In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Merry Christmas! Tonight we enter into all the wonderful festivities of Christmastide -- the twelve days (I repeat, twelve days!) of celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us. In the Nativity of Christ, the union of God and humanity, heaven and earth, is born to us. Here we find, to our wonder and surprise, the Son of God -- given for the life of the world by the infinite love of God the Father and the holy devotion of Mary, his Mother -- she who is none other than the Mother of God.
The Christian Faith is founded upon the Incarnation; none of this gets off the ground without it. It is the first complete revelation of God himself to the world -- the revelation not just of the promises of God, nor of just the law of God, but of God himself. As St. Paul says to the Colossians, Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible.” Or, as St. John says in the first chapter of his Gospel that we will hear at the end of this mass, Jesus Christ is “the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” and it is this Word that “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
In our Collect for today, we ask that God would “grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit.” This prayer would not be possible were it not for the child who “is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” We can only make this petition to God because of Christmas -- because, that is, of the Incarnation. After all, how could it be possible that mere mortals like us could become the children of God? How could we possibly enter into such a relationship? For God is as unlike us as possible; He infinitely transcends creation and all the creatures therein. And Jesus is the Son of God: his only Father is God the Father, just as he is the Father’s eternally and only begotten Son. The entire relationship between God the Father and God the Son was complete in itself, needing nothing outside of it. God is fully content within the relationships of the Trinity -- of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- relationships that we are infinitely removed from as creatures. The question returns -- how are we to become the children of God? It’s the question that is captured so eloquently by the poet W.H. Auden in his Christmas poem For the Time Being:
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The “miracle” of course is the Nativity of our Lord. When Mary conceived the Savior at the Annunciation, that was the moment when the Eternal did a temporal act and the Infinite became a finite fact. The very Word of God -- the Word by whom “all things were made” -- was conceived by the Holy Ghost and received his humanity from the glorious purity of his Mother. And on this feast, Mary “gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger.”
Lancelot Andrewes, the great 15th and 16th Century Anglican priest, says that by taking on the flesh that he received from his Mother, Jesus accomplished “the blessed apprehension of our nature” -- that is, human nature itself is united, apprehended, by God. Though infinitely removed from each other, the divine nature and human nature become one in this child that is born today: Jesus, the Savior, who is fully God and fully human. Through this union, God and humanity “become not only one flesh… but, even one bloud too.” The infinite distance between God and humanity has been bridged by the birth of the Son of God into the world. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” God now dwells with us. He is Emmanuel. He is God with us. And what was once impossible has now become possible.
“Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit.” See how we have been made the children of God by adoption and grace. Through our union with God that was first accomplished in the Incarnation, we have been adopted by grace into the divine relationship that the Father and the Son have shared in the Holy Spirit for all eternity. Again, our adoption would not have been possible at all had the Word not become flesh. Without that perfect unity, human beings could never have received the “power to become the sons of God” -- those who were “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” This is our regeneration: we have been reborn by the will of God that we may be made like unto him who was born this day as God.
The Incarnation is the Finite Fact that nevertheless remains true for all time. It is a permanent and eternal reality. And thus it is a sure ground for our hope that:
...neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Good News of Christmas is that we cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus because the love of God in Christ Jesus cannot be separated from the humanity of Christ Jesus. The humanity that is our humanity as well. And with the confidence of this hope, we can return each and every day in prayer to the God who is now our Father, asking him to renew in us the grace we have received until we behold his glory.
Merry Christmas to you all! (...don’t forget that it’s twelve days long!) Amen.