God Loves Our Bodies: A Christmas Sermon

Homily, God Loves Our Bodies: A Christmas Sermon
First Sunday of Christmas, 2020
Santa Fe Episcopal Church
San Antonio, TX

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
“La Palabra se hizo carne—se hizo hombre—y vivió entre nosotros.”

En el nombre del Padre, y el Hijo, y el Espíritu Santo. Amén.

Buenos días! Feliz Navidad. Hoy es el tercer dīa de Navidad—el primer domingo de Navidad. Y esta mañana continuamos la celebración de la Encarnación, la buena noticia de Cristo, la Palabra hecha carne, hecha hombre. Esta es mi estación favorita en el calendario de la Iglesia porque yo creo que la doctrina de la Encarnación es la más importante que creemos. Y por eso, me encanta Navidad. 

También me encanta Santa Claus. I love Santa Claus. A lot of people don’t know, but St. Nicholas is a bishop and saint of the Church. We celebrate his feast day on December 6th of every year and just a few weeks ago my son and I read stories about St. Nicholas and made bishop’s mitres. Some of you may have seen a picture of him online wearing his hat and my priest surplice, and walking around with a candy cane as a crosier—a bishop’s staff. So this morning I want to tell you my favorite story about St. Nicholas, this great bishop of the Church. 

Legend says that in the year of our Lord, 325, St. Nicholas went to the famous Council of Nicaea where all the bishops of the Church gathered to begin crafting the Nicene Creed—the very creed we say each Sunday today. And at this meeting was a debate all about the person of Jesus and what it meant for “the Word to become flesh.”  In those days, and often in our own day, people believed there was a big divide between the Spiritual and the Material, between God and humans. St. Nicholas passionately believed the Word become flesh meant that Jesus broke down that division by being fully human and fully Divine, that he infused the material with the spiritual and the spiritual with the material. St. Nicholas believed that in the Incarnation, Christ sanctified the human body and that even as a human Christ was fully God—“of one being with the Father.” 

But there was one priest at the council that didn’t believe that. His name was Arius. Arius believed that Christ was special, but that he wasn’t fully God, that he wasn’t “of one being with the Father.”

Well, as St. Nicholas heard Arius explain his views he became more and more angry. His cheeks turned red, (well, more red than usual), and his foot began to tap. When suddenly St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, stormed over to Arius and slapped him across the face!

Well, as you can imagine, that was more shocking to the other bishops than seeing mommy kissing Santa Claus. They ran over to Nicholas and held him back trying to calm him down. They took his bishop’s clothes and threw him in jail until the council was over. In jail Nicholas felt sorry for his behavior and prayed for forgiveness, though he didn’t waver in his beliefs. That night Jesus and Mary appeared to him and asked him, “Nicholas, why are you in jail?” He replied, “because of my passionate love for you.” Jesus and Mary then gave him a Gospel book and replaced his bishop’s clothes and the next morning the guards found Nicholas unchained, dressed as a bishop, and calmly studying the Scriptures. 

We ought to be more like St. Nicholas! Maybe not the slapping part, good ole St. Nick apologized for that. He probably put coal in his own stocking that year. No, I mean like St. Nicholas we should be passionate defenders of the Word become flesh, the Incarnation—como San Nicolás deberíamos ser apasionados defensores de la Palabra hecha hombre, la Encarnación—which is what this season of Christmas is all about. 

And this is something about which we can be passionate! The gospel we preach on Christmas is that God cares about bodies! El evangelio que predicamos en Navidad es que los cuerpos son importantes para Dios. That bodies matter to God! That our bodies matter! The good news of Christmas is not just that Jesus comes into our hearts—no solo que Jesús entra en nuestros corazones—but that Jesus comes into our bodies—Jesús entra en nuestros cuerpos—so that the spiritual and the material are infused together. Take a moment, look at your hands. Mira los manos. Look at your skin. Mira la piel. El color. El tono. The pores and wrinkles from the years you’ve lived. Look at the rough callouses from the work you’ve done. God became that. Dios se convirtió en eso. The Word became flesh. La Palabra se hizo hombre. This is the gospel we preach to the world. 

The reason we declare black lives matter, that brown lives matter, is because the Word became flesh. The reason we declare trans lives matter, is because the Word became flesh. The reason we declare refugee lives matter is because the Word became flesh. La razón por la que organizamos un banco de alimentos para que las personas puedan llenar sus cuerpos es porque la Palabra se convirtió en cuerpo. La razón por la que marchamos contra el abuso doméstico de los cuerpos de las mujeres es porque la Palabra se convirtió en cuerpo. The reason we pray for the healing of our bodies when they are sick is because the Word became flesh. 

We serve a God who cares about our bodies—our hungry bodies, our sick bodies, our fat bodies, our tattooed bodies, our old bodies, our broken bodies, our overworked bodies, all of our bodies. This is the message of Christmas! The Word became flesh! God so loved the bodies of the world that God became one of them. And in becoming one body, he became every body and infused them with holiness. Nuestros cuerpos son importantes para Dios.

Entonces no es casualidad que la Iglesia sea llamada Cuerpo de Cristo. It is no accident then that the Church is called the Body of Christ. Christ has passed onto us, his people, not only his sacred fleshiness, but his mission to infuse all of creation—todos nuestros cuerpos—with his beloved holiness. Or as it says in the catechism of the Book of Common Prayer, “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” We the Church—the people of God—have become stewards of the Incarnation, stewards of the Word become flesh. And it is our job not just to preach the gospel to souls but to the wholeness of people, body and soul. As Christ broke down the division between the human and Divine, we also break down the false binaries and hierarchies which separate and segregate us according to our bodies and material circumstances. We the Church, as the Body of Christ, must also make our words flesh and live among the many bodies of the world, proclaiming the good news of the Incarnation.

But in order to do this, in order to proclaim the gospel of the Word become flesh, we must first receive the good news. Primero tenemos que recibir la buena noticia. I don’t just mean understand it, but to receive it and let it settle and rest in our very bones and in all our body. In Christmas, Christ comes not just into the body of a little baby from the first century; Christ comes into each of our bodies. The Word becomes not just any flesh, but our flesh. And in a world which often denigrates our bodies, particularly when it says our bodies are too dark or too feminine or too big, receiving this good news can be hard. But the good news is here for you, on Christmas. Esta Navidad, la buena noticia del amor de Dios por ti, para cada parte de tu ser y tu cuerpo, está aquí. Christ has come to you, even in your own body.

This week I came across this beautiful poem by a 10th century Christian monk named Symeon the New Theologian, and it so beautifully captures this idea and I’d like to share it with you. Take a moment to close your eyes—cierra tus ojos—and notice the feeling of your body—y note la sensación de su cuerpo—and let the poem’s words be for you, a Christmas gift, the gift of the Word become flesh. Que estas palabras sean un regalo de Navidad para ti, el regalo de la Encarnación.

Hymn 15 in Hymns of Divine Love by Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)