25 December 2012

Perfected in the Flesh of the Word

No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes his body.  It’s not a matter of pride or personal affection, but of need and survival.  There may be all sorts of things that you really don’t like about your body, and yet, you are constrained to care for yourself.  Your aches and pains are bothersome, but you give attention to them, rather than ignoring them, because they are your own.  Your flaws and weaknesses may frustrate you, and your blemishes and scars may embarrass you, but you deal with all of these things, because you cannot separate your body from your self.

There is an immediacy to the demands of your flesh, which you simply can’t ignore; and so you do the best you can to protect and provide for yourself, despite the fact that you actually cannot preserve your body and life beyond a limited point.  You’re driven to nurture and care for yourself for as long as you can do it, while all the while you are confronted with the fact of your mortality.

No one ever hated his own flesh, but neither can you trust it.  You know that, sooner or later, it’s going to let you down, fall apart, or otherwise betray you.  You serve it every day, because you have to — it eagerly and greedily becomes your god — but your body cannot save you.  Instead, it makes you anxious, angry, and afraid.  Your own flesh discourages and disappoints you.

The whole of creation presents a similar challenge and temptation.  Though the rest of the world is not so personal as your own body of flesh and blood, there is still an immediacy to all the stuff that you can see and touch, and taste and smell, surrounding you on all sides and pressing upon you.  It is so tangible, so present, and so solid, as though it were definitive and decisive, whether for good or ill.  Creation promises and threatens, seemingly without any recognition of the Creator.  Thus, faith and fear are misdirected, from God to the world.  You either idolize or demonize it.

A case in point is the sun, which God created as a great light to govern the day.  It is surely an impressive and valuable gift, and, oh, how we miss it when it goes down at night or hides behind the clouds.  Of course, we also curse the sun when it beats down too hotly upon us and burns us.  But mostly we rely on it, so much so that we often express our hope for the future in terms of the sun coming up tomorrow.  That may be a confession of confidence in the Lord, who causes the sun to shine on both the evil and the good.  Or it may be another case of pagan idolatry.

You have probably heard, at some point or another, that the Feast of Christmas competed for a time with the pagan festival of sol invictus, the “unconquered sun,” which followed the winter solstice in late December.  The lengthening of the days appeared to be a triumph of creation over death.

Modern conceit is no better than ancient paganism, in supposing that, with gadgets and electricity, we are now able to provide and control the light for ourselves, against any and all darkness.

Christians know and confess that Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is the true Light, which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.  He is the true Sun of Righteousness, who has risen upon us with healing in His wings.  Neither is He a creature, nor within anyone’s control; but He is the divine Word by whom all things are made, and without whom there is nothing at all.  The sun, moon, and stars, the earth and the sea and all that is in them, all of these are His creation, and He is the One who still preserves them and provides for them.

The Light of this Son, Jesus, is the Life that is His by nature, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, from all eternity to all eternity.  It is the holiness of His Life and His freedom as the one true God.  For He is neither constrained by anything, nor in need of anything, but He is who He is: He was, and is, and is to come.  So He remains, always the same, and all of Creation depends upon Him.

But why, then, has He created the heavens and the earth?  Not out of boredom or need, but for the sake of holy Love!  Because the divine eternal Life of the Holy Triune God is Love: the Father for His Son, the Son for His Father, in the Holy Spirit, forever and always.  It is in this Love that He always remains, always the same; and so it is for the sake of this Love that He creates all things ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” in order to share Himself — His Life, His Light, and His Love — His Glory and His Holiness — with others outside of Himself, that is, with His own creatures.

This is the grace of God, of which we so often speak, and for which we glorify His holy Name.

By this grace, through His almighty and eternal Word, the Father created man in His Image; which is already to speak of the incarnate Son, Christ Jesus — the Word made Flesh — from the very beginning, from the foundation of the world.  This is a great Mystery, indeed: that man is made in the form and the likeness of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Son.  The first Adam is created to be like the Second.  For the Lord Jesus Christ is the Image of God, the exact representation of His Being.

The Incarnation of our Lord is not an afterthought.  His conception and birth of St. Mary are not a “plan B,” but are the original creative purpose and gracious intention of the Holy Trinity; that God should become Man in this way, in order that man might receive and share the Life of God in Him.  Indeed, that is the very foundation upon which the entire Creation has been established.

From the beginning, it is this Word of God — the only-begotten of the Father — who fills Creation with divine Life and Light and Love; not only bringing all things which have been made into existence, but undergirding and sustaining them.  Neither man, nor the sun in the sky, nor any creature under heaven is self-existing or self-sufficient.  Which is why the fall into sin is so deadly and destructive: In turning away from God and His Word, man plunges everything into darkness.

Yet, as we rejoice on this holy day, divine Love moves to rescue and redeem, to sanctify and save His fallen creation: Not simply to restore man to the starting point again, but fully to complete and perfect mankind, as He intended, in His own Image and Likeness, in holiness and righteousness.  That is what the Word of God has set about doing in His becoming flesh.

By His conception in the womb of St. Mary, and by His holy Nativity, He has become one with His Creation.  He has entered into it, and in doing so, He has become the definitive part of it.

He comes to His own, to the work of His own hands, and although He is neither comprehended nor received by those whom He has come to save, He accomplishes and brings about a New Creation in Himself: Not by scrapping it all and starting over, but through the forgiveness of sins, by the sacrifice of His own flesh, and by the shedding of His own blood.

In doing so, in laying down His life in this way, He did not hate His own flesh, but in divine Love He gave Himself for you, that you might become a member of His Body and His Bride.

Although this may seem self-defeating and tragic, namely, that the Son of God should suffer and die for sinners, this is actually the fulfillment and perfection of His Creation.  Not as though sin and death were by God’s design, but because they are utterly unable to thwart His purposes, and they rather become the occasion for His great Salvation.

As God, in the flesh, He saves you from sin and death, and He gives you Life and Light and Love.  This, too, is a creatio ex nihilo, a “creation out of nothing,” for there was nothing and no one else  who could have done this thing.  It is God Himself, and He alone, who saves you.  But being also the true and perfect Man, He does so in perfect faith, in perfect love for His own God and Father, and in holy love for you and for all people.  Thus, grace and truth are realized in Jesus Christ.  The faith and love required by the Law are accomplished and established in Him, in His crucified and risen Body of flesh and blood.  And so the “government” of the whole world is upon His shoulders — the “economy” of all Creation rests upon Him, and resides in Him, and shall not be shaken.

It is for this purpose that He became flesh and was made Man, so that, by His Cross — and in His Resurrection from the dead — you who were dead in your trespasses and sin should be given the New Birth of the children of God: by the washing of water with His Word and Holy Spirit.  Your Baptism into Christ Jesus is the New Creation by which you have become the man or the woman that God intended you to be: a beloved son or daughter after His own heart, in whom He delights.

No longer do you live and die in the darkness, since the Light of Christ has risen upon you and shines in your heart through the Gospel.  No longer are you driven by desperation to take care of yourself at the expense of others, since the Life of Christ now fills you and sustains you through His Word and Spirit.  No longer are you cast off and distant from God, since He has drawn near to you in Love; and you now live and abide in Him by faith in the Word of Christ, your Savior.

This Word of God is with you, because, by the preaching of the Gospel, God the Father speaks to you by His Son.  He is not an empty or futile word.  He is not white noise or meaningless chatter.  But He who is spoken to you is the creative and life-giving Word, by whom all things are made; by whom you are named with the excellent Name of God Himself, and sanctified by His Holy Spirit, and glorified with the radiance of His own divine Glory.

By this preaching of the Gospel, the Lord God Almighty bares His holy arm — which is the arm of Christ, the Crucified — to all the nations of the world, even to the ends of the earth.  And not only does He make known His Salvation, but His Gospel actually saves you, and grants you His peace; because it does exactly what it says, which is to forgive you by the Cross of Christ Jesus.

That same Word of the Gospel becomes Flesh for you in this Sacrament: The One Who became like you, now feeds you with Himself, that you might become like Him.  The One who shed His Blood for you, now gives you to drink of His Blood — from His Chalice, with the mouth of your own body of flesh — that you might be cleansed and refreshed with the Life and Love of God.

See, then, how solid, how present, how immediate and tangible this Word is for you.  See here how the true Sun of Righteousness now shines upon you.  See here the perfection of Creation in His Body and His Blood.  And see here, beloved, how in this eating and drinking you become flesh of His Flesh and blood of His Blood; that you are thus wed to Him, as a member of His holy Bride; and that all of you together become one holy Body of Christ.

This true Man surely does not hate you, but loves you dearly, and nourishes and cherishes you with Himself, with His whole life.  Not by any constraint, nor with any selfish desperation, but in the perfect freedom of His holiness and divine grace.

Nowhere is the heart of God more open to you than here.

This, then, is the New Song that you sing to the Lord, and the Good News that you shout joyfully to the whole world; because the Word of God is put into your mouth, upon your lips and tongue.

Surely all the angels worship Him, who is your Savior.  And all of heaven rejoices in His mighty works and great Salvation.  For of His fulness you receive, His grace upon grace everlasting, in this Son who is given and poured out for you.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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