The Eve of the Incarnation of Our Lord (Christmas Eve)
24 December 2013
O God, who hast caused this holy night to shine with the illumination of the true Light: Grant us, we beseech thee, that as we have known the mystery of that Light upon earth, so may we also perfectly enjoy him in heaven; where with thee and the Holy Spirit he liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
This past summer and continuing into the autumn, a series of encounters and conversations challenged me to reconnect with the core of my spirituality. To misquote Saint Augustine out of context, I fell back in love with Love. I rediscovered my passion for sharing the message that God enters into creation and in and through the occasions of life and enacts, creates, makes present Divine Love. I was forcefully reminded that God decisively enters into our lives at unexpected moments, in unexpected places, and in unexpected ways and that God’s love is being made manifest all the time and everywhere. It is manifested in our most public encounters and in our most intimate ones. It is manifested in and through the natural world and in the heart of the city.
What I have been talking about for months began as a call for deeper connection with each other and engagement with the stuff of life. Something new and creative, something truly sacramental happens in the space of human intercourse, communion, and connection. In that space, individuals enter into relationship with that which is more than themselves and manifest God’s love into the present moment. God gives us the grace to be the bearers of the divine presence into this moment and quite literally make Love. In doing so we become divine agents of love-ward transformation and change. What I have experienced in and through my relationships in the world and the Good News that I have been sharing all this time, therefore, has been the reality and power of the Incarnation. This is nothing less than the transforming reality of God’s very presence, Love’s very presence expressed into the here and now, into this moment. When love becomes incarnate in the midst of life everything changes and becomes clearer, we understand what really matters, what our priorities should be and we are stirred to act in new ways that align themselves with this new reality.
Love enters in and changes us, changes the world.
This reality demands that we transform and re-orient our lives so that we can better perceive and respond to the Love around us, thereby helping to transform ourselves, our relationships, our institutions, and our society. In this way we realign our lives in accordance with God’s priorities and values, the priorities and values of the subversive Kingdom of Love that God is enacting and unfolding as we speak. In this Kingdom the values of Love—encompassing freedom, generosity, abundance, relationship, interconnection, and vulnerability—triumph over indifference, coercion, selfishness, greed, and the myths of self-reliance and invulnerability. The message has been crystal clear and has come into even better focus as we entered Advent: the values of this age will be overturned and the values of God, our God, the values that lie at the very centre of the cosmos will reign.
Two weeks ago I provocatively insisted that we must pay heed to John the Baptist’s call to transformation and be attentive to the signs that God’s love is at work in the world. Whenever and wherever people are physically and spiritually healed, death and death-dealing behaviour are defeated by the power of love, and those on the margins, those forgotten about by the powers of the mighty empire, receive attention, love, and justice we know that God’s Love had been incarnated into the present moment. I have also called us to pay attention to the less dramatic signs, to those ephemeral moments in life where and when we may recognise Love incarnate, Love-in-action. We find it in the exchange with another person, in a flash of connection or warmth, in an act of kindness or respect, in a smile or a nod, in the contemplation of and encounter with nature. In these instances it appears not with bangs and puffs of smoke, but in subtle ways to which we need to tune our eyes and ears, our hearts and minds. We do not know the hour or the day when this will happen, but it comes to us and keeps on coming.
Tonight we do know the day and the hour. Tonight we know that the moment is come. Tonight we gather to celebrate that moment, that classic instance when God expressed Divine Love into creation in a specific moment, in a specific place, in a specific person; that instance that helps make meaning of all those other incarnations that we have experienced, are experiencing in the present moment, and shall experience in the future. Tonight we celebrate the outrageous proposition that God chose to become incarnate in a baby born in Judea, on the margins of the Roman Empire, to a young girl betrothed to a man who knew he was not the child’s biological father. Tonight we insist that God became flesh and entered into the life of the world as every child does, born of a human mother in the mess of childbirth. Tonight we insist that the baby, the tiny, vulnerable newborn baby in the manger is our King, our Saviour, the Prince of Peace, Marvellous, Counsellor. Tonight we insist that the one who is the child of God, one with the creator, made of the stuff of Love, maximally available and maximally giving to all is the baby gaining strength in those liminal hours after childbirth, nourished at his mother's breast. Unexpected time, unexpected place, unexpected person. And yet, this is whom we claim as our God’s very self-expression into creation.
In the person of Jesus Christ, revealed this night as the baby in the manger, we are confirmed in our understanding of what God values. We are confirmed in our understanding that love, dependance, relationship, connection, and vulnerability are divine qualities that can and will change the world. We now know that raw power, independence, invincibility are not God’s ways and are not the paths to the Kingdom of God, not the paths to reconciliation with our creator, not the paths to atonement. In the child, in that little baby boy, we find inspiration and power in qualities that our society today deems to be weak, especially in men. Jesus inverts our value system at the same time as he becomes the expression of God that is supremely available and comprehensible to us. In Jesus we meet our brother in the flesh who shows us how close, how available, how real the presence of God’s love is. In Jesus we meet our God incarnate who shows us and makes available to us the dynamic, complex nature of real Love. In Jesus we learn to perceive and respond to the Love we see incarnated into the present, coaxing us into deeper and deeper relationship with God and with each other.
As a community of gathered individuals, we come together this night out of our differences, from our diverse lives, and we celebrate and enact God becoming present with us, taking the form of that supremely vulnerable baby boy, the very incarnation of those things that are truly real, that truly matter. We acknowledge that real power is seen in the courage of Mary, in the vulnerability and pure unbounded love of Jesus, in the adoration of the Shepherds. In the face of the Incarnation and all that it shows about what matters—and in the faces of each incarnation we now have the power to recognise when it happens in our lives, especially in and through our connections with others—we are called to live up to our best self, to live more fully and vitally, and to explore and help change the world around us.
The Incarnation we celebrate tonight is a sign and sacrament that God has acted decisively to inaugurate the kingdom of love and made clear to us the true values of creation. The Incarnation we celebrate this evening calls us to account and demands that we engage in the work of transforming our lives and the world around us to accord with the priorities of Love. The Incarnation we celebrate tonight is a powerful reminder that God continues to bring forth Love into the present moment in and through the stuff of creation. It is a promise of the future reconciliation of all in all with God in Love. May we experience this night that palpable, sacramental presence of Divine Love incarnate here in this place, in our gathering, in the Eucharist we celebrate, and may that vision, that feeling guide us each day to recognise Love incarnate in our lives and allow it to transform us, transform our world into something new.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Ember Friday, 20 December 2013
© 2013 Andrew Charles Blume