Renaming the Feast

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us..

On the 25th of March, we observed the solemn feast of the Annunciation.

Somehow, for as long as I can remember, I have only thought of this date as the feast of the of the Incarnation.  (Please blame my language teachers for my being picky about words.)

Certainly, observing the feast as Annunciation is of great importance. The Gospel for Mass on that day is taken from Luke and recounts the stunning appearance of the angel Gabriel to the young and holy maiden Mary. He does indeed make an announcement to her, hence Annunciation. What he announces is that she will conceive and bear a son who will be called Son of the Most High. The church has consistently taught that Mary’s “Yes” was required, though clearly Gabriel did not ask a question but made a statement to which she consented. And we thank God that she did.

Yet, we bow during the Creed as we assent to the Word made flesh, and not to the announcement. And though both occur at practically the same moment, there is a difference.

So what’s the issue?

Simply that it seems to me that the event is more important than the announcement of it. Just as being at a winning game is better than reading about it later. And what is the Event?

The Incarnation is as astonishing an event as the Resurrection. Naming the feast Incarnation  emphasizes how deep is God’s love, that He would join the human race and become one of us in the flesh.

Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, God is always described as working side by side with his people, present with them through hardships: hunger, foreign domination, slavery, floods, and all manner of evils as well as successes. But never is God seen or heard except under cover, so to speak, as in a cloud or in a soft whispering sound. Then, in the fullness of time, Jesus was born humanly into the world as the son of Mary and Son of God so that we could witness him with our own eyes and ears.

The enfleshment of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is a phenomenal event and a deep mystery. We can easily understand God’s enduring spiritual presence with the chosen people, but that he should become one of us? That he would live like us? Be tired like us? Work at a job like us? Deal with difficult people like us? Be rejected like us? Indeed. Like us in all ways except sin.

St. Athanasius (d. 373 AD) is famously quoted for having given us the reason for the Incarnation: “God became man so that man might become god.”  Another astounding statement! We are told, however, that whereas Jesus is God by nature, we are enabled to become “god” or “god-like” by participation. By our relationship to God through Jesus our Brother and with the grace-filled help of the Holy Spirit, we become children of God.

By his example Jesus taught us how to be reborn in the spirit as children of God and as God’s image here on earth. He refers to God as our Father — his and mine and yours. His teachings and example show us how we can enter the Kingdom of God — partially now, fully in the next life. Christ tells us to be holy as our heavenly Father is holy. He constantly strives to quiet our fears and guilty feelings about not being good enough to be called God’s children, when this is exactly why God made us in the first place.

With all due respect, I feel bound to put the fact of the Incarnation in first place over Gabriel’s Announcement. John’s first letter emphasizes the reality of God’s Son becoming human and our status as God’s children. As I gave John the first word in this meditation, I also give him the last. (1 John 1:1; 3:2)

“The Word was made flesh.
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life. …
 “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”  

Hymn to the Word Incarnate, by Gabriel Fauré
Poem by Jean Racine, trans. RPK

O Word, equal to the Almighty, our only hope,
Eternal day of both Earth and Heaven;
We break the silence of this peaceful night:
Divine Saviour, cast your gaze on us!

Spread over us the fire of your mighty grace
So that all Hell might flee, hearing your voice.
Awaken the sleep of this languishing soul
Which so easily forgets your laws!

O Christ, be kind to your faithful people
Now gathered to bless you.
Welcome the hymns we offer to your immortal glory,
And may they return to us, filled with your grace!