The Eternal Gift of Union
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 20, 2020
Here we are only a few days until Christmas. It will be a Christmas unlike any most of us have ever seen. If we are being wise and careful, we will have smaller celebrations with fewer family members and friends. It is important that we protect one another and ourselves during this pandemic. While we will be giving and receiving gifts, let’s take a moment to reflect on the greatest gift we have been given – the gift of union with God.
I love the reading of the Genealogy. It reminds me of the poignant scene in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus laments over Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Mt. 23:37) Here in the Genealogy it is as if the Logos does exactly what he wished to do, gathering all of humanity under his wings, the good, the bad, the indifferent and in creating for himself a human body, enfolds humanity into himself. The verse ends on a negative note, “and you were not willing.” That does not stop him. Still the Lord embraces all humanity leaving not one sheep lost in the hills.
In the words of Alan Watts who wrote and excellent book called BEHOLD THE SPIRIT, which is very Orthodox and highly recommended, “In short, God has wedded himself to humanity, has united his divine essence with our inmost being ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health’ for all eternity…” All of our moral and spiritual efforts are not to attain union already and freely given, but to express and appreciate it.
Remember the Prologue of St. John’s Gospel where the apostle writes, that the Logos (the Son of God) is the true light that, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world and the world was made by him and the world knew him not.” Again the verses end on a negative note, “and the world knew him not.” Still, he enlightens even those who do not know him or even care to as our Baptismal service proclaims as well, “He enlightens everyone that comes into the world.”
Humanity has been given a gift, freely and extravagantly. We do not have to reach up to the heavens to bring it down nor do we have to earn it. Actually, both are above our capacity. The sublime and infinite generosity of the God who is Love came to us to confer the gift of union freely by grace.
"While all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, your Almighty Word leapt down from the royal throne." (Antiphon on the Magnificat at Vespers within the Octave of the Nativity, Western Rite.) Because we could not attain union with him on our own, the infinite God descends to the finite and becomes man. Watts writes with a bit of humor, “Our flesh has become his flesh, and we cannot jump out of our own skins.”
The Word of God humbled himself. You could even say that Love humbled him. True love always serves the other. It asks nothing. It only gives. Love that does not lead to the Cross, where life is sacrificed for the good of the other, is not love. Therefore, because he is love, God could not sequester himself in the heavens far away from his creation. Love causes him to become part of it. In the Incarnation humanity has been united to God in Christ by love.
Indeed our flesh has become his and his flesh has become ours. Our blood flows through his veins and his through ours. Creation, all of it, is inseparably united to Christ, spirit and matter, just as we are inseparably united to one another and to everything that he has made. The belief that it is possible to be separated from God is a lie, a fantasy, a dream concocted by our fallen minds. It is the ego’s fever dream because the ego demands to have some control over salvation or make some contribution towards it and the Incarnation removes the possibility and necessity of both. Grace has replaced ego. Christ “made himself nothing” and in him we too, have become nothing. Nothing and everything. Lifting us upon the Cross with him and into the heavens in the Ascension, Christ has shown us the power of extreme humility and the glory of God that lies in love and self-denial.
What the Lord Jesus touched during his earthly life is blessed forever. The same waters Christ blessed when he was baptized fell down upon us in the form of snow this week. The blessing of the Jordan continues forever just as the blessing Christ bestowed on life itself by living it. The entire creation rejoices in him. And so, the union between God and humanity forged in the Incarnation is forever. As deified human beings, joy is the most natural response.
What has the Father done for us through Jesus Christ? St. Paul tells us. in the epistle reading today that he has “qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness.” He has “transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” He has “redeemed us by forgiving our sins.”
All of these wonderful things are secondary for they are merely the fruit of the Incarnation in his union with us. Let me end with these words from St. John of Damascus.
“But we hold that to the whole of human nature the whole essence of the Godhead was united…He in his fullness took upon himself me in my fullness…”
My dear sisters and brothers, this is the meaning of Christmas, which is the fountain of joy and of deification. All that is left is for us to say, Amen and to give thanks.