25 March 2020
Homily on the Annunciation, 2020
It's taken a tiny virus to remind us once again of all we have in common. Nearly half a million people, from nearly 150 countries, have been sickened—old Italian grandmothers, teens on spring break, and even Prince Charles of Great Britain. Tens of thousands have died, and the worst is yet to come. All the distinctions we make because of wealth, or heritage, or behavior—all alike are eliminated by this little creature, and we clearly see that all alike are subject to suffering and death, all alike share in flesh and blood.
Now the tiniest candle can pierce the deepest darkness; and today we mark the lighting of that candle some 2,000 years ago, when a young Jewish girl said to God’s messenger, “Let it be to me according to your word.” He himself, God the Son, became a partaker of our flesh and blood. Without ceasing to be what he always was—God—the Son became what he had not been—Man. He took on our nature, not at the height of its beauty and strength when it was first made, but in the condition it was. Sometimes a real estate agent will refer to a property as a “fixer-upper.” Well this transaction involved the ultimate “fixer-upper.”
Today we celebrate a new wonder in heaven and on earth: Man is in heaven and God upon earth. For God the Son took on our nature, not a human person. He is a Person, of course; but his Person is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. So we can truly say that Mary gave birth to God, and God hungered, and thirsted, and slept, and Pilate’s soldiers pulled the beard of God; that God was crucified, was under a curse, and died.
And all this he did, not because he had to—even after taking on our flesh and blood he was God the Son, not subject to the Law, or to death. He did it because he chose to. He did not go to death as a hapless victim; by his own will he went to death as a conquering general goes to the land of the enemy.
When he united himself to our flesh and blood, it was not a temporary arrangement. It was an unbreakable union, so that when people sometimes refer to God as “the man upstairs” it is no metaphor but the most literal truth.
But why? Why did he take on our nature and taste our death? St Paul says it was for two reasons: first, that through death he might destroy the tyrant, the devil. The Greek word for “destroy,” here, is beautiful. It’s made up of three parts: first, the word for “work”, then a prefix which means “not”, and then another prefix which implies “thoroughly.” When Christ tasted our death, he thoroughly brought to nought the devil’s work. All along, the devil’s great tool was our fear of death. But now that tool has been utterly shattered by the God who died. The devil still lives, of course, but he has no power of his own. He has only the power people give him when they yield to his temptations.
God the Son also took on our nature, and tasted our death, to set us free from fear of death. That is why Christians would rather die than deny Christ. That is why when plagues came in the ancient world, Christians alone would remain in the towns and serve those who suffered. It was this demonstration of love in the face of death that converted the world to Christ. And it does so again and again, whenever it’s tried. Since God shared our flesh and blood, and died our death, and rose again, we need no longer live in fear of death. His perfect love casts out our fear. And he who shares our flesh and blood, bids us now to share his flesh and blood, and walk no more in fear, as slaves, but in his love, as his dear children.