent.
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The church gives us these exact same readings twice each year, on March 25, at the feast of the Annunciation, and today, five days before Christmas. In both cases the emphasis is primarily on God's act; nevertheless, at the March celebration, we tend to focus more on Mary, her amazing "yes" to God's invitation, and to the extraordinary hope which is manifest in accepting that pregnancy. But at Christmas time, the emphasis shifts more toward the incarnation. "Incarnation". That's not a word we're likely to encounter in everyday conversation. As Christians, we know that it means coming into flesh, taking on a body. But the ramifications of that simple definition are endless.The point of the Annunciation story is to emphasize that Jesus, the fruit of this pregnancy, is not a product of human evolution or development. Jesus' conception in a virgin maiden's womb is God's intervening in God's own creation to create something entirely new, just as God had done at the beginning. Think of the mind-blowing aspects of this act. God chooses to take on our human nature, to live in flesh like ours, by being born to a peasant girl in a subjugated country in the back-waters of a brutal world empire. Think what that tells us about God's agenda, about what God thinks is important.In the beginning, when God looked at what he had created each day, he found that it was good. Now he thinks it good enough for him to enter into and become one with. Rather than sloughing off an often troublesome body, God enters into our flesh. As the letter to the Hebrews stresses, Jesus was human like us in all things except for sin. One of the earliest of the heresies, and a heresy that is still prevalent today in many quarters, was that Jesus wasn't actually truly human. He was just a disguise that God wore as he walked among his people. That's the heresy called docetism. No, he experienced the same grief, anger, frustration, uncertainty, and desolation that we feel. And, as St. Paul says, he not only accepted the role of a slave, he accepted even our death.I've often admired the dedication, and even heroism, of so many of our Creighton students who in their free summers or on semester breaks go to serve in 3rd world countries, or into our own US backwoods and ghettos. It's a life-changing experience for them, but at the end of the break or summer, they come back to their 1st world security, affluence, and comfort. As we approach Christmas, when we celebrate Jesus' coming to our sad and despairing world, it is helpful to remember that Jesus' way back home was through Calvary, and to reflect that the crib of Bethlehem stands in the shadow of the cross. That's how fully human he was. If he were "God in disguise", we might marvel at him, but we could not imitate him. But with his being fully human, we can.When we take incarnation seriously, we realize that it didn't both start and stop with Jesus. It continues in the Christian church. Jesus, as the Christ, lives in the human community we call church. And like Jesus, the church has had to learn everything about itself and its mission just as its individual members do, a step at a time. The struggles to understand recorded by the early church fathers make clear that current teachings are not simply infused knowledge, but the result of hard fought struggles to get it right. The church sometimes fails, just as do its members. It sometimes makes mistakes, just as do its members. That's what incarnation means. And just as Jesus prayed to his father for guidance, so the church must constantly pray that it remain faithful to the Christ who is its spirit. And by church, we know we don't mean just the hierarchy.Another of the ramifications of God's manifest love affair with created matter is the responsibility we humans have for the care of our planet and its resources. God clearly values material creation. If God thought it good enough to take on Godself, we cannot value it less. We cannot be wasteful or exploitative. That's become the newest branch of theology. "Eco-theology", if one may call it that, has received significant emphasis by recent popes. It's now solidly on our theological radar screens and it will certainly stay there.All of this – and much more – is packed into the mystery of incarnation. Mary said "Yes". We ought at least to say "Wow!"