“… but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:7)
Dear brethren of Jesus, children of the same Father, I greet you all with the peace of Christ, the love of our provident Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
At a time like this, what is probably one of the best known line in the New Testament comes to mind: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In the language of the Bible, flesh means human nature of man. Man is called flesh to emphasize the weaker part of his nature. This is the flesh that Christ took on; the flesh of the fallen human race, flesh that is vulnerable and weak, flesh that can suffer, be abused, become sick and die. When the Word is said to have been incarnate, to have been made Flesh, the Divine goodness is better expressed in Paul’s letter, whereby God emptied Himself and was found in outward bearing like a man.
Take some time to think about these words from the ‘golden-mouthed’ St. John Chrysostom when he says: “He Who Is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.” For the sake of humanity, in order to identify with us, the timeless and divine being decides to become what he was not, a human being. He began an altogether new mode of existence. He not only took human bodily form but accepted its limitations as the mode and manner of His existence while on earth, an action so powerful and loving.
In the first half of the 20th Century, a painting of Jesus as the Man of Sorrows was made into a holy card. In that striking and awful picture, Christ’s body is filled from top to bottom with horrid, open and bloody wounds; rivulets of blood pour from these wounds. You almost cannot find a space on His body that is left untouched by the passion and agony He underwent. The message is loud and clear – the incarnate God enters fully into the human condition.
When his disciple ‘went to buy food,’ (John 4:8) it was because their Master was really hungry; when he asked drink of the woman of Samaria, (John 4:7) it was because he was really thirsty; and when he fell asleep in the midst of the breath-taking storm (Mark 4:35), it was because he was exhausted by endless labours of love. To the many questions that may arise from these, Paul says that Jesus had emptied himself. His almighty power could easily have sustained his body but this would not have been man’s real bodily life.
In the face of trials, unimaginable scourge and hardship, precipitated by a number of factors but mainly by the pandemic that has ravaged the world for a year (Covid-19) and the misplaced priorities in government policies, awful strategies in tackling socio-economic issues, that have plunged so many into hunger and depression, we do not give up, but wade through these storms because we have an internal comfort that is beyond human wisdom and explanation. It is the Incarnation – God is with us, not only by the fact of His Omnipresence but as one who has been there too – he was hungry, thirsty, depressed, sorrowful and dejected. There is hardly any situation that we can think of that the Lord does not identify with us.
However, the practical benefit of the incarnation to us is that, Christ, having experienced all the tragic limitations of the flesh, He knows how to comfort us (Heb 2:18). This Divine Being who became man is now our Mediator and constantly ministers to us the grace and the help that we need in every vicissitude of life. But where is this body, this flesh He took? Certainly, the mystery of the Incarnation which cannot be dissociated from the Resurrection and Ascension provides the evidence. That same body that suffered and died is now in heaven. The exaltation of His humanity to heaven is our consolation and the source of our strength. The joy that the coming of Jesus offers us does not fade in the face of the ups and downs of life. Even at the saddest moment of life we have the fullest of it. It comes in the form of that inner serenity that overwhelms our spirit when we go through bitter experiences. I remind you again; the message of the mystery of the incarnation is that God has entered fully into our human condition, we are not alone. This is our joy.
† Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos
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