We could not overcome our own nor the world's corruption without help from heaven.That is why we needed (and still need) to be saved by One like us.
With these words the most theologically profound Gospel begins, the one written by the beloved disciple John. Probably the latest to be written, this Gospel contains the inspired mature reflection of the early Church. Within these pregnant words we discover the mystery at the heart of the great event we celebrate on Christmas, the Incarnation.
The words rendered in English "dwelt among us" are literally rendered "He pitched His tent among us." The God of the whole universe who dwelt in inaccessible light, whom no man had ever seen and lived, became a man. He lived (lives) among us. He became one of us. The author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us:
"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15)
The Eternal Word, coexistent with the Father and the Spirit in the perfect unity that is Trinitarian Love, became a real man in time and history.
As a pre-born child, He sanctified all mother's wombs by dwelling within the first temple of His beloved self-chosen mother. Now that is THE greatest argument against abortion.
He was born into a family and lived fully the stages of all of our lives- just as we do and as our children continue to do. He was "a kid"; He was a "teenager", He, to use the misnomer, "grew up". He "grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and all men" says the Gospel.(Luke 2:52)
The Christian claim is that God is more than an idea or the summit of all the aspirations of the human heart. He so loved the world He created that when it was lost through sin, He came as a child. He pitched His tent among us. He became like us, so that we can become like Him and live for eternity in an intimate family relationship with Him.
He had friends, some of whom hurt and betrayed Him. He had fun and laughed and rejoiced as a real human person! He was comfortable celebrating at a wedding (I am sorry to disagree with some of my friends in some other Christian traditions but the first great miracle was not to make water into grape juice).
This child became a man with a passionate love for the entire human race and His heart broke from the pain and loss occasioned by our alienation from Him. He wept over Jerusalem! He wept at a friends' funeral. He understands the pain of betrayal because He was betrayed.
He doubted. He had fears. That's right- doubt is not sin. Doubt is an opportunity, an invitation to each one of us to exercise our freedom, to make the choice to believe and to trust. That is what the agony in the Garden was all about. Most of all, this wonderful loving Saviour who came into our midst and pitched His tent, had room for everyone within it's embrace! He loved ALL men and women-not just the "loveable", or the "pious" In fact, He was known to associate with "sinners."
He was fully human- as well as fully Divine. His bodiliness was not some ruse. He pitched His tent among us. He lived the fullness of the human experience in a body. He perspired. He felt fatigue.In fact, He is now at the "right hand" of the Father in a Resurrected Body! That is the Christian claim.
Yet we who are Christians often still do not "get it!" We all too often live the Christian life as though our bodies and the created order are somehow "bad" or less "spiritual".We profess in our ancient Creed that we believe that we will live in resurrected bodies on a new heaven and a new earth for all eternity. Yet we sometimes live as though the physical is divorced from the spiritual.
The "flesh" (in Greek, sarx) that the scripture warns of is not our body but our tendency to sin. The "world" that we are warned not to befriend in some biblical passages is not the created order (which he called "good" and still loves) but the system that has squeezed the Creator out of His creation.
This Advent Season - and the Christmas it anticipates - invites Christians to live a unity of life. To become comfortable "in our skin"- fully human, enjoying life and loving as Jesus loved. Far too often Christians live lives that are perceived as anything but fully human. That kind of approach is not "holy", it is weird. It can also impede us in our own participation in His ongoing redemptive mission. Who is drawn to a man or woman whom they feel will not have empathy for their own weakness?
At its core, "sin" is an abuse of the freedom to choose given to us by God. This capacity to freely choose to love is what constitutes the "Imago Dei", the image of God in each one of us.God did not create us as robots but as persons. That capacity to choose to respond to His invitation has been affected by the "original sin", the great rebellion. Because of sin,all men and women now tend to what classical theology called concupiscence.
Sin has wounded us-- and it has affected the world in which we now live. That is why we could not overcome our own nor the world's corruption without help from heaven.That is why we needed (and still need) to be "saved" by One like us.
However, because He has been born, we are now given a new Way on which to walk, and the invitation to live our entire lives "in Him". We have been given the "power to become the children of God" By grace we have the capacity to choose love and so to be transformed into Him who is Love incarnate.
On Christmas we remember that in the "fullness of time" God came among us. Heaven touched earth and earth has been elevated! The all- powerful God who made both heaven and earth became a vulnerable baby and chose to give Himself to His creation.The eternal entered time and time has been forever sanctified.
Oh, the mystery of this moment, the grandeur of this Feast! The importance of preparing for the coming(s) of the Lord! For too much of our history as a Christian people we have missed the profound foundational truth of the entire Christian Mystery. The Incarnation continues!
The Word still becomes flesh in and through each of us who have been baptized into Him. His tent is still being "pitched" among all men and women. That tent is His Body, His Church. His Body, all those who are now incorporated into Him through Baptism, are called to spread the tent-pegs and make room in the tent for the entire human race.
The same Word through whom the Universe was made is the Word through whom it is now being redeemed and re-created. That transformation will finally be completed when all things are reconstituted in Him in the new Heaven and New Earth.
On the wonderful day called "Christ-Mass" the entire world pauses. The great event of Christmas touches every man, woman and child. The entire world is again presented with the Christian claim---"the Word became flesh and dwelt among us."
Let us use the season of Advent to prepare and let those of us who have embraced the truth of this claim now manifest- in our own lives and families- the fruits of the Incarnation. Let us become a Christmas people and offer through our lives of love the greatest gift of all.
Let us continue to manifest the beauty of the Incarnation to a world that still waits to be born.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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