Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Incarnation: not a 'big idea'

Preached at the Community Carol Service at Croydon Minster 13.12.20 . See Luke 1.26-38

‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14)




The Incarnation is what you could call Christianity’s ‘Big Idea’.


The ‘Big Idea’ is actually not an idea at all. It is not an idea, if that’s something dreamed up in the human mind, the Incarnation’s origins are deep in the generative will of God.


And it is not a ‘thought’ that only exists in the mind: it is utterly embodied. So, it is not a thought or idea at all! It’s entirely reliant on human bodies.


Incarnation, not ideas about God and who Jesus Christ is, but the en-fleshed, embodied presence of God, is at the very heart of Christmas. It is the generator of Catholic Christian faith.[1]


Incarnation is the proposition that God has taken human flesh, caro in Latin, meaning ‘flesh’: from which we get the word ‘carnal’, things of the flesh; and ‘carnival’, a festival of eating flesh before the Lenten fast and ‘incarnation’ the en-fleshing of the Word of God.


Jesus Christ assumes human identity in the flesh, in person, whilst at the same time losing nothing of his divinity.


The Incarnation is the decisive hinge of the story of salvation, but it has a long back story.


That back story is what we have heard tonight. Quietly yet insistently declared through the prophets we hear of the one who will be born in Bethlehem as Micah declared; the one who will fill the world with splendour as Haggai announced; the one who springs from the line of Jesse; and as we heard the text set by Handel, ‘for, unto us a child is born’.


And tonight’s gospel is the hinge of the story of the New Creation. It begins with a woman’s ‘yes’. Through the angel Mary says, ‘Yes! Let it be to me according to your word.’ (Luke 1.38). This woman is indispensable to the Incarnation because her body is integral to it all. That is why Christmas features birth in all its blood and bodies and beauty.


It is Mary’s body, in her womb, that gives Jesus Christ his DNA, chromosomes and life blood. This is very fleshly.


The Eucharistic Prayer for the Annunciation puts it like this:


We give you thanks and praise

that the Virgin Mary heard with faith the message of the angel,

and by the power of your Holy Spirit

conceived and bore the Word made flesh.

From the warmth of her womb

to the stillness of the grave

he shared our life in human form.


Et verbum caro factum est habitavit in nobis: ‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ as St John puts it.


Christ comes down to us to raise us to the ways of heaven in human flesh: may we, like Mary, say ‘yes’ this this Christmas, and every day of our lives, so that God is not an idea but our life, our hope, our salvation.


[1] But, you might say, what about the crucifixion, the resurrection, the ascension? Sadly countless men and women have died hideously agonising deaths at the hands of oppressive regimes, even, like Jesus, by crucifixion. Others in the Scriptures were raised from the dead, for example, the son of the Widow of Nain (Luke 7.11-17) or Lazarus (John 11:38-53). Even ascension into heaven had happened before, notably the prophet Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). But that’s not the point. The significance of Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension is not whether or not they happened uniquely to Jesus Christ, but because he is the Incarnate Son of God.

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