Solemnity of the Incarnation

Isaiah 52:7-10    

How beautiful upon the mountains
        are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,
    announcing peace, bearing good news,
        announcing salvation, and saying to Zion,
        “Your God is King!”

    Hark!  Your sentinels raise a cry,
        together they shout for joy,
    for they see directly, before their eyes,
        the LORD restoring Zion.
    Break out together in song,
        O ruins of Jerusalem!
    For the LORD comforts his people,
        he redeems Jerusalem.
    The LORD has bared his holy arm
        in the sight of all the nations;
    all the ends of the earth will behold
        the salvation of our God.

Hebrews 1:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways 
    to our ancestors through the prophets; 
    in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son, 
    whom he made heir of all things 
    and through whom he created the universe,
        who is the refulgence of his glory,
            the very imprint of his being,
        and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
        When he had accomplished purification from sins,
        he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
        as far superior to the angels
        as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say:
    You are my son; this day I have begotten you?
Or again:
    I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?
And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says:
    Let all the angels of God worship him.

John 1:1-5, 9-14  

 In the beginning was the Word,
        and the Word was with God,
        and the Word was God.
    He was in the beginning with God. 
    All things came to be through him,
        and without him nothing came to be.
    What came to be through him was life,
        and this life was the light of the human race;
    the light shines in the darkness,
        and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
    He was in the world,
        and the world came to be through him,
        but the world did not know him.
    He came to what was his own,
        but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God, 
to those who believe in his name, 
who were born not by natural generation 
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision 
but of God.
    And the Word became flesh
        and made his dwelling among us,
        and we saw his glory,
        the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
        full of grace and truth.

I bring good news: “Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2:11).

When Isaiah proclaimed the good news that “Your God is king,” he was speaking of the return of God’s people, Israel, to Jerusalem after decades spent in exile in Babylon. Having been conquered by the Babylonians, the Israelites were forced to abandon their homeland, the land that God had given them, and were marched to Babylon where they mostly worked as servants of those who ruled them. Then, after fifty or sixty years, the Persians under King Cyrus defeated the Babylonians, and Cyrus decreed that the Israelites could return to the Promised Land. As they did so sentinels, representing those who had been left behind, stood on the destroyed walls of Jerusalem, saw them, and announced the good news of their return:

“Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry, together they shout for joy, for they see directly, before their eyes, the Lord restoring Zion. Break out together in song, O ruins of Jerusalem! For the Lord comforts his people, he redeems Jerusalem.”

It was God’s hand that had punished the Israelites because of their disobedience (Neh 9:29-31; Lam 1:5; Ezek 39:21-24). Now it is God’s hand that redeems and restores them. Having been patient with their infidelity for many years, God delivered them into the hands of the Babylonians. Yet, as Nehemiah says, “In your great mercy you did not completely destroy them and did not forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God” (Neh 9:31). God’s people were lost, but not abandoned. Punished by God for their sins with defeat and exile, they are restored by the same loving God and Father. They are redeemed. They are home. Now that God’s people have returned to the land promised to them, all other nations will see the power of Israel’s Lord, and “all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.”

We can imagine their joy. We can imagine the thoughts of new hope and new life they entertained as they returned to the city they love, determined to restore her former glory, and determined, as well, to remain faithful to God so they never again experience such distress and humiliation.

The entire story of the OT may be summarized as a disobedient Israel crying out, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me,” and of God replying through His actions and His prophets, “I will never forget you. … upon the palm of my hands I have engraved you” (Is 49:14, 15b-16a).

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that God had spoken in various ways to His people through His prophets, spoken words of encouragement and faithfulness, of mercy and rescue. Even still, the word God spoke to the ancestors was only partial and incomplete. Now, God has spoken to us through His Son. And who is this Son? He is heir of all things. He is the one through whom God created the universe and, not only that, but the one who sustains all things in existence by His mighty word. He is God Himself, for only God can create all things and sustain all things in existence. Therefore, the angels of God do not merely honor Him, but worship Him.

The word God spoke through the prophets, that word of encouragement and faithfulness, of mercy and rescue, is now the Word made flesh. The Word that was with God in the beginning and is God, the Word through whom all things came to be is now the Word made flesh. Not only did the Word create all the universe, but He created life, life that is the light of the human race. And that light cannot be overcome by darkness – the darkness of sin and disobedience, the darkness of alienation and isolation. For we may have been lost, but we were not abandoned. That light which enlightens everyone came into this world, and to those who accept Him He gives power to become children of God, born not by men, but by God’s grace in baptism.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Literally, he pitched His tent or tabernacle among us. The tent of the Lord served as the portable tabernacle that the Hebrews carried through the desert. Wherever God told him, Moses pitched God’s tent among them, and God made His presence among them. The presence of the Lord, called in Hebrew His shekinah, in the tent pitched by Moses among the Hebrews is now embodied in the Word who has pitched His tent among us. Jesus is now the presence of God among us. And that presence, that shekinah, is within us by virtue of our baptism and among us by virtue of His Real Presence in our tabernacles.

And when our Lord was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, she became a tabernacle of the Lord. Indeed, she became the first tabernacle to shelter the Real Presence of Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. Earlier this month, the Church celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. When Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac, she appeared to him as the Virgin pregnant with the Christ child. He knelt before her in adoration, for he knew he gazed upon the tabernacle of his Lord. When Juan Diego presented his tilma to Bishop Zumarraga and displayed the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe for the first time, the bishop knelt in adoration before her, because he knew he gazed upon the tabernacle of his Lord. When we come before our Lady, the Mother of God and our Mother, we come before her on our knees in adoration, because we know we gaze upon the tabernacle of our Lord, the tabernacle who shelters within her very self the Real Presence of Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity. It was from this tabernacle that Jesus came forth to offer His life, His very body and blood, for the sake of our salvation. Just so, at this Mass and every Mass, Jesus comes forth from this tabernacle to offer His life, His very body and blood, to nourish us on the way to salvation.

The Word became flesh. By assuming our nature, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity raised up the dignity of what it means to be human. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council, reflecting on the deep meaning of the Incarnation, wrote in the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”: “He Who is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col 1:15), is Himself the perfect man. To the sons of Adam He restores the divine likeness which had been disfigured from the first sin onward. Since human nature as He assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too. For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choices, and with a human heart He loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (Gaudium et Spes, 22).

And that “like us in all things” continues to this day. As Hebrews says, “When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” But in doing so, He did not abandon His humanity. Jesus Christ, during His earthly mission, His life, passion, death, and resurrection, was fully God and fully human. As He sits enthroned in heaven, He remains fully God and fully human.

It is a human being who sits at the right hand of the Father, who serves His brothers and sisters as a just high priest, aware of our struggles, for He lived them as we do, though without sin. As an infant He entered this world, as a child He gained knowledge of the world, and as a man He faced the vagaries of this world and the cruel fate of an innocent one condemned and executed as a criminal, dying a tortuous death, and crying out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And God the Father replied, “I will never forget you.” Though lost on the cross, He was not abandoned. God raised Him up to glory.

Just so, the promise of God is that He will raise us to glory. If we accept Jesus as the Word made flesh, the shekinah of God among us, He will give us power to become children of God. Quoting, again, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”: “Such is the mystery of man, and it is a great one, as seen by believers in the light of Christian revelation. Through Christ and in Christ, the riddles of sorrow and death grow meaningful. Apart from His Gospel, they overwhelm us. Christ has risen, destroying death by His death; He has lavished life upon us so that, as sons of the Son, we can cry out in the Spirit: Abba, Father” (Gaudium et Spes, 22)

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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