When I attended Incarnation Elementary School in Glendale, California during the 80’s, I wasn’t necessarily impressed by the theology in my school’s name; it just reminded me of “Carnation” Instant Breakfast. But in many ways the language of the actual Incarnation, the mystery of faith it represents, and its implications for human nature began with these childhood memories. What does it mean to be embodied, to be “in the flesh”? Is it about the purity and innocence of a newborn? Can it be more than a seasonal remembrance?
Sometimes, words escape us; other times, words become our world. The events surrounding the birth of Jesus seem to accomplish both as I recently came across this poem from St. Ambrose entitled “And the Word Became Flesh”:
Give ear, O Shepherd, Israel’s King,
Enthroned above the angel band.
Appear before us as we sing;
Come with your strong and saving hand.
Come, Savior of the nations, come,
Divulged by Mary’s virgin birth.
Let all the world be rendered dumb
By such descent of God to earth.
Begotten not of mortal seed
But by God’s own mystical breath,
God’s Word became true flesh indeed,
The fruit enwombed that conquers death.
The belly of the Virgin swells,
Her maidenhood remains secure:
Under the banner of “Noel”
Tents God within her temple pure.
The God-Man goes forth from his room,
The great hall, yet the Maiden’s keep;
The double-natured mythic groom
Runs quickened on while sinners sleep.
First from the Father went he out
Then to the Father went he back
His course went down; he broke hell’s clout
His course went up; he, finished, sat.
You, equal to the Father, wear
The trophy of our flesh and blood,
Imparting strength to what you bear
By vivifying mortal mud.
Your manger is now luminous;
Its glow suffuses night’s dim air,
The barren night now numinous:
May faith direct our footsteps there.
When I read this, I was especially drawn to the imagery of the line describing the “double-natured mythic groom runs quickened on while sinners sleep,” as if to remind the reader that Jesus’ human/divine nature challenges us to act and serve in almost perpetual motion. The mental and physical hurriedness of the holidays can leave us tired and irritable, quite oppositional to the joy sung about in hymns. To live incarnate means we are reminded about our fragile mortal bodies but that they are never the final word. It is an invitation to embrace the senses of our body, the lights and sounds of the holiday season, and the joy that surrounds family gatherings and hearing from friends. For even in the darkest moments, the slightest illumination is all the more radiant!
Merry Christmas! It’s a Great Day to be a Bulldog!