Tag Archives: The Incarnation

Matters of heart and flesh.


Today we celebrate the second of three days considered the “Winter Pascha.”
We are still singing these hymns of Nativity:

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
Has shone to the world the Light of wisdom!
For by it, those who worshiped the stars
Were taught by a Star to worship Thee
The Sun of Righteousness,
And to know Thee, the Dayspring from on High.
O Lord, glory to Thee!

and

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One
And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One!
Angels with shepherds glorify Him!
The wise men journey with a star!
Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!

On Christmas Eve, the sky dark with clouds at midday, we celebrated a Vesperal Liturgy, and the church glowed in a special way with the combination of candlelight and muted daylight.

Then Christmas Eve proper, when it became the next day liturgically, the Festal Matins of Nativity. How joyous! In the cathedral was the darkness of winter night, but with more candles and more festivity, because Christmas Day had begun! Our hearts were soaring. The children were drooping….

When I woke on Christmas Day I also was bushed. I had baked a few cookies between the previous day’s services, which meant I’d been on my feet most of that day. I chose different shoes Christmas morning, and before the service even began I had retrieved my joy. I was introduced to a woman who was visiting out of curiosity, had been raised Christian Scientist, and considered herself “more of a Buddhist.” But her friend of Ukrainian descent, who also had not been to our parish before, had invited and brought her.

As I began to explain why the icons, the incense and candles…  to tell her about the materiality of our worship, how this very feast was a celebration of God Who has no flesh taking on human flesh for our sakes… well, it was thrilling to be able to give a little background to what was so vividly being expressed in fullness right there.

I pointed to the pillar with a fresco of St. John of Damascus painted on the side, and part of this quote on the scroll he is holding: I do not venerate matter, I venerate the fashioner of matter, who became matter for my sake and accepted to dwell in matter and through matter worked my salvation, and I will not cease from reverencing matter, through which my salvation was worked.

On the home front, concerning the matter that is our earthly food, I feel that I am way behind in my cookie-baking.  I have made four kinds now… and no chocolate yet! I guess I never do have much chocolate in the Christmas cookies. But so far my collection leans heavily toward the nut-brown tones, partly because Trader Joe’s was out of their cranberry-orange relish that I use to make my jellies. I am out of energy to create an alternative recipe from scratch. I did one of those already last week.

The cookies above are the Apricot-Coconut Macaroons, which ended up low on the apricot element this time; I don’t know how that happened. I hope to make cookies for several more days, and during the next couple of weeks to invite friends to eat them with me!

Today after church I visited two friends on opposite sides of town. I have no family with me this year, meaning more options than usual; I’m almost forgetting that I need to go to bed early and provide for some down time. At first I thought I could make four stops on Christmas afternoon, but that doesn’t sound very likely, does it? As it turned out, I got home in time for a bowl of Greek Wedding Soup that my housemate had made, and which tasted perfectly delicious and also seemed the perfect delicious holiday food to balance out cookies. She also had a fire burning in the stove, and Christmas movies playing on the TV.

I have plans for today, too, so I had to draft this post last night. I’m still trying to write every day in December — but maybe that was intended to be only till Christmas? I’ll check with Pom Pom. I think it’s been good for me to have this gentle pressure to write every day, because it’s a kind of work that satisfies something in me and helps keep me on an even keel in the midst of such a busy season. And it’s given me more chances to warm up to this:

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

The height of the fall of God.

 

GLORIA IN PROFUNDIS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all—
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

~G.K. Chesterton

The Word of the Father has been made manifest.

I must have read C.S. Lewis’s introduction to St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation twice before in an attempt on the whole book, without getting much beyond it, but on this third try I have kept going. It seemed a fitting little paperback to read during Advent.

In the introduction we have an instance of Lewis’s exhorting us to read more of the Old Books, like this one from the 4th century, though we are timid: “The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator.”

And Lewis also writes here about devotional vs. doctrinal works, On the Incarnation being one of the latter, that he finds the doctrinal books often “more helpful in devotion” than the expressly devotional ones. I can relate to his description of people who “find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.”

Actually I don’t know about the pipe in the teeth, but I always have a pencil in my hand as I lie in bed with my book of theology or literature or whatever. And I marked some passages from St. Athanasius to share in this season when we focus on God With Us.

You must understand why it is that the Word of the Father, so great and so high, has been made manifest in bodily form. He has not assumed a body as proper to his own nature, far from it, for as the Word He is without body. He has been manifested in a human body for this reason only, out of the love and goodness of His Father, for the salvation of us men.

We will begin, then, with the creation of the world and with God its Maker, for the first fact that you must grasp is this: the renewal of creation has been wrought by the Self-same Word Who made it in the beginning. There is thus no inconsistency between creation and salvation; for the One Father has employed the same Agent for both works, effecting the salvation of the world through the same Word Who made it in the beginning.

From the archives – 2010

Red for the Word made flesh.

When the doorbell rang one evening after dark, dark coming so early this season, Susan and I were both on our guard, because we are two vulnerable women and we weren’t expecting anyone.

I have a peephole in my door, and I peeped, and saw that it was a human shape and not a package on the step, but I had to turn on the porch light to see if it was someone I recognized. It was Linda! Linda is  my friend who took me to the Heirloom Festival recently. She has been gifting me with garden things for four decades, and she’d mentioned last month that her neighbor — they live fifteen miles from here! — had some quinces she would try to bring me. Here she stood at my door with a dozen in the bottom of a shopping bag. I kissed her.

She’d heard about the puny and rock-hard fruits I’d gathered and tried to use, but this will be my last mention of that batch, because these were perfect. For a couple of days I let the good quinces perfume the kitchen, and then I faced the challenge of making use of them for food, when I didn’t have time to peel them. I took time instead to find a recipe for oven-poaching whole quinces with star anise, lemon, honey and cinnamon. As they baked, the whole house filled with an even complex and delicious aroma.

It is worth cooking quinces just to see how the fruit changes to this beautiful orange-pink color. I found it festive in Christmasy way, partly because I had that morning heard a talk that our rector gave the children after Liturgy, about the sequence and meaning of the layers of vestments that he puts on for the services, and he started out telling what the different colors symbolize.

Liturgical churches do not all use the same colors for various seasons or feasts on the calendar, and there are numerous options and meanings. But during Advent in our tradition, the vestments and altar cloths are red, as we are anticipating the birth of the Savior born to a human mother, who gave him human flesh and blood. Red for blood. To remind us of that tenet of our Christology.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

-The Gospel of John