Fourth Sunday of Advent
As I was preparing my homily I did some quick research about amazing facts on the human body. I will explain the connection in a minute. For instance: If the human brain were a computer, it could perform 38 thousand-trillion operations per second. The world’s most powerful supercomputer, can manage only .002% of that. An adult is made up of 7 octillion atoms. Nerve impulses travel to and from the brain at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour. The human eye is so sensitive that if the Earth were flat, you could spot a candle flickering at night from up to 30 miles away.
What got me going on that? In our second reading today, the author describes Jesus, the Messiah, having spoken to His heavenly Father and saying “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.” The Church has placed this passage before us on this final Sunday of Advent to help underscore the reality of the incarnation, God became man in Jesus Christ. He took on a real human body with all its amazing detail to fulfill His mission of the reunion of all humanity with God. God prepared a body, became incarnate, by taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, the second person of the Blessed Trinity.
The Gospel today beautifully underscores the reality of the incarnation with the description of an act of kindness from one pregnant woman to another. It is the event we traditionally call the visitation. The young Mary had already conceived a child by the Holy Spirit, a child who was to be the savior. She had also been told that her elderly cousin Elizabeth was expecting a child, and so she went to help her. The interaction that is described is certainly a testimony to the reality of those two bodies, ultimately and originally prepared by God, that were alive and growing within the wombs of Mary and Elizabeth. The meeting describes an extraordinary perception and sensation in Elizabeth’s unborn John the Baptist as he reacts to the presence of the unborn Jesus. Elizabeth herself had a religious experience that allowed her to make a statement of faith about her Lord whom she believes to be growing, unseen within the Virgin Mary. God indeed had prepared a body for His Son Jesus.
In our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews we get a further explanation of why God prepared a body for the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Word of God. It was because in the work of restoring and enriching the relationship between God and His human creatures, the sacrifices and the offerings of the Old Testament were not enough. Those were offerings of mere animals or even grain. The offering that was needed was the self-offering of doing the will of God. And it would be in human flesh that the Son of God could and would most effectively express obedience to the will of God. And, in fact, that total obedience to the will of God would include the offering of that body, that human flesh, in a sacrifice that would have all the earmarks of the traditional but imperfect sacrifices of the past. In all the Old Testament sacrifice the one offering the sacrifice was offering something else, and it was only as good and effective as the willful obedience of the one doing the offering. Only in Jesus would there be a perfect and total obedience. Only in Jesus would there be a total and perfect sacrifice. He would make the offering and He would be the victim offered.
As Christians we believe that we are created by God. In every act of human procreation we believe God has a hand. In so doing God has prepared a body for each one of us. St. John Paul II presented the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality by innovating a theology of the body. At the core of this theology is an appreciation of how our bodies are gifts. In and through the body with all its amazing parts we express good or ill. The human person is not simply a being who makes use of the human body with all of its amazing detail. The human person is integrated in a human body. All of the fascinating aspects of the human body are elevated by a soul, a spirit that is destined for eternal existence. The power, beauty and giftedness of the human body is captured in our belief that we are made in the image of God. And it is through the body that we effectively image God or not.
Unlike the body that was prepared for Jesus, the Messiah, our body was not made for the perfect sacrifice that would redeem the world. Our bodies, however, were prepared for us so that our lives would be constantly marked by the spiritual sacrifices that are united to the sacrifice of Jesus, especially every time we gather to celebrate the holy sacrifice of the Mass. It is the spiritual sacrifice of the good we have done in the past week, at home, at work and in the community. It is the spiritual sacrifice of our time in prayer. It is the spiritual sacrifice of acceptance of personal suffering. It is the spiritual sacrifice of our good intentions for the week ahead. It is the spiritual sacrifice of our efforts to join in the worship today.
This week we continue our final preparations to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the incarnation, God’s taking on of humanity including the human body. We remind ourselves that as amazing as the embodied human person is, for the infinite and almighty God the incarnation was a step down. The scriptures speak of God humbling Himself in becoming man. However it was a concession that makes it possible for us to be elevated. Because of the coming of the Messiah and His perfect sacrifice our amazing humanity became open to the infusion of grace, adoption as God’s children sharing in divinity and becoming an abode of His Holy Spirit. That may seem like a lot to live up to. Fortunately when we do gather here to unite our spiritual sacrifice to the sacrifice of Jesus, He nourishes us in heart, in mind and even in body so that we can move forward and do amazing things in His name.