St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop +Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas – December 30, 2018
“ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit.”
OUR CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS, still ongoing, (as this is the 6th day of Christmas,) regards the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem. But in doing so, we also focus on an event that happened, actually, 9 months earlier, invisible, heralded only to a young girl at Nazareth.
The wonderful mystery we behold is Christ’ Incarnation. God became man in Jesus, son of Mary, the Son of God taking to Himself our human nature. In a way, this is almost indecent. Taking on the nature of a lower beast might be like me taking on the nature of an ant, or a spider. The conflagration of two such species might create a superhero, but more likely it would just result in a monster. Theologians struggled for centuries trying to see how God might enter humanity without the errors of Greek or Roman demigods, or centaurs, or the Kraken.
The proper study of man is mankind, penned the poet, Alexander Pope. If Christ is a man, then as a man what is He? He is everything we are.
He first has our physical nature, our body. In this, He took on a skeleton, our musculature, our autonomic systems of blood circulation, nerves, waste removal, digestion and breathing. His body needed rest, food, and clothing like ours do.
He had a brain, and more. As we have, so He had those higher faculties that are better than instinct. He had a mind, a center of emotion, and a fully developed human will. And the human nature of Jesus Christ was better than ours, because His were not broken in any way, but perfect, complete, whole, and aligned with His divine nature. His human will coincided completely with His divine will.
And still counting human attributes, Jesus had, as we do, a human spirit. We know very little about our spirits. For some they are but dead things, a remnant, like an appendix, of some former function that is no longer viable, not since mankind’s fall. But for us, and for Jesus certainly, these spirits live. Because the Spirit of God lives in us, our spirits have been reborn, and they live for God. They are receivers, you might say, of heaven’s radio signals. They appreciate beauty, conceive of holy things, discern truth from lies, and worship the One that made us.
Jesus entered humanity in a body supplied by His earthly mother Mary. A second wonder about this fact is that He’s the One that made these bodies, yours and mine. He fashioned our senses, our eyes and ears, the manner in which we rise and walk upright. It was His Father’s command and His Father’s will and design to do so, but the Son did the creating. All things were made by Him, and we are such things. So, the Son became something He first created, He entered His handiwork.
Our nature is more than physical, more than soul and spirit life. We are in many ways like other beings, but we claim some peculiar qualities as human, different from the nature of, say, a cheetah. We’re not just naked apes. Many in the animal kingdom supersede some of our abilities: the birds fly, the eagle’s eyes are farther seeing, dogs’ ears hear many times better, and that cheetah can outrun us easily. But we can run, see, hear, and we can think better than them all. We have skills other beasts can’t understand or emulate.
We learn, and know things better than our pet hamster. And we learn scientifically, which is to say, we hypothesize, then test and refine our theories, and finally come to be sure of the measure of our world by observation.
We learned to eat in that way, finding out what agrees with us, what nourishes us, what to leave alone. I hope to learn what to leave alone, anyway.
A wonderful capacity we have is speech. I’ve previously noted that our ability to turn abstract thought into word-symbols, then into audible speech, then to hear it by a series of sound waves and drums, electronic impulses, brains organizing the impulses, then understanding the words and the ideas behind them. We are wonderfully made. We can tell and hear each other’s thoughts.
We socialize. Humans couple, marry and raise children in homes. We organize society, make rules, enforce the will of the tribe, impose order. We also entertain each other, tell stories, give speeches, put others to sleep, like now. We write with pens, then typewriters, and now computers, or texting on little screens. We read each other’s words. And we draw and paint and make art, films, music, tapestries, environments. We’re very creative, and in this way, we are like our Maker.
But Christ became human for us. What was that like? How did it feel to Him to take upon himself our nature?
All these descriptions, the proper study of mankind, reflects another process. We are not just an advanced biological species, not just an erect monkey that thinks.
In our creation, God’s determination to make us had Him speaking to the Son: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over [the creatures] on earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Gen 1:26-27 If Christ became man, then He became something that He created to be like He is.
We were once more like God than we are today. What Christ was and is, was that original model, the mankind we were meant to be. We were God’s created image and likeness. In many ways we were like Him. So, in becoming human, the Son only used the model He had made for Himself, of Himself.
It is hinted in scriptures, and fully articulated by the great early theologians who were brave enough to say it. God became man so that man might become God. Better to say, become as God, or like God, or as fully the image of God that we were meant to be.
Theologians make their point by saying it large. We don’t fully appreciate what we are, and lest we get too big for our britches, we cut ourselves down and limit how we allow ourselves to see one another. We cover our divine-like qualities with sin. We’re embarrassed by our own goodness. We avoid pride by being proud of our rudest sounds and ugliest features. We make jokes about the most precious things.
Archbishop Morse sometimes said that every priest has the wounds of Christ. The stigmata has been a controversial and infrequent sign of a holy life, as in St. Francis or Padre Pio. A bleeding wound in the hands and feet may sometime or other appear in a saintly person, one who pays a terrific price of notoriety and fevered clamor, the over-religious interest of some, as well as the skeptical and critical doubt of others. And no one knows why they’ve been chosen for the pain and trouble of the stigmata. Bishop Morse says that all priest, perhaps all Christians, bear the wounds of Christ, but we cover these wounds with our sins.
The great hope of Christmas day is that God becomes man so that we humans might become more like God. That we might realize we are not alien to Him, but a special creation made to reflect His nature, just as He has entered our nature.
We think new thoughts, create new and wonderful things, make artistic works, rise superior to other creatures. As we ought to do. The tragedy is in not owning our semi-divine attributes: the fault is in using those attributes in the wrong way, for evil purposes.
The sorcerer’s apprentice put on the robe and hat, picked up his master’s wand and commenced to destroy his master’s laboratory because he lacked the wisdom to wield those dread instruments rightly. He wanted slaves to fetch the water for him and he violated the nature of a broom to make it carry his buckets. We can’t do that with our higher nature, lest we fall further from our source. If we are to wield semi-divine and miraculous powers, we need to submit every thought to Him.
We have spiritual senses, and we own such wonderful facilities we never dreamed of, that if they were used only under the Holy Spirit’s leading, they might render miracles and wondrous works that were seen only in the primitive church, or in distant shores among aboriginal tribes and missionaries. We don’t know what we are.
St. Paul makes the point several ways: with armor, with life in the Spirit, and by putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, that Jesus is our model, our example of life, that we might be in many ways what He is.
Christmas comes for us to see how much like us He may be. Helpless in infancy, needing His mother’s warmth and feeding, He lies wrapped in strips of torn cloth, in a manger, motionless in the cold.
Like we too once were helpless, He is weak and needy. He does not disdain our nature, even at its least. But the great sweep of His life from that day to the cross, and yes, to the empty tomb and an eternal Resurrected life, is to lead us to be what we are yet to become. He promises us a place in His heaven. Now think upon our feeding on His Body and Blood.
Humankind has risen to new life in Him, and in Him we have ascended where the Father is enthroned. That’s us, in Him, up there, right now. Lift your gazes. Christ is risen and has been seated at God’s right hand. We have no idea what we will do, when He returns for us. We have no idea what we shall be. We have very little idea what, indeed, we are…