MARCH 25, 2009: LUKE 1:26-38


 

THE HOLY OFFSPRING TO BE BORN WILL BE CALLED SON OF GOD.  Surely, this message arguably contains the most radical of all assertions to be found in the Bible; indeed, it is not too much to affirm that these words of the angel Gabriel to Mary stand as the primary challenge to faith in God’s plan of salvation for the whole world. Some decades later when John wrote his Gospel he opened it with the same assertion, using different words while conveying the same mysterious truth: “The Word was God . . . and the Word became flesh.” Three of the four Gospels open with this declaration of the true identity of Jesus, for Matthew too describes the revelation made to Joseph that the child Mary has conceived is the fruit of the Holy Spirit who had overshadowed her to bring about the Incarnation of the Son of God. He states the essence of his message by citing the words of Isaiah, while giving them a fullness of significance that the earlier prophet did not altogether realize “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.

 

Once this truth is established and accepted by the reader and hearer of the Gospel every other event in the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Jesus assumes the fullness of its significance. If this child is truly God among us in person, then everything done and said by this man, Jesus, has a density of meaning that transcends the comprehension of human thought and words. Today as we celebrate this feast of the Annunciation we are invited by the liturgy to pause and reflect with concentrated attention and prayerful desire so as to conceive something of the surpassing reality of this mystery that in Jesus the person of the Son of God is with us, having become one with us in his human nature. This truth that in the person of Jesus God himself takes on human nature, body and soul, while remaining, as person, divine so as to be substantially equal to the Father will always remain a source of marvelous wonder for any one who accepts it as reality. For it entails consequences so profound that this truth enters into the totality of creation considered as a whole and in all is elements. That God now exists in such a way that He, in the person of His eternal Word, has taken on a body so as to become human on the level of nature affects the meaning and operations of all that is. The implications of the full divinity of Jesus are radical for our concept of God, of our human race, of this planet earth and even of the very cosmos.

 

By the Incarnation human nature takes on an altogether new quality that dignifies it beyond its native constitution. God bestows upon it the capacity to enter upon a transformation that renders the human person who surrenders to this mystery and lives from it, a share in the life of God by participation. This process imparts a fresh significance to all our activities; it defines the purpose of life and creation itself. St. John indicates how the Incarnation of the Word opens up infinite prospects for all members of our race as he reflects upon the meaning of Jesus’ existence and teaching in a passage read in the liturgy this past Sunday: “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, not to judge the world, but so that those who put their faith in him may not be condemned but may have eternal life.” (3:16)

 

Eternal life is more than the prolongation of the kind of existence we are familiar with in this world of time, where one state succeeds another, and the past gives rises to new forms and events. The fifth century Catholic philosopher, Boethius, defined eternity as “the total, simultaneous and perfect possession of life without end.” (De consolatione philosophiae V.6, Loeb, p. 400) Such is the life of the infinite God who, in his incarnate Word, extends to all of us the loving invitation to unite our self to him even now by putting our faith in his son. Though this obedience of active faith we enter upon this way of life that is a participation in the eternal life of God himself.

 

The Incarnation, accordingly, imparts a new dimension to time, that is to say, to the existence and movements of the constellations of stars with their planets and to our experience of this movement in which our earthly existence is embedded. The whole of the cosmos shares in the new creation effected by the Word of God through his taking up of a body. Saint Paul speaks of this cosmic effect of the mystery of the Incarnation in the Epistle to the Ephesians (1:18-23):

 

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the full knowledge of him . . . raising Christ from the dead . . . seating him above all principalities . . . and above every name that is named not only in this world but also in the world that is to come.

 

The Annunciation to Mary and her word of humble acceptance was the beginning of the new stage in the history of mankind. When the Word of God took on a human body, humanity and the entire cosmos enter upon a process that is to culminate in a new mode of existence determined by the relations formed between God and his creatures. Saint Paul refers to the result of this event as a ‘new creation’. The essential change brought about through this personal engagement of God in human history is that it represents a journey into that world where God himself is all in all. Jesus enters upon a course that opens into the world of divine light as he explicitly stated the night before his death: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He is the life that is light. Light in the sense of spiritual understanding that is a living experience of God. In the book of Revelation God is described as being the light of the heavenly city so that it has no need of the sun. The presence of God is the life giving light of those who have been transformed by the graces given through the incarnate Son of God.

 

This Eucharist commemorates, accordingly, the surpassing mystery that is at the heart of the journey of the Christian through this world of time. As we offer this memorial that actually reproduces in sacramental form, the presence of God, the Word made flesh among us, we enter into the communion with the Father that furthers this transformation of our person, our very self, thus readying us for the vision of divine glory which alone fulfills our most intimate longing. W 

    

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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