For Christmas Eve: “Here the word was made flesh”

This is the basement grotto of the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. The site incorporates a first-century house, which is traditionally claimed to be Mary’s house. The inscription on the altar states “Verbum caro hic factum est – Here the Word was made flesh”.

Not to be outdone by those pesky Catholics claiming the location of Mary’s home, just down the road the Orthodox have built the Church of St Gabriel, incorporating the well at which an early apocryphal text (the second-century Protevangelium of James) narrated Mary’s first encounter with Gabriel. This text splits Luke’s narrative: the initial greeting comes at the well, the remainder of the conversation back at the house. The scene is portrayed in the courtyard of St Gabriel’s Church, below.

There seems to me (despite this territorial competition) to be something tremendously important about adding that “hic” (here) to St John’s prologue – “here the Word was made flesh”. It is not an argument about any kind of certainty that anyone has identified a holy site accurately. I doubt anyone is going to uncover a “Yeshua was here” graffitum. It is rather a reminder that this is a specific story, told about named people at a particular time in history, at a (theoretically) identifiable place.

I often hear people speaking about “the principle of incarnation”. I’ve nothing against such a principle, but the language can sometimes sound as if incarnation is the sort of thing the Deity spends all his time doing, rather than a single and unique event we approach through the stories of Jesus. “God became human” is a faith-filled characterisation of a particular human history, not primarily a theological generalisation about either divinity or humanity.

We need to be reminded of the uniqueness of how this light comes into the world, so that we may better appreciate where  and how to seek it, find it, and reflect it.

So, as I prepare to retell and rehear the Christmas story again in song and prayer, word and (above all) sacrament, I pray that for you and for me, we may find in this unique history of God coming to share our earthly nature, that fruitful encounter with him, that will enable us to participate in his divine life. Happy Christmas.

One Reply to “For Christmas Eve: “Here the word was made flesh””

  1. It’s a way of looking at incarnation and I held it for decades.
    And then life fell apart. The real changes of insight only seem to come at those moments.
    Now I go with Symeon the New Theologian 949-1022

    Happy New year!

    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.

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