This Sunday is the last Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday before we celebrate the coming of God in the Christ-child, an event that some of us we believe changed everything about the world, and about our understanding of the world and of God. But what did the coming of God in the Child do and not do to change the way things are?
I mean, Advent ought to be a time when we ask the BIG questions, shouldn’t it?
I am aware that some among us do not believe that the eternal Word, the Soul of the universe, the Essence and Meaning of Everything, became flesh and took on our mortality in this one infant, in this one man. But I do believe it. I love and am in love with this belief. I believe that of all of the comings and comings and COMINGS of God into creation and into our lives, God’s single coming in Jesus was unique and mysterious and revealing and astounding and loving and filled with grace and in most ways beyond our comprehension. But I also believe that we are capable of comprehending that the incarnation was God’s ultimate and most self-revealing act of love and grace. The incarnation has always had much more power over me personally than the resurrection. If I had to make a choice between (1) believing that I can personally live forever, or (2) that the Word became flesh in Jesus (and I do not have to make that choice), I would choose the Incarnation every time, for what it means for the entire creation. What an act of love and understanding and unity with creation for God’s eternal Wisdom, for the divine “Way Things Really Are,” to become mortal and limited, to feel pain and disappointment and betrayal as well as joy and trust and love, to laugh and to cry, to experience excitement and fatigue and despondency and hope. Like the resurrection, an objection to the Incarnation seems to be that it is just too good to be true. That what our traditional scripture for Sunday says — “For nothing is impossible for God”—IS too wonderful to be true.
This traditional scripture is Luke 1. 26-38, Luke’s dramatic account of the visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, telling her not only that this Incarnation would happen, but that it would happen through her, that she — unknown, undistinguished, peasant, poor, teenaged, virgin Mary — would be the God-bearer, the Theotokos, that hers would be the womb in which the eternal Soul would take on flesh. And when she questions all of this — really too much and too many things to question — Gabriel says to her merely, “For nothing will be impossible for God.” And Mary, as a model of trust for all time, replies simply, “Let it be with me as you say.”
This story and quote is an echo of Genesis 18.6 when the angel tells Abraham that his aged wife Sarah would become pregnant with the child of promise, the child who would be the source and root of the new people of God. When Abraham doubted it, God, in the translation I favor, replies: “Is anything too wonderful for God?” Or, in other words, that “nothing is too good to be true with God.”
Gabriel’s claim to Mary — “Do not doubt. Only trust. Because nothing will be impossible for God” — supplies some urgent topics for conversation with God, at least for me. “Excuse me, Abba. Please forgive me, for I am just a creature. A collection of hair and bone and a bit of moving and thinking and believing muscle and fat that will be quick only a short time more before I become dead. … Please do not be angry at my arrogance and presumption. But…’nothing’? Really? ‘Nothing’ is impossible for you? ‘No thing’ at all?”
Then why THIS incarnation? If “nothing” is impossible for you, then why did your Word and Wisdom and Essence become incarnate as a poor teacher and healer and an itinerant rabbi in a backwater province on the fringe of a mighty Empire? Why not an Emperor or a seven star general? Why not a ruler who would use his immense power to truly protect the widow and orphan, and who would punish and deter the oppressor and the greedy, who would vindicate justice and righteousness, who would protect the lamb from the lion, and who would himself beat all our spears and tanks and bombs and explosive vests and drones and missiles into plow shares to grow food to feed the cows to supply the milk for all the sick, staving babies in the world? Why did You become incarnate in a man who denied himself the saving, earth shaking, empire changing power of his own wisdom and presence and charisma and intelligence and abilities and intimacy with You? Why, instead, the suffering servant? For that matter, while we are considering Christmas, why a baby born and the laid in rags in a feed trough?
If this was truly the One who:
“Though he was in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
But emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
He humbled himself even further,
And became obedient to the point of death —
Even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.6-8)
then, Abba, may I humbly ask…if anything is possible for you and “no thing” is impossible…why did you choose in your Incarnation to empty yourself of your power and immortality and perfection, rather than filling all of creation and all humans…and especially me…with that power and immortality and perfection, so that we could fix this broken creation? So that we could put a stop to all the men who abuse their wives and children and all the drug addicted parents who abuse and neglect their children? So we can stop the men with guns who shoot up schools of innocent children and who torture defenseless prisoners? Why THIS incarnation? Was this one enough? Why not another one? Why didn’t creation truly and drastically and immediately change with your Coming in the Christ? Why do the greedy and the unscrupulous and violent continue to oppress and exploit and hurt the innocent and the humble and the faithful? Why do we still live in a reign of darkness and death? Why are we ourselves resigned to this reign? Because we fear that the Incarnation was in fact “im—possible,” because if it were possible, if it had occurred, creation would have been fixed?”
Is the answer that Jesus is coming back later to fix everything…is that an answer that satisfies You, Abba?
I believe in this Incarnation so deeply, Abba. Can we talk?