The Incarnate Universe - Luke 1: 26-38. 46-55
This morning we celebrate the visitation of the angel Gabriel to Mary. In this time before Christmas we see a prime example from Mary of someone devoting her life to the will of God. She says, “Let it be done to me according to your word”. She then sings what has become known as the Magnificat, a powerful monologue where she expresses how much God has blessed her and how God will tear down the power structures of this world, transform human hearts and society, and establish the Kingdom of God. Mary has a strong sense of what God is up to in the world and is honored to be part of it. I pray we all might have that same attitude of surrender to God’s will and be willing participants in what God is up to in this universe.
The secret kept for long ages, as Paul said in Romans in our first reading today, is the mystery revealed at Christmas. It is the mystery of God becoming flesh, the Incarnation. That word: Incarnation, is what Christmas is all about. It’s what Christianity is all about. And this secret of the Incarnation is even more amazing than most Christians realize. You see, for most of Christian history our focus has been on sin and redemption. Telling us how sinful we are and that Jesus was born so he could be crucified and forgive sin.
But there’s something much deeper going on here, something of cosmic significance. The Incarnation means the human and the divine inter-abide with each other, that the whole universe is growing into a fuller and fuller expression of the divine. As St. Athanasius said “God became man so that man might become divine”. Or as another early church father, St. Augustine said, “You are the body of Christ; you are the incarnation, too.”
God is at work creating an Incarnate Universe. A universe which actualizes God’s will, in which creatures live in union with their Creator. That’s the meaning of Christmas. That’s the mystery hidden for long ages that Mary sings about and Paul writes about. The divine became human so that the human might participate in the very life of God. The whole universe is pointed in that direction. Jesus is both God and human, and the reality expressed in Jesus is what God wants for all creation. The birth of Jesus makes it clear that this is an Incarnate Universe; all of reality will manifest God and humankind is to bear the image of God, each in our own unique way.
That is the mystery revealed at Christmas. Not that Jesus came to get rid of sin, that’s true, but that’s just the beginning of the story. When we understand the meaning of the Incarnation, the emphasis isn’t on human mistakes and God cleaning up the mess. The emphasis is on God creating beings, as Second Peter puts it, who become participants in the divine nature. That’s what the Incarnation is all about. That’s what Christmas is all about. That’s what Christianity is all about.
The center of the story is the Incarnation—God becoming one of us so that we
might become one with God. This concept is expressed in the early church teaching of “theosis” (a word from Second Peter) which means participating in the divine nature. That’s what I mean by an Incarnate Universe. The Incarnation is the point and purpose of the entire universe. The divine manifesting as human so that the human might manifest the divine. That’s why Jesus was born. That’s why we were created.
In this season of preparation for Christmas, it’s important we recognize the full extent of what the Incarnation truly means. God’s plan to make us one with God means God becoming one of us. God is creating an Incarnate Universe. And Jesus (the Word of God) is the firstborn. An Incarnate Universe is a physical reality that manifests God. It’s amazing. It really is. And we don’t think about it nearly enough. That’s why I’m so excited to be a Christian. Because we get to participate in making this Incarnate Universe. We get to be this Incarnate Universe.
This is the mystery hidden through the ages that Paul and other early Christians are so excited to talk about. The Incarnate Universe is the center of our religion, and the face of the Incarnation is the baby born in Bethlehem. The one Gabriel tells Mary she will give birth to: Jesus Christ our Lord.
So what does an Incarnate Universe look like? For starters, Mary provides a good example of a soul fully surrendered to God. “Let it be done to me according to your word” she says. Her incredible willingness is an example of pure trust, surrender, and love for God. She’s a perfect example for us to follow. It’s a good prayer to say every morning: “Lord let it be done to me according to your will”—or plainly, “God help me today to live the way you want me to.” Take your will, your actions, and your opinions and ask God to mold them every day. Turn your will over to God daily and you will grow in awareness of God’s presence in your life and how God is calling you to live. It’s like learning a new language or learning how to see in a different way. Constantly turning your will over to God. Growing our wills toward God is a daily practice, something Mary exemplifies, and it’s at the heart of what embodying an Incarnate Universe means.
That’s what it looks like on the personal level: surrendering your will to God. On the communal level, our world would look a whole lot different if everyone were genuinely and humbly seeking to do God’s will. Just imagine what the world would be like. Mary paints a picture of what an Incarnate Universe looks like in the Magnificat: the lowly are uplifted and the powerful are cast down. The hungry are filled with good things and the rich sent away empty. The massive inequality the world has always seen is leveled, exploitative power structures crumble, and the Kingdom of God manifests on Earth.
It’s a powerful image, and it’s a biblical promise. How are we doing with it? Does our world look we care much about being an Incarnate Universe, about manifesting the Kingdom of God? Do we seek to lift up the lowly or do we think it’s good to cut food stamps and assistance for the poor? Do we worry more about protecting ‘the least of these’ or is the economy our first priority?
For all human history the rich and powerful, a small percentage at the top, have exploited the masses. Mary’s time was no different. And our time is no different. Liberation theologians in fact speak of “God’s preferential option for the poor”—a theology which comes across crystal clear in the Magnificat. An Incarnate Universe is a place where all people have dignity and no one is exploited. Mary’s vision is a world where all people are cared for and nobody hoards more than they need. Where nobody is lacking anything they need to survive: materially, financially, or medically, and also emotionally, socially, or spiritually. A world where all live in peace; and experience union with God and with each other. It could literally be as good as all those Christmas songs about peace on earth and goodwill toward all. Maybe those Christmas songs are onto something!
But seriously, that is what the Magnificat is saying. And we get to participate in this emerging vision. The true miracle of Christmas is that God actualized this vision in Jesus, and is doing it in us too. The Holy Spirit personally taking root in each one of us and creating new hearts in us—hearts transformed to surrender our wills to God, just like Mary did. And God is doing this not just to us personally, but is at the same time communally transforming our world into an earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God. Thus bringing about an Incarnate Universe. A new heaven and a new earth, where creatures live in union with the Creator and all participate in the divine life.
So as you prepare your hearts and minds for Christmas, remember the point of it all: the Incarnation in Jesus Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit becoming incarnate in you. God becoming one of us so that we might become one with God. What a tremendous gift! It’s the most fabulous gift we could ever imagine. God becoming incarnate and inviting us to participate in this Incarnate Universe. Thanks be to God for this mystery revealed to us at Christmas.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.