On the Feast of the Nativity


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Christmast Eve, December 24, 2013

I don't know if you knew Professor Jaroslav Pelikan. He was a wonderful historian, a theologian, a Lutheran who converted to Orthodoxy in the last part of his life. He was an amazing man. He said something that I've kept in my mind since I heard it: that "the problem with the church is that we have lost a sense of the cosmic Christ."

I was also reading in a book by Joseph Campbell. In the introduction, the author said something lie this: society is not falling apart because we don't have enough laws and because we aren't enforcing them well. It is because we have no mysticism in our religion.

And then, we listen to the Hymns and Gospel readings of Christmas, and all you see is this cosmic thing happening, this apocalyptic thing happening!  Amazing! Christ, God, Incarnate, uniting heaven and earth!  Everything coming together in one! Cosmic. Mystical. that's what it is!

Then you read something by Gregory of Nazianzus and he says this: "He took our flesh and our flesh became God! That's mysticism, big time mysticism!

We are not talking about a relationship with God; we are talking about identification with God!  That's the difference between Orthodoxy and Western theology. Not relational, but identificational.  (That's not even a word I think, but anyway!)

Picture this: the cosmos as a great jeweled net, stretching from horizon to horizon. At each intersection in the net, there is a brilliant pearl that is so arranged that each pearl reflects all the other pearls.  So, every pearl is part of every other pearl.  They subsist in one another.  They "inter-are" as Thich Nhat Hanh would say.  Every jewel is an atom. In every particle of dust, there are jewels without number. Think then of how brilliant a human being is.  How many pearls are in a human being.

This is a metaphor not from Christian mythology, but from Hindu and Buddhist mythology. But the incarnation is connected with this very image. The ancient mystics called it Indra's net. The modern physicists call it reality!  Everything, according to physics, is interconnected. Everything affects everything else. When someone weeps, everyone weeps on some level inside. When someone rejoices, everyone rejoices on some level inside that we are not aware of.  The spiritual life is becoming aware of this connection.

Now, picture the genealogy of Jesus that we read this last Sunday. Now, many people think that this is a worthless kind of Gospel reading, all of those names.  I actually love that reading. I get to say all of those crazy names, impress you, you know. You don't know if I'm saying them right or not. 

Every name represents a person, and every person, a network of persons. An extended family, stretching from the beginning of human history to the present time and into the future and beyond the future. Every single person is a jewel, and each jewel reflects all the other jewels. Everything in creation is united with everything else so every human being is connected with every other human being. We are intrinsically one and subsisting in one another. 

One of the Desert Father said it this way: "I have struggled all my life to see every man as one." The struggle that he had is a hope based on this truth of the Incarnation. Only when we discover that truth, then we know who we really are and who are neighbor is, and who God is. The Incarnation is where the brilliance of all those jewels comes together.

The image I like best comes from Thomas Merton. You really should read him.  The image of the Incarnation is like a magnifying glass that catches the rays of the sun and concentrates them into a single focused beam that sets the world on fire. The rays of that sun are the jewels of the entire network of humanity from beginning to end combined with the sparkling incomprehensible incomparable radiance and energy of the Godhead.

The genealogy of Matthew represents this and it is not exhaustive. If we look mindfully and deeply we will find the names of every human being between the lines and our own names as well, for we are all jewels in the net and all stars in the firmament of heaven.  We too are ancestors of God.