On the doorstep of Christmas, the birth of Jesus invites us to turn back to God and live
Back in June, St. Bernard of Clairvaux stopped by for a visit in this column. Now that the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior is nigh, let’s hear once again from that ol’ monk and Doctor Mellifluous.
In Sermon 20, paragraph 6 on the Song of Songs, Bernard writes: “I think this is the principal reason why the invisible God willed to be seen in the flesh and to converse with men as a man. He wanted to recapture the affections of carnal men who were unable to love in any other way, first by drawing them to the salutary love of his own humanity, and then, gradually, to raise them to a spiritual love.”
You who have been married a long time know this. Chances are good that what first attracted you to your spouse was his/her physical appearance. For example, Sara and I have been married forty years this month. I can tell you exactly what she was wearing the first time I saw her (which would have been in the fall of 1971): short green skirt, cream colored blouse, her thick blond hair cascading to her derriere - all standing on four-inch heels.
She got my attention.
Well, it’s the same with God. Since God is spirit, and since human beings are corporal, God gives us a break in helping us get to know him by becoming corporal himself. God understands that human beings have difficulty loving that which they cannot see and touch, so God takes on human flesh so that human beings can see and touch, and thus love, God.
That, though, is not the end of the matter. Just as my love for my wife has grown deeper and richer over the decades, so our love for God – first smitten by the corporal – grows deeper and richer as our faith grows over the decades.
“But Deacon Mark, I’ve never seen Jesus the human being,” you might be saying to yourself. But the Apostles did; we take their word for it that they did. That’s called the Apostolic Witness.
Now, I said that we, as human beings, are corporal, and that’s true. But you and I are also spiritual. So once we’ve been smitten in faith, Christ shows us a higher degree of love. “It is the spirit that gives life,” says Jesus. (Jn 6:63) Just as the love of husband and wife grows deeper and more spiritual over the decades, so our love for God grows more and more spiritual. It’s not that the corporal is bad; it’s just that, in human beings, the corporal is incomplete. And when we need a shot of the corporal in our spiritual life, there is always Holy Comm and Eucharist Adoration to pump us back up.
But back to Bernard’s statement quoted earlier. Note the fourth word in that second sentence: “recapture.” If God wanted to “recapture the affections of carnal men,” the implication is that there once was a time when God hadcaptured the affections of carnal men, but the affection had been lost.
See where this is going? Adam and Eve. God did have the affection of the first couple who were indeed corporal. Sin, though, split the affection of human beings from God, and the affections of human beings turned to things. What God is doing in becoming a human being is waving his arms at us and saying, “Oh, people! Here I am! You can see me, now. Turn back to me and live!”
We’re on the doorstep of Christmas. What we’re celebrating is not a birth, but rather God taking on human flesh in order for us to be able to see, touch and love him.
Over this upcoming Christmas season, ponder this mystery: God loves us so much that he became one of us, so that we could see, touch and love him. Bernard understood that. How fortunate we are for that ol’ monk to remind us of that.
Never under estimate the monks, people.
Merry Christmas, Church of Gary!