How Can This Be?

The morning was frantic, as usual; I was behind on some academic obligations, and am always behind in personal communication, and the sermon wasn’t quite set. I was supposed to bring over incense from our personal stock to use at Seabury’s Annunciation mass, but I forgot so I had to go home and pick it up, etc. etc., etc.

But the time came, I squared away my very most pressing administrative debts, checked in with my sweetheart, burnished the sermon (appended below) with some coherence and precision, and the service went well. Seabury doesn’t usually practice quite elaborate liturgy, so we negotiated some unplanned dialogues and maneuvers. God was praised, the congregation fed, and now I’m only just ordinarily behind, which feels almost like a vacation this afternoon.

Anderson Chapel of St. John the Divine, Seabury-Western
The Feast of the Annunciation
Isaiah 7:10-14/Ps 40:1-11/ Hebrews 10: 5-10/Luke 1:26-38
April 4, 2005


“A body you have prepared for me. . . .”

In the Name of God Almighty, the Blessed Trinity on high – Amen.

The languorous courtship between the ardent, patient Creator and the fickle, capricious Creation advances by slow smooth strides, and stumbles by maladroit, abrupt stops. For long ages, the tempo of courtship remains predictable – a Law, as it were, of obedience or resistance, of diffidence or attraction. God and people go steady – whether going together or drifting apart. But then the tempo shifts. The relationship intensifies, and the partners move less predictably, more passionately; a people rejects the God who loves them, who raised them; or a people cries out from exile, to return to their God’s embrace. Sometimes their God sends outlandish gifts of prophecy to win the hearts of this inconstant beloved; and sometimes this God closes the door, slams the shutters, and leaves a heedless people outdoors in the bitter cold and rain.

Sometimes, this God and this people might as well be from different planets: Humans are from Earth, God is from. . . Heaven. Other times, this God and this people draw together so close, so ardently, so feverishly that the human heart beats with wild divine rhythms, the human flesh moves with divine strength, the joy and vigor and elation and sweat raise us from the death of dailyness into a life so free, so vital that our mortality itself must die in order for us to attain this true, timeless, limitless life.

This heavenly mystery play irrupts into the random paces of our work-a-day walk with a rhythm that draws us into a cadence that echoes God’s pace. Angels among us hum the refrain as the Spirit quickens our pulse, our steps stagger into synchrony, and at the right moment Gabriel takes our sister by the hand: “May the God who created heaven and earth have this dance?” And Mary answers on our behalf, speaks so that we need not offer souls to be pierced, our children crucified: “Let it be.”

This morning I must tell you, my friends, that I have seen the sonogram, I have heard the heartbeat. If we were not so diligently scrupulous about boundaries I could touch your belly, your heart, and feel the kicking of God’s power at work within you, for I promise you, sisters and brothers that in you a new life has begun. A new life has begun, engendered not by the mystery dance of fevered flesh, not this time by the Power of the Most High’s overshadowing Spirit, but this new life is begun in your receiving the flesh of Jesus into your flesh. The given body and the poured blood conceive within you something more than mortal, something not quite of your matter. Though you respond, “How can this be?” God balks not but sends a child, a bread man to nourish us, with wine milk to nurse us, and in the utmost intimacy of our own flesh, God begets a body, the Body of Christ, greater than each of us and yet holding us, in our very selves, in passioned embrace at God’s own heart. This morning, here, forever – let it be!


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