Episode 11: Celebrating the Incarnation
Merry Christmas and welcome to this special Christmas episode of Peace Be With You, the podcast that seeks the Peace of Christ. This is your host, Greg Stone, wishing you the very best at this special time of the year.
By now you’ve probably shopped for gifts. Lights are up and the tree is decorated. It is a Joyful Season — a Season to shop and decorate and celebrate, but perhaps, most of all, a time to engage in contemplation and reflection. There is much upon which we can reflect.
For example, at Christmas we celebrate not only the birth of the baby Jesus, but also a major supernatural event — the Incarnation. Caught up in celebrating the birth, we forget to reflect on the Incarnation, on the idea expressed in John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us…”
Though we’ve heard this passage before, we may not have stopped to reflect deeply on what it means. What do we celebrate when the Truth, the Word, the Logos breaks into the fallen world?
But, you may protest, the birth and the Incarnation are one and the same. While that is true for many, not everyone sees it that way. Many celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus considering Jesus as a great philosopher, a wise teacher or Rabbi, a prophet, or a compassionate figure who changed history. They do not necessarily consider the divinity of Jesus Christ.
So our proposed reflection on the Incarnation may be an extra step for many. How should we view the Incarnation? What happened? In John 18:37, Jesus says, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
Thus, Jesus speaks of his entry into the world in terms of his mission. In the Incarnation the Lord establishes a human relationship with mankind — for the purpose of conveying a divine or supernatural truth. Jesus establishes relationship between man and God.
The Incarnation — the establishment of divine relationship — thus signals the need for a particular kind of theology — a theology of relationship. This type of theology was precisely what Benedict XVI crafted as a gift for the Church.
Our reflection on the Incarnation may begin with a quote from Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. Benedict XVI wrote: “The man Jesus is the dwelling-place of the Word, the eternal divine Word, in this world.”
Benedict continues his description:
“Jesus’ ‘flesh,’ his human existence, is the ‘dwelling’ or ‘tent’ of the Word: the reference to the sacred tent of Israel in the wilderness is unmistakable. Jesus is, so to speak, the tent of meeting …”
The wonderful phrase “the tent of meeting” highlights our emphasis on relationship. In the Incarnation the divine comes to live among us — which is another way of saying divine relationship is established.
So how important is this relationship? Benedict writes, “Man is a relational being. And if his first, fundamental relationship is disturbed — his relationship with God —then nothing else can be truly in order.”
When we reflect on this quote we are led to a vital peacemaking axiom: If we do not establish a sound relationship with God, nothing else can be put in order. Our ministry rests on divine relationship.
We can take this line of thought even further. Only when the Incarnation launches divine relationship does our Christian identity emerge. Benedict XVI makes this point in his encyclical, God Is Love, when he writes, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a new decisive direction.”
Thus, with the Christmas celebration of the Incarnation, we celebrate the birth of a sacred relationship. Benedict, writing in The Infancy Narratives, describes how this relationship changes the religious experience of a Christian:
“God’s will is not a law imposed on him from without, it is ‘joy.’ For him the law is simply Gospel, good news, because he reads it with a personal, loving openness to God and in this way learns to understand and live it from deep within.”
This sacred relationship, which leads to union with Christ, also increases the love we feel for our human brothers and sisters. In God is Love, Benedict observes the following:
“Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him and, thus, towards unity with all Christians. We become ‘one body’.”
The infusion of divine love that mushrooms into love for our fellow humans becomes a major component of the Christmas celebration. This is nicely captured in the following quote from God is Love: “Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved…”
Divine relationship, ushered in by the Incarnation, transforms us. Benedict writes: “Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.”
This quote turns our attention to the faith community with whom we worship at Christmas. Our celebration takes on a deeper meaning through worship — which focuses on the Word made flesh. Christopher Collins, in The Word Made Love, writes:
“… the dialogue between God and his people is given concrete reality every time the community gathers to participate in the Eucharistic sacrifice of the eternal Word made flesh in history.”
So, as you celebrate Christmas this year, take time to reflect on the full meaning of the Incarnation. Consider what it means to you. In your view, how is such an event possible? What is the nature of the relationship that emerges? Does that relationship have meaning for your faith life today? In what ways does the Incarnation event we celebrate at Christmas assure you that divine relationship is possible?
Thank you for joining us on the path to peace. May your reflections make this a very special Christmas for you and those you love. This concludes our podcasts for the year; we look forward to seeing you in 2019.
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May God bless you and bring you peace.