A Burning Passion for Humanity
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 19, 2021
The primary reason for making our way through Matthew's Genealogy is to affirm that the Word and Son of God has a human face and human ancestry. A "human face" so that we can look upon him and a human history to confirm that the Son of God became truly one of us. This Gospel reading is a resounding proclamation of our belief in the Incarnation. For this reason I look forward to this Sunday every year. The birth in the flesh of the Son of God is the Chief Cornerstone of our faith.
St. Athanasius wrote that God could not bear to see his creation suffer and die and so he came to us in the flesh, face to face, heart to heart. He took on a human face so that we could see him. He took our nature upon himself to make it one with himself causing the 17th century mystic priest and poet Angelus Silesius to write, “I am as rich as God for there is no grain of dust that I do not share in common with him.”
Sacred scriptures and prophets could never adequately relate the intensity of God’s passion for humanity and creation. Only the Incarnation of God himself could do that. Love can never remain at arm’s length. It was his passionate love for us that caused the Son of God to “empty himself, taking on the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of man…” in the words of St. Paul. The Lord did not think equality with God “something to be grasped”, that is, held on to, so he put it aside and became like us. That is what Love does.
The implications of the Incarnation are so mind-blowing that we rarely think much about it and many Christians have yet to understand or accept it. If it is true that the Son of God took our nature upon himself, that is, what all human beings share in common, the thing that makes us human and connects us all together as one, then the nature of humanity has been transfigured and deified in him. In connecting himself with us in the flesh, he has connected us with him in flesh and spirit. “Everything has been given us in Christ,” writes Thomas Merton. “All we need is to experience what we already possess.” And, honestly, the one purpose we have in going to church is to celebrate this gift!
I remember my Systematic Theology teacher telling us one day that there is a man sitting on the throne of heaven and we are sitting with him. To us polyglot ORU students that sounded utterly outrageous. And yet, it must be true. Human nature, in the Incarnate Christ, has been lifted into the heavenly places, granting us in this life already the blessings “which are to come.”
The book by Alan Watts, BEHOLD THE SPIRIT, is quite simply one of the best books on Christianity I have ever read. He freely quotes the Eastern Fathers as an antidote to the grave issues he saw in Western Christianity. He writes of the failure to “realize the implications of the Incarnation” and the acceptance of the gift of union with God “to the flesh” as the reason for the weakness of the Church. Thus, he writes, we have substituted the contemplation of God in the here and now with “self-conscious moralism.” Let me quote him more directly.
“In general Christians are so self-consciously preoccupied with the things they ought and ought not to do by way of Christian action in a world gone mad, that they are absorbed in themselves instead of in God.”
So, repentance is this: to change our object of contemplation from ourselves to God. To become absorbed in God rather than in ourselves. To turn our hearts and minds towards him more and more, little by little, until we have finally recognized that we are one with him and he with us and it has been so all along. This is the change of mind that transforms everything.
Meister Eckhart puts it like this:
“What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God hundreds of years ago, if I do not give birth to the Son of God in my time and my culture? We are all meant to be Mothers of God...”
“We are all meant to be Mothers of God.” That is a powerful and provocative statement. From our lives, Jesus teaches, will flow “rivers of living water.” Is that really any different than what Eckhart wrote? We are to be fountains of mercy for the whole world, birth-givers of God through lives lived in contemplation of God. Our goal is the realization of union with the Most Holy Trinity which has been accomplished for us in the Lord’s assumption of our humanity. “It is finished,” Jesus declared from the Cross right before he died. Everything has been done. What is left is our awakening to it.