The Lord Christ's Net
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes for the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord 2020
The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn still visible is a beautiful sight, reminding us of the Christmas Star, although it most likely is not the same. Of course, the adventists among us are speculating that Christ is soon to return. So they have been for over 2,000 years. Our message to them is, “What are you waiting for? He is already here.” The One who promised he would never leave us or forsake us has never left us or forsaken us.
There is in Eastern cosmology a metaphor for the interconnectedness of all things. It is called “Indra’s Net” and is pictured as a net with a multi-faceted gemstone at each vertex of intertwining cords. Every jewel reflects every other jewel in its facets. The net covers all creation glistening with the light of infinite beauty from God who is the Source of all beauty. The metaphor is rich in meaning. Inter-connection, inter-being, harmony, balance, beauty, all these things are honored and revered by the Orthodox mystics and mystics from all traditions. For me it is an image of the meaning of Christmas which is a Great Conjunction far more wondrous and important than the alignment of a few planets.
The Incarnation is the Great Conjunction of God and creation. The Word of God draws so close to us that there is no longer an in-between between God and us. There is not even room for the passing of an onion skin between the two. He is, say the Orthodox mystics, closer to us than our breath and our heartbeat.
Truthfully, this has always been case, but not in the same way. From the beginning, God has been always “everywhere present and filling all things.” Now he comes to us in a different way. So, why does he do it? Why did Christ become man in history in a particular place and at a particular time? Again I turn to Alan Watts in BEHOLD THE SPIRIT who has the best answer I have ever found.
"The vast majority of human beings have always had very concrete and childlike minds, and there are levels at which even the most highly intelligent people are still children. To get an abstract, universal or spiritual truth into the understanding of a child one must make it concrete, and the best way to do so is to illustrate it with a story. Because God intends the gift of union and its realization for all men, and not merely for an esoteric elite, he therefore embodies the gift in a story, a mythos, which is acted out in real life—in Palestine under the governorship of Pontius Pilate.”
Lying in a manger in the midst of a silent night, the Christ child, the Son of God made flesh, lies helpless as angels, humanity and two animals stand watch at his cradle in the earliest icon of the Nativity. I have spoken of this before, but I think it is important to repeat because it gives us a sense of the incredible ramifications of the Incarnation we celebrate tonight. The two animals are the ox and the ass. In ancient Egyptian mythology these two animals represent the god Osiris and his son Set. The Wise Men approach from the East with the pointy hats worn by the priests of Mithra, the Zoroastrian god of light. The point is that all the peoples, creatures, myths and legends of all the civilizations before the birth of Christ (and after) come to worship him. Everyone and everything gathers at the manger to celebrate the coming of the Messiah. There in the cave by that rough manger the whole of Creation unites in worship of the One, True God.
There appears to have been a deliberate effort by the Church to show that Christ is, as St. Paul writes, “all in all,” and it is accomplished, as so much is in Holy Orthodoxy with the genius of iconography. Christ, the chief cornerstone, Jesus, the divine and preeminent multi-faceted jewel, reflects in his body, in his life, and in his words the glory that resides at the heart of all things visible and invisible.
Christianity exists for one reason and that is to reveal God’s infinite Love to the world “in all its overwhelming and almost outrageous fullness.”
In the Great Conjunction we call the Incarnation we discover that “all the power and joy of Christianity proceeds, the truth of the Word made flesh – that the eternal life of God is given to us here and now in the “flesh of each moment’s experience.” (Alan Watts)
God has given to us his children an exuberant and extravagant gift on this night. He has wedded us to himself. The Bridegroom has come for us.
Now, in this dark winter, we must rededicate ourselves to bring the light of Christ to those who are suffering from the effects of the pandemic, who have lost loved ones, lost their jobs, lost their homes, are struggling to feed their families and are quickly losing hope. I never thought I would see anything like this in my lifetime. Over 320,000 Americans dead! The number is staggering. If we bear testimony to the Light of God’s love through deeds of compassion and self-sacrifice, then it is possible that we might save some lives. And if we can, shouldn’t we?