The Incarnation: A Life Mystery

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
December 24, 2019 ● Christmas I (All Years)
Gospel: Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sherlock Holmes, Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” Agatha Christie’s, “Murder on the Orient Express,” the board game, “Clue,” and, of course, mystery dinner theatres.  These are just a few of the “whodunit” tales layered with drama, suspense, doubts, clarity and eventually a shocking revelation. And, with that revelation, the lives of all of the characters are forever changed. People love good mysteries that draw them into the twists and turns of tales begging to be solved.

Certainly, the mystery genre of entertainment intrigues, and taps into a deeper reality of the human experience.  On one hand, the intangibility of mystery seems to be a consistent attraction to humankind’s insatiable desire to know answers and to solve puzzles.  To know the unknowable, and to make tangible the intangible, is the arrogance of the human experience.

On the other hand, there is great wisdom in accepting that mystery, itself, taps also into a deeper reality of the human experience. You may have noticed that the aforementioned mysteries are all murder mysteries. On this most holy night, we gather to reflect upon, not a murder mystery, but a unique life mystery.

In our gospel passage, we enter into this beautiful life mystery layered with the suspense of a child’s birth at any moment as Mary and Joseph traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the town’s census; the terror of the shepherds in the field who were given an essential clue by the angel of the Lord, “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth lying in a manger,” said the angel.  And when the shepherds arrived to the birthplace, they witnessed the revelation of the Savior who is the Messiah.  And, with that revelatory appearance, humankind was forever changed.

For those who walk in darkness, the life mystery of the nativity of our Lord, is nothing more than a puzzle to be solved.  But, for children of the Light, the unique life mystery of the incarnation—God made incarnate in the person of Jesus—is a necessary mystery of God’s self-revelation; it is not a trivial puzzle to be solved. In the mystery of the incarnation, humankind was forever changed.

The incarnation is a holy mystery.  In our post-communion prayer, we release the arrogance of the human desire to know the unknowable, and to make tangible the intangible, when we thank God for “feeding us with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of…our Savior Jesus Christ; and for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son, and heirs of [God’s] eternal kingdom.[1]  Notice that we thank God for assuring us in these holy mysteries. The holy mysteries of the Eucharist, Baptism and, yes, the Incarnation, are all gifts from God to God’s people. And, God’s people are necessarily lovers of holy mystery.

As 21st century shepherds in the secular mission fields “out there,” we, the Church, carry the unique gift of holy mystery. The holy mysteries that we embrace, however, do not fit into the “whodunit” scenario.  Certainly we have clues embedded in Holy Scripture which reveal God’s divine acts in the world and his self-revelation in Jesus Christ.

There is no denying it; people love a good mystery, and are drawn to the unknown embedded in the twists and turns of fictional tales begging to be solved.  And, if we know that people are naturally drawn to mystery, it should be concerning to us all that well-meaning Christians miss the opportunity to engage the vibrant curiosity.

Well-meaning Christians unintentionally downplay and dismiss the power of sacred mystery in an effort to make Christianity relatable and easy-to-understand in an increasingly-secular society.  We must be concerned when our own people unwittingly strip the doctrines of our faith, one of which is the doctrine of the Incarnation, down to just another puzzle to be solved for the sake of mutual convenience. The Church uniquely exists to draw the world into the holy and sacred mysteries of our Christian faith where wonder and mystery are removed with a click of a phone app.

God’s gift to the world in the birth of His only begotten-Son, is the mystery, of the joining of the fully divine and the fully human in the person of the Christ child. Faithful people have a responsibility to resist any narratives that attempt to label our sacred mysteries as fictional “whodunit” tales to be solved like puzzles. No, we embrace God’s truth and accept our human limitations which remind us that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways.[2]

The secular Christmas—characterized by weeks of hype leading up to one day—fails to deliver what Christians know in the depths of their souls—that Christ alone is the remedy for the human condition of deep spiritual suffering, of which no human being is immune. Christians know that, unlike the “here today, gone tomorrow” secular Christmas embraced by society, the gift of Emmanuel, which means God is with us, is true freedom today, tomorrow and for all eternity.

On December 26, society will move on to the next chase for fleeting happiness and unattainable peace through the accumulation of more stuff. Followers of Jesus, however, will continue to celebrate the gift of his birth—God’s eternal gift to humankind—which transcends all things temporal, liberates enslaved souls and shakes awake spiritual sleepwalkers.

And, the faithful, who rest in the mystery, wonder and awe of the holy season, live in the assurance that in the coming of the Christ child, all was made right with the world, and all will be right with God in the world to come, when Christ returns in great power and glory.

Let us with wonder, awe and great joy, go forth from this place celebrating the gift of the holy mysteries of God with us and in us, as we bear the hope of Christ and bring His light to this broken and dark world. On this most holy night, we gather to reflect upon, not a murder mystery, but on God’s unique, most precious gift of a life mystery—when life as humankind knew it, was forever changed.

Amen.

 

[1] Post-Communion Prayer (BCP, p. 366)

[2] Isaiah 55:8