The Rector writes …
Last week it was Saint Joseph’s Day and this week it is the Annunciation: in a way, these celebrations seem to interrupt our concentration on the adult Jesus who is “led by the Spirit through the wilderness”. In Advent and Christmastide our concentration was on the birth and upbringing of the Lord: surely now our thoughts should be on his Lenten retreat and its consequences? While there may be an element of truth in that observation, what is much more important is that we are constantly reminded of the identity of the one who is tempted through the long days and long nights in the Judean desert.
The Nicene creed describes Jesus as “Light from Light, True God from True God … consubstantial with the Father”. Mary and Joseph have provided the context in which he who “is the image of the unseen God” (Colossians 1:15) can grow through all the stages of human growth to physical, mental and emotional maturity. Unless we take the Incarnation seriously we cannot hope to understand the full significance of all that Jesus says and does. In the authentic humanity he has assumed, it is God himself who is taking on the force of evil. It is God in Jesus who knows what it is to be hungry and thirsty, and it is he who shares our experience of uncertainty and questioning.
The statement “God became man” is central to the Christian witness. For all other faith traditions it is a basically self-contradictory belief and it isolates Christianity from all other philosophies and theologies. “For the point is not simply that God who has all names and yet is without name, who is wholly other, that such a God at particular points and in particular people in the world and its history became transparent” (Hans Urs von Balthasar) but that: “once one has admitted that the ‘all’ can become identical with the tiny ‘someone’, then one has little choice but to accept the claims on the part of this ‘someone’”. The Incarnation is the absolute bedrock of Christian faith: if we believe that God has broken through into our time and space, then from now on he can only be taken on his own terms.
The Letter to the Philippians (2:6) says of Jesus: “his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are”. Bethlehem and Nazareth are the necessary precursors to everything that happens subsequently. Unless we stand our ground foursquare on the truth that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, nothing else adds up and there can be no Paschal Mystery, and there can be no Eucharistic Sacrifice by which the fruits of the Incarnation are to be extended until the end of time. “Christianity makes the claim to be the ultimate expression of God and consequently his final self-giving and self-revelation“ ( Balthasar): this claim is inclusive in that it embraces everyone and excludes no-one. The Christian understanding is catholic in the acceptance that what God has done, and continues to do, in Christ is of universal benefit.
In a month’s time it will be Easter. We have four weeks left to spend with Christ in the wilderness. Let us make a fresh resolution use these coming days well. “The understanding of Christ which we find in the New Testament leaves us no alternative but to see Jesus Christ as the content of Christian love always present to us, never to be superseded” (Balthasar). This, surely, is the point. The Child nurtured by Mary and Joseph is the same Jesus we meet in Scripture, in the sacraments and in our praying, and the One we recognise as a living presence in those around us. As the Lord made himself knowable and tangible to his first disciples, so he continues to invite each of us to an individual intimacy of relationship: he offers us friendship and seeks our friendship in return.