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Fr Basil Rhodes
Today’s homily will consist of two beautiful but also important patristic quotes. It will conclude with an illustrative story. They all deal with the perfect question for Christmas – Why Did God Become Man?
The first quote is from St. Hippolytus of Rome from around 200 A.D. who said: “Our faith is not founded upon empty words; nor are we carried away by mere whim or beguiled by sophisticated yet hollow arguments. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word Himself at God’s command. God wished to win us back from disobedience, not by using force to reduce us to slavery, but by addressing to our free will a call to liberty.
The Word spoke first of all through the prophets, but because the message was somewhat obscure, it could be only dimly understood. But in these last days the Father sent the Word in person, commanding Him to reveal Himself openly so that the world could see Him and be saved.
We know that by taking a body from the Virgin He refashioned our fallen nature. We know that His humanity was of the same clay as our own; if this were not so, He would hardly have been a teacher who could expect anyone to imitate Him. If He were of a different nature than I, He would surely not have commanded me to do as He did, when by my very nature I am so weak. Such a demand could not be reconciled with His goodness and righteousness.
No. He wanted us to reckon Him as no different from ourselves, and so: He worked, He was hungry and thirsty, He slept. Without protest He endured His passion, He submitted to death and revealed His resurrection. In all these ways He offered His own humanity as the first fruits of our race to keep us from losing heart when suffering comes our way, and to make us look forward to receiving the same reward as He did, since we know that we possess the same humanity.
And now for the second quote. It comes from a homily given by St John Chrysostom in around 390 A.D. in which he said: “For this He assumed a body like mine - that I may become capable of receiving His Word. Taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit. He bestows and I receive, thus He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit that He may save me. Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.
Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things come together and unite. He became flesh, He did not become God. He already was God. But He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, could today be contained in a manger. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, He that was begotten of the Father before all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in those virginal arms, so that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of standing against tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.”
So, beloved, God took our flesh so that we could be saved. God took our flesh so that we could recognize ourselves in Him. God became man so that we could see Him! Here is the concluding illustrative story which I shared another time I’m sure, but that other time might have been twenty years ago. It’s not my story, it’s one shared by the late Paul Harvey. It goes like this:
The Man and the Birds
The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the church proclaims at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.
“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.
Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.
Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.
And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.
“If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.
And he sank to his knees in the snow.” Amen.