Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent - Season of the Incarnation

The very Son of God, older than the ages, the Invisible, the Incomprehensible, the Incorporeal, the Beginning of beginning, the Light of light, the Fountain of Life and Immortality, the Image of the Archetype, the immovable Seal, the perfect Likeness, the Definition and Word of the Father: He it is who comes to His own Image and takes our nature, for the good of our nature, and unites Himself to an intelligent soul, for the good of my soul, to purify like by like.

He takes to Himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had first been prepared in soul and body, by the Spirit. His coming to birth had to be treated with honour, virginity had to receive new honour. He comes forth as God, in the human nature He has taken. One Being made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave Divinity, and flesh received it.

He who makes rich is made poor. He takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty. He is emptied, for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness.

What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but I failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to my image, immortality to my flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than even the first.

Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by the one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant, by force, and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honour of the Father, to whom the Son is obedient in all things. The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it upon the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.
St Gregory Nazianzen, Office of Readings, Tuesday, First Week of Advent

Reflection – Advent is above all the season of the Incarnation. We look forward to the second coming of Christ in glory, when all creation will see him and every knee bow, and every tear be wiped away, and light and beauty will be poured out across the face of the earth and all that is evil and ugly, all that is not love, be forever destroyed.

But all of that is only possible, that hope can only be in us, because of the first coming. God became man. Gregory Nazianzen puts it all so eloquently and beautifully here that I can add nothing to what he says. I think, though, that we have to safeguard ourselves from stale custom and the familiarity that breeds contempt in regard to this aspect of our faith.

God became man. Do we have any idea of just how fantastic a thing that is? The infinite, the incomprehensible, the eternal, the all-powerful, all-knowing, the One—resting in the womb of a woman, lying on the straw of the stable, sucking at the breast of His Mother? God in a body, suffering pain? God with a human soul, knowing grief? God—God!—dying?

It’s all too familiar to us; we have heard the story too many times, perhaps. But there is an amazement, a wonderment, that we need to recapture and safeguard. It really is a mystery and a beauty and a, well, strangeness beyond anything. Nothing like it has ever happened before; nothing like it will happen again; it has changed everything about creation and humanity and the whole fate of the cosmos.

So Advent and the Christmas feast that follows it are the season to contemplate these mysteries and recover, re-enter that wonder, that awe, that joy of God bending down so tenderly to us, making himself so small for us, coming so very near to us, becoming one of us.

It is the healing and transformation of our humanity from within that is the great mystery here. God wants to heal us, and wants to transform us. But rather than some big action of God bursting in on us from without, like the parting of the Red  Sea or the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, he does his ultimate and perfect work from within, by penetrating the innermost heart of our humanity, becoming one of us, the fifth columnist of the soul, and then penetrating into the innermost spirit of each human being who will accept it, to work the miracle from within, to transform everything in us into love, from within.

This is the great and glorious mystery of the Incarnation, and it is the season to ponder it more deeply and take it to ourselves more intensely, and above all, to thank God for it from the depths of our heart ceaselessly. God became man, and in Him, we become sharers in divine life and love.

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