Christmas Homily 2021
Some of you know that during the season of Advent I read Caryll Houselander’s spiritual classic, The Reed of God. She was challenged never do anything the Virgin Mary would not do. The problem was she could not imagine the Blessed Mother doing anything at all.
Sometimes that is the case on Christmas. We fill Christmas with the warm and reassuring. I have believed in the Incarnation of Jesus so long it no longer provides me a challenge unless I ask a dangerous question: Lord, how do I live in a way that shows I believe in you?
For the Word was made flesh. Divinity and humanity are forever linked in Jesus. And if Jesus assumed flesh, then the flesh cannot be all bad. When Jesus says that people must eat His flesh, that is what he means. The Greek word is sarx, flesh. It is why so many left. Jesus was talking crazy talk.
At the same time, Jesus is the Divine Son of God, the Second person of the Blessed Trinity. We are not only material but possess an immortal soul. Our flesh needs to be directed in a proper way, a way that leads to holiness.
And how the limited flesh and the unlimited divine can coexist is a mystery indeed. It is for this reason that I think we tend to focus on one OR the other, but not on both. Perhaps it is because the flesh can be a struggle in living a moral life. If we give our base instincts free reign in our lives, our lives become a mess.
But when we try to ignore our flesh by focusing only on the spiritual side of our life, the result is often just as bad. For to focus only on the spiritual means that we deny the Incarnation as miraculous, for why would Jesus assume flesh if it was the case that being only spiritual was enough.
We tend to make the Incarnation a binary event. We speak of a low or high Christology. We tend to emphasize the divinity of Jesus more than the humanity, or we emphasize the humanity of Jesus more than the divinity. And we see the implications of this all over the place.
Real life is messy, so we create social media, so that we only need show the best parts of ourselves. The poor make me uncomfortable, so I pretend they do not exist. I look away. It is easier to live in my head than to acknowledge my body. I eat too much, drink too much, think of myself too much, am selfish too much, treat my body as nothing because all that matters is the spiritual.
But we live in a world that so desperately needs to know that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. We need to witness to people that even in the humanness, especially because of their humanness, they are loved more than they can ever know or understand. WE need to know that.
Imagine how different our world would be if we could treat every person as if they were Jesus himself, the uncomfortable lesson of Matthew 25. Imagine if we recognized in those on the margins, the homeless, the addicts, the poor, the hungry, the mentally ill, prisoners, and others the crucified Christ?
Can we venerate the Crucified Christ in them as devoutly as we venerate the Christ on Good Friday? Can we love them so authentically, so much like Christ, that they can find hope once again?
And can we do this also in our Church today? How broken is the Body of Christ, unable to witness to a way of interacting with each other that is any different from what we see in every other aspect of life? Can we believe that incarnate Christ is with us, so that as we live together as the Body of Christ, providing a witness so authentic that others are compelled to join us?
I wish to end with a story that Houselander tells at the end of her book. It is about a mother whose son died in the war, and who adopted another boy. Houselander says this about her. “She gave him everything that her son had owned. There was no doubt of her love for him. There could be none for those who saw her face, whether-beaten and lined, marked and sealed with sorrow, and yet shining with quiet happiness.
One day a neighbor said to her: “I would never have thought that you would put another boy in your son’s place.”
“I have not she answered simply there is only one boy, Jesus Christ.”
Can we do the same?
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