A Time of Wonder
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 23, 2018 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.
As the Lord Jesus, the Incarnate Christ, opened his heart to us, let us also open our hearts and in the same way love without limits or boundaries. For there are no walls that we do not ourselves create, no closed doors or windows that we do not ourselves fabricate.
St. Paul writes in Ephesians that on the Cross Jesus broke down the “middle wall of hostility” that separated Jews from Gentiles. He actually was busy breaking down walls from the very beginning of his life. We are not only saved by the Cross we are saved by his birth and by his entire life. This salvation is accomplished first of all by the deification of human nature in the Incarnation and is therefore so much more than just the forgiveness of sins. It is primarily Communion with Him in Him and accomplished by Him.
Speaking again of “walls,” I think it is even more true to say that Jesus revealed that there are no real walls at all, only phantom walls we create in our minds. “Breaking down the middle wall of hostility” means that all the ideas that cause us to judge, to condemn, to hate, and to fear about our neighbors, those things that keep us apart, are truly just fabrications of our minds. There is a better way and that way is love.
Nothing has proven this to me more than my immersion in ministry with prisoners and ex-offenders. All of a sudden I began to realize that the little part of me that kept me and these men at arms-length has transformed into unconditional positive regard and radical acceptance. I am not sure when this happened, but it has. Fear has dissolved.
As one of the desert fathers remarked, “I have struggled all my life to see the human race as one.” It is a struggle because letting go of what we falsely believe separates us means letting go of our egos, the very thing that creates and feeds on division.
Last week we read the parable of the banquet. When the invited guests refuse to come the host sends his servant out into the highways and byways to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame, those, in fact, who could never reciprocate the invitation. When there was still room the host sends him out again to compel still more to come so that the house would be filled. Some commentators believe that the host represents God and the servant represents the Son of God. I think they are right and the Genealogy confirms it.
In the gospel of the Genealogy we see the ancestry of the Jesus Christ. It is comprised of Jew and Gentile, male and female, saint and sinner, good and bad, young and old. It is as if God gathered together all the disparate parts of humanity in order to unite them all in himself. It is our belief that in Christ all are made one for he unites in his Person all of human nature, all that we as human share in common. It reminds me of that touching moment when Jesus looked out over the city of Jerusalem lamenting that he would love to gather the whole of the people together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but they would not. This is precisely what the Son of God does in his Incarnation.
The Lord took upon himself all that we share in common, our nature, our brokenness, our hopes, our dreams, our despair, and even our sins in order to unite us to God and to one another in his Body. “What,” Paul writes, “can separate us from the love of Christ?” And then he offers a list that is meant as a resounding reply that nothing can! The sins and failings of the members of the Lord’s genealogy did not, could not stain his divine humanity just as ours’ cannot corrupt the image of God that defines our humanity. He assumes it all and therefore heals it all.
St. Paul celebrates the great inclusiveness of the Incarnation, writing that “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-6) He raised us up in Christ into the heavenly places, already, now, all of us, in himself. There is a Man sitting on the throne of heaven and we are sitting with him in him. What an amazing Gospel this is! “To be spiritual,” write Rabbi Heschel, “is to be amazed.”
Paul's vision is so much broader than that of most ChristiansHis is a cosmic vision. He tells us that Christ did everything in order to “fill all things with himself.” This Jesus Christ is not only the God-Man who saved us, he is at the same time the Alpha and the Omega, the Eternal Word of the Father, by whom, for whom, and in whom all things were created in heaven and in earth. The fact is that the truth of Who He is is so unspeakably glorious that our imagination, our feelings, our theologies, our religions are incapable of forming even an approximate conception of him. So our minds must give way to wonder.
Carl Jung wrote, “If our religion is based on salvation, our chief emotion will be fear and trembling. If our religion is based on wonder, our chief emotion will be gratitude.” Christmas for me is the beginning of wonder.