Please note that the majority of the first half of this sermon comes from the Christmas sermon of Fr. Bret Hays. I have shamelessly stolen it, because it’s really good. Thank you, Father.
Christmas makes us do things we never meant to. We didn’t mean to eat all those rich and sugary foods and drink all that wine. We never intended to spend so much money or to see all those people we can get along with well enough, but don’t really like. We didn’t plan on being out in the cold trying to start the car or get that parking space at the mall before some dirty animal jumps into it. A few poor souls were hoping they would be able to stay home and read or watch television but somehow got dragged to church, and what a tragic misfortune, to be crowded into a hard pew and feeling too warm and suffering through listening to people near you singing carols off-key and loudly (that singer’s name rhymes with Father Nat).
But it’s Christmas, and it’s really a joyous time, a time to celebrate the birth of our savior. But of course it was complicate birth. At the time of Jesus’s birth, only a very few people knew who God was or what God’s will for humanity was. Just the Jews, and a very few people who found their ways to be appealing but never formally converted. And this tiny minority was suffering under the ruthless oppression of an empire built on ambition, greed, and violence. The emperor declared himself to be a god and acted like one, giving orders so sweeping and disruptive that you’d call them ridiculous, if you didn’t have to obey them on pain of death. While our government, for all its arrogant overreaches and cavalier intrusions, is content to administer the census by mailing forms for us to complete and mail back, Caesar thought nothing of ordering every man, woman, and child in the known world to stop what they were doing and travel to their ancestral towns, mostly on foot. It’s more than 50 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, over hilly desert terrain. And to think we complain about heavy traffic around the holidays! Oh, and also war, famine, plague, crime, unrest, and a general disregard for the value of human life.
So obviously the solution to all these problems was a baby.1 But the Word did indeed became flesh and dwelt among us, as John reminds us today. But what for, exactly? Why did God feel the need to not only communicate with us or reveal Himself in a book or send an angel but to actually become one of us?
Well, we spoke about that a little bit over the last couple of weeks, about the concept of us having access to God and about God having access to us on a different level. It’s all wrapped up in a thing that we call Incarnational Theology, which is a big term for the study of how God, who is spirit, took flesh.
Incarnational Theology, at its core, tells us that the Incarnation is the most important part of Christianity. “The Incarnation (then) in traditional Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity, also known as God the Son or the Logos (Word), “became flesh” by being conceived in the womb of a woman, the Virgin Mary, also known as the Theotokos (God-bearer).2
The Incarnation is so important that at just the mention of it in the Nicene Creed, what do we do? We genuflect, right? There’s an old Catholic tradition during the first Mass of Christmas, where the Celebrant would have the figure of the baby Jesus on the High Altar up until the Creed, and when they got to the Incarnatus, Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto Ex María Vírgine, et homo factus est, or “and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man,” while everyone was doubly genuflected (otherwise known as kneeling), the priest would bear the figure of Jesus to the creche, nailing down the importance of the Incarnation.
Anglicans, and so we as Episcopalians, are Incarnation people; that’s why we think that the lives of others are so important, that their actual physical well being is cared for. It’s why we think that what we do for, to, and with our bodies is important; it’s why we think that the lives of every human being is of infinite value. We think that because God thinks that, enough so that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It turns out the solution to everything, in fact, was a baby.
1Up until here, this is the work, at least the good parts of it, of Fr. Bret Hays. He’s the man.