God Loves Our Bodies

Homily, God Loves Our Bodies
Christmas Day, The Feast of the Incarnation, 2022
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
Tequesta, FL

The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF

Today’s Lectionary Readings:

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. 

Did Santa come to anyone’s house last night? Santa came to my house. This morning we found our stocking full and the Christmas cookies had been eaten. 

I LOVE Santa Claus. And since its Christmas, I want to tell you this morning my favorite story about St. Nicholas. A lot of people don’t know, but St. Nicholas is a bishop of the Church. And 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” as we read in our gospel passage this morning. 

St. Nicholas passionately believed the Word become flesh meant that Jesus was fully human and fully Divine—that he was just as much a material physical person as he was the Divine, spiritual God, and as such he was of the same substance as God 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 he wasn’t like God the Father. He was holy—even Divine—but he was not fully equal to God, he was a created being. 

Well, as St. Nicholas heard Arius explain his views he became more and more angry. His cheeks turned red, 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 shame about his behavior and prayed for forgiveness, though he didn’t waver on 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 did penance for that, and he probably put coal in his own stocking that year. But I mean like St. Nicholas we should be passionate defenders of the Word become flesh, the Incarnation, which is what this season of Christmas is all about. 

Through the centuries down to today we have often struggled with the idea of the Incarnation. We’re often more comfortable talking about a God in heaven, or a God in our heart. But the Incarnation describes a God in flesh. A God with a body. 

And so the gospel we preach on Christmas, the Feast of the Incarnation, is that God cares about our bodies. That bodies matter to God. Our bodies matter to God. The good news of Christmas is not just that Jesus comes into our hearts, but that Jesus comes into our bodies, so that the spiritual and the material are infused together. 

We serve a God who cares about our bodies—our hungry bodies, our sick bodies, our fat bodies, our tattooed bodies, our aging bodies, our broken bodies, our overworked bodies, all of our bodies. Take a moment, look at your hands. Look at your skin. The pores. The wrinkles from the years you’ve lived. Look at any callouses from the work you’ve done. God became that. 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. 

And if God cares about the bodies of this world, we ought also to care for our own bodies and the other bodies of this world. We ought to treat them with dignity and care. We ought to provide them with the resources they need. We ought to recognize the holiness that God sees in them. God cares deeply about the bodies of this world. 

To close I’d like to share with you this incredible poem written by a 10th century monk known as Symeon the New Theologian, which captures this amazing truth so well. As I read it, I invite you to take a moment and close your eyes, and feel the sensation of your body. And then let the words of this poem be for you a Christmas gift, the gift of the word become flesh. 

We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens our bodies
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
He enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Him.
I move my foot and at once
He appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
Then open your heart to Him.
And let yourself receive the one
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as Him,
And He makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
Maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Him transformed.
And in Him, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in His light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.