The Wonderful Mystery of Incarnation
27 Dec, 2013
Source: Rev. Rhonda Waters ( who has volunteered with MSCM in the past) and at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal (our host for Open Door and Movie Nights) on Christmas Day.
I have some wonderful news – unto us a child is born! My sister gave birth to her first son just three days ago! He’s a fine little thing – fat and strong and healthy – 8lbs 12 oz! They named him Basil, after his father, and William, after my grandfather. Everyone is, of course, completely thrilled and completely smitten – even me from across the country. He is a much anticipated, much beloved baby and has made this Christmas extra special for my family.
And as soon as he was born, I knew he would find his way into this sermon – not just because I can’t think of much else but because he reminded me that all birth is connected to this birth we celebrate today.
When Jesus was born the angels sang and the star led not just because he would grow into a great and good man but because God, Godself, had entered the realm of flesh and blood and bone and brain. The divide between heaven and earth, God and human, sacred and profane, was shown to be nothing to God. Being human -even being the most vulnerable and weak sort of a human – was shown to be desirable to God. It can be hard to believe that when we ourselves so often do not desire it at all but, nonetheless, there it is. In the beginning, God said creation was good; at Christmas, God proved God meant it.
And so the great mystery of the incarnation – of God becoming human begins at the same place any of us began – as a baby, needy and helpless and messy and full of potential. For regardless of the hymns and carols, Jesus must have been as fussy and dirty and inconvenient as any baby because that was the point. God became human in Jesus – real human, not pious fantasy human. Which stayed true throughout Jesus’ life – terrible at two, awkward at 13, seeking at 20, driven at 30, mortally wounded at 33 – genuinely, messily, inconveniently human.
You would not be the first person to wonder why this is such a good thing (just in case you are indeed, wondering that)- to wonder if we wouldn’t be better off with a God that stays well out of the muck; pure and clean and holy. But honestly, I’d rather have a messy God, a God I can connect to , a God that doesn’t disdain my humanity but in fact revels in it. For in the birth of Jesus, all flesh becomes a sign of God’s blessing, of God’s presence, of God with-us.
Little Basil may not have been foretold by prophets or heralded by angels or born of a virgin but he is, nonetheless, a miracle and a sign of God’s boundless love and the holiness of the vulnerability and humanness of us all. Basil’s birth, like every birth, is connected to Jesus’ birth because Jesus’ birth shows us the truth of Basil.
But the connection goes the other way, too – Basil’s birth shows us the truth of Jesus.
One of the very many photos I have been sent from my very excited mother is an adorable picture of my brother-in-law – who is about 6’4″ – bent over, deep in concentration, trying to get his huge hands and long arms in position to change the tiny, tiny diaper of his brand new son. The picture captures so perfectly the experience of being a new parent – dedication and commitment, fierce protectiveness, fear of ineptitude, desperate desire to do it right, and deep, deep tenderness. There will be other feelings as well, of course, feelings we’d often rather not acknowledge- irritation, anger, exhaustion, boredom, resentment, anxiety, grief. Mary and Joseph will have felt them all, too – because they were parenting a real baby – a real baby who just happened to be God.
God became human in Jesus not just in order to reach out from heaven and bless the earth but so that we could reach out and bless – or curse or question or partner with – God. In Jesus’ birth, God declares an openness to – indeed, a desire for – intimacy with us. Every feeling we have towards one another, we are allowed to direct toward God. Too often, we treat God like our best suit of clothes – to be used only when we’ll be on our best behaviour – when what we need to do is bring everything we are – the good, the bad, the embarrassing – to God. If God can become an exasperating baby who won’t let his parents get a good night sleep for months and months, we get to be the exhausted and overwhelmed parents worried that we’re screwing it all up.
What we need is to be vulnerable to God. And babies are good at vulnerable. When little Basil is hungry or uncomfortable or scared, he will let his parents know know – because they are the only way he can change his situation. This was true of the baby Jesus, too – which tells us that, in some sense, it is true of God because remember – the baby Jesus is God.
The great mystery of the incarnation is that, in making Godself radically present to us, God also made Godself vulnerable to us, in need of us. The story of the salvation of the world – of creation’s reunion with God and our completion as humans – depends on people like you and me, like Mary and Joseph saying yes to the invitation to care for God, to work with God, here on earth.
And this is scary. Like my sister and brother-in-law, like Mary and Joseph, we stand in awe of the responsibility and privilege before us – all to aware of the many ways we could -and will – fall short. But do not be afraid. The grace of parenting is that your baby raises you, teaching you as you go how to do and be what you need to do and be. When God became a baby, God took on this task of raising us into the parents, the partners, God needs.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
and life will never be the same.