I’ve been re-watching some episodes of the Flash recently. I especially enjoy the episodes involving time travel. It’s cool that when traveling to the past even a small change can cause a tremendous effect in the future.
Like in the Star Trek episode, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’ where Kirk and Spock have to follow Bones into the past after he accidentally overdoses on a drug that drives him mad. He runs through the Guardian, a portal to all time and place and ends in 1930’s Earth where he alters the timeline changing history resulting in the Enterprise disappearing along with all they had known. Kirk and Spock follow him and stop him from saving Edith Keeler’s life which in turn saves billions of lives and restores the time-line.
Perhaps you’re wondering what this had to do with Christmas Eve, besides the obvious that the Flash is a man in a red suit who can pass through walls. It’s because tonight we’re celebrating a space-time anomaly that occurred on a Spring night in the Middle East over 2000 years ago. At that time and place God entered our space-time continuum and caused a wave of events that changed the nature of the world for ever. That moment was God’s incarnation…the birth of Jesus the Christ.
The Incarnation is an event that occurred in a particular place and time in our history. It is not a metaphor or an allegory, or a myth but a concrete event in space-time. What’s written in scripture is a witness to an actual event…the appearance of God in and through the man Jesus of Nazareth into our world. Luke makes a point of placing the birth of Jesus Christ squarely in the midst of human history. Emperor Augustus, census, Governor Quirinius of Syria, Joseph of Nazareth, Galilee, Judea, city of David called Bethlehem. It’s firmly rooted in history and its ripples are felt throughout history inundating even the very fabric of the culture and inserting its story into all stories.
Prior to that event, an all encompassing Empire ruled by the evil Emperor Palpatine who was strong in the dark side of the force with legions of stormtroopers held sway….oops wrong story…an evil Emperor Caesar Augustus strong in military and economic power ruled the known world through force, fear taxation and his Roman Legions… It was a time of fear and hopelessness. [see I told you it affects all stories]
Then in the backwater part of the Empire in Tatooine… sorry, Bethlehem the Logos enters space-time…the Word of God through whom all things were created, born as a child to a woman and the world shifts. Time shifts. Reality changes. The future is altered. A great perturbation occurs in the Force and the Emperor is afraid.
The Incarnation changed the ultimate reality of the universe. It is no longer a universe of fear but a universe of freedom, hope and joy. The angel said, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” That phrase “Do Not Be Afraid” is repeated by the angels and by Jesus over and over because reality has changed and fear no longer has power over us. I think in this time of pandemic darkness it is important to remember this.
In the Incarnation God has made God’s self fully, specifically and personally known, by taking our human nature into God’s self, by coming amongst us as a particular man, without in any way ceasing to be the eternal and infinite God. Nothing will be the same, from that point on. The status quo, the world of violence, fear, evil and death is no longer the future. The power of the Emperor is broken and even though the death throes of the Empire continue for a while and they may even try and build another Death Star, it has been soundly defeated.
Christmas Eve begins a new time, a new reality, and a new radical story. It tells us that even in the midst of an oppressive, encompassing evil, that the forces of good can literally give birth to a nonviolent revolution that will upend the established order through the promotion of love, peace and justice as the cornerstones for the world order. These supreme laws then dictate how we are to live as a part of that story…which is our story. It is our story not only because of the initial space-time event, but because it continues to be born each year and through each of us despite what manifestation of darkness we may be facing today.
In the 3rd century St. Athanasius said “He was made man so that we might be made god. He manifested himself by a body that we might receive a conception of the unseen Father. He endured the hubris of humanity that we might inherit incorruptibility.” Jesus gave life to a dying humanity and the life he gave us was such that the actions of our bodies become part of the process of God’s saving mission through Jesus. By entering space-time as one of us, Jesus sanctifies us, and proclaims that God is not distant and unknowable but through Him is knowable, present and active in the world today, and invites us to be a part of that action.
Archbishop Oscar Romero commented on the Incarnation saying:
Jesus Christ, the Word-Incarnate took flesh and pitched tent amongst us, “lived, worked, battled, and died in the midst of a city, in a ‘polis’.” So the Christian faith is a “faith [that] does not cut us off from the world but immerses us in it”. The Church is never meant to be a fortress set apart from society. Instead, the Church is a mission that lives and works in society. Inevitably, the Church’s insertion in the world results in socio-political repercussions to both the world and to the faith. The constant question with which the Church struggles is how this influence might be truly in accordance with the faith.
The Incarnation redeems the world and calls us into a role in building for the World as It Should Be, challenging the World As It Is. Standing for a God of life and against the powers of evil and death.
Romero says “We believe in Jesus who came to bring the fullness of life, and we believe in a living God who gives life to [all people], and wants them truly to live.” These are radical truths of the faith, and “become really true and truly radical when the church enters into the midst of the life and death of its people”. There, he says we confront the Christian faith’s most fundamental choice: to be in favor of life, or to be in favor of death. With great clarity, Romero insists that neutrality is impossible. We either serve life, or we are accomplices to death; either we believe in a God of life, or we serve the idols of death”.
My friends, this is our story that began that night. God was in Christ, and Christ is in us; God sent Jesus, and Jesus sends us. The Word became flesh so that our flesh might become God's word—the bearer and best evidence of God's compassion, offered through us to heal a broken and lonely world. It is a story that both began then and continues. Each year and in each of us the Incarnation is waiting to be born into this world and our lives. We are asked to choose and serve life once more.
In years like this it can be difficult, we may find ourselves wondering if it can still occur, perhaps at time not feeling like Christmas as I was the other night. However, the waves continue to spread as that anomaly continues working through all of us and ensures that Christmas will always burts forth through each of us. When I was struggling, wondering if I could feel Christmas this year it was a friend surprising me online with Bruce Springsteens’ Santa Claus is coming to town. What Jersey-born could resist that siren’s call? At that moment I felt it arrive in my heart. For others of us it’s something or somebody else that helps us because when 2 or 3 are gathered Christ will be present. Together we can be those two or three who manifest Christ in the midst of today’s darkness for each other and the life of God that is waiting to be born here and now and will not be denied.
For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me. -John Chrysostom
Christmas is here!