The Weekly Miracle of the Incarnation

MP3 Audio: WS330341a_Dn-Joseph_Incarnation.mp3

This homily was preached on Monday evening, March 24, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

~

Gospel Reading: John 6:1-5

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you. Therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called ‘The Son of God’.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One. Amen.

The Incarnation is the very center of our faith. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus Christ – the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, the Logos, the Word of God – took on human flesh.

Now, many times when we think of the Incarnation, we think, understandably, of Christmas, for that is when we see the flesh of Christ come into the world to be seen and to be worshiped by all. As important as Christmas is, that is not the day that the Incarnation took place. The Incarnation took place nine months earlier, for you see, life begins at conception.

In honor of the Annunciation, I think it’s very fitting that many of ours right here from “Christ the King” will be traveling to Evansville to be peacefully praying and holding up signs out in the front of an abortion clinic, to pray for the life of children, to pray for the utter defeat of darkness, to pray for people to understand that life begins at the moment of conception. The Church has this very understanding at the very core of its being; the very heart of our faith is the Incarnation of Christ – when the Word took on flesh. And the first day that the Word took on flesh, the day of the Incarnation, was this day – the day of the Annunciation – when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” You see, if the very heart of our faith is the Incarnation, it is fitting that one of the prayers that we would pray the most often would be the “Hail Mary”, for the first part of that prayer came from the lips of the Archangel on the day that God became man.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And over time we get these ways of thinking about it, and these ways of talking about it, realizing that it wasn’t enough just for him to come to earth, but that for him to positively help you in your life and to bring you fully to salvation, you must know him yourself, you must be part of his Church. And we start hearing this saying, “Have you accepted Jesus into your heart? Is Jesus in your heart? Is he in you? Does he dwell within you?” Well, even before the first Christmas, for nine months, Jesus dwelt in her (Mary). When she said to the angel, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word,” she invited Jesus into her to dwell within her more intimately than God has ever dwelt with any man. She invited Christ to dwell within her thirty years before the first of the Apostles started to walk with him. The Apostles walked with Christ and talked with Christ and learned from Christ for three years; Mary did it for thirty-three.

But this flesh that he took upon himself, it was not for his benefit. It was for ours. You see, in John 6, Jesus says, “I give my flesh for the life of the world.” In the early Church, they had a term for the Eucharist – they called it the “medicine of immortality”.  Jesus knew that we were sick, Jesus knew that we needed healing both in our body and in our souls, and in our emotions and in our hearts, and he knew that there were an infinite number of “Band-Aids” out there, but only one “medicine of immortality”, only one cure: Participation in his flesh. Participation in the body of Christ.

And what does it say in 1 Corinthians 10: “We all are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” You see, you are what you eat. He feeds us with his body so that we may become his body. And the Eucharist itself is a miracle that, by the grace of God, all of us in the Orthodox Church are able to experience personally.

In awe, we read about Mary and the Annunciation, and the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth. But with our own eyes, that is something we have never seen. The very idea that the Holy Spirit of God could move upon a human, could move upon matter, and that matter – flesh, blood – could become God! In Acts 20:28, it is called, “the blood of God”.

You see, icons tell no lie . . . for today, since the Incarnation, God does have a body. He can be seen. He can be circumscribed in his physical appearance. A picture can be drawn of him. And our jaws drop in awe as we think of the Incarnation, that moment in time after which no one could say that “God is a Spirit” and then put a period on the sentence.  Forever after, we would have to say, “God is a Spirit, but the second person of the Trinity, the Word, became flesh.” We’re in awe at that idea, and yet do we realize what a mystery – what a miracle – takes place on the same order of magnitude every time a newly ordained Orthodox priest, with fear and trembling, steps up to the altar. And what does he take in his hands but humble matter. It’s nothing but bread. It’s nothing but wine. Just stuff, just things, just matter. Then there’s a very fancy word for the prayer that he prays – it’s called the “epiclesis” – the calling down of the Holy Spirit upon the elements of bread and wine. Have you ever looked closely at those words?  I’m going to read them to you:

And we most humbly beseech thee, O merciful Father, to hear us and, of thy almighty goodness, vouchsafe to send down thy Holy Spirit upon these gifts and creatures of bread and wine that they may be changed into the body and blood of thy most dearly beloved Son that we, receiving them according to thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ’s holy institution in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood.

In the Mass, we have no mere memorial, even though we do remember Christ. In the Mass, we have a miracle. Just as the Holy Spirit descends from heaven upon the humble and holy body of the Blessed Virgin Mary, taking mere matter, mere flesh, and taking them on himself so that the Word becomes flesh, even so the priest of God prays. And by the command of God, the priest’s prayer is answered and the Holy Spirit descends from Heaven right here in front of you on this altar, on these antimens right here. The Holy Spirit descends upon mere bread and mere wine and, after he’s through with them, they’re not mere anymore, but they’re the body and the blood of Christ, for the Word of God has become flesh and has dwelt among us.

The priest holds the host up for all to see, no longer mere bread, but mystically the very body, the very flesh of the Son of God. And the priest says, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” 

Do you think it is amazing that the Incarnation took place? Do you think it is amazing that God became man, that God took matter upon himself and dwelt among us? Do you realize that the same miracle takes place at every Mass, at every Divine Liturgy? And you get to be here to experience it and to partake of it and to respond as Mary did, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word,” and then to come forth with fear and trembling and to accept the very flesh of God to come within you.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One. Amen.

~

This homily was preached on Monday evening, March 24, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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