December 24th, 2015
The focus of Advent is not just that Jesus was born, but that the Jesus who was born was God become flesh. Advent is a celebration of the miracle that is the Incarnation.
But would it matter to the substance of the “faith once delivered” if the child born to Mary and Joseph were only human? Some have wondered aloud even recently whether resting the faith upon such an unprecedented and unrepeated event exposes it to unnecessary vulnerability.
So what appreciable impact would it have if this birth were more ordinary than extraordinary, notwithstanding the extraordinary things this child would later say and do?
C.S. Lewis here places this claim of the miraculous in context.
Nothing can prove the Incarnation true. But all else we know of what Jesus says, does, and especially what He promises makes the Incarnation necessary. If He is only human He has no claim to the authority He asserts. If the flesh we all are familiar with constrains Him fully, He may be able to demonstrate an astonishingly loving fidelity, but He will not be able to “ransom” (Mk 10:45) us in anything more than a metaphorical sense (if that). The mandate given Him, and the one He gives us, both rest on the miracles He performs–miracles the excising of which may comport more with a modern sensibility but which also rests on its own presuppositions impossibly validated. And while the necessity for them does not prove their validity, neither does the incredulity with which we might respond to their report necessarily rule them out.
In the 1991 film Grand Canyon (directed by one Lawrence Kasdan who’s been busy with some other film recently), one of the ensemble’s cast, a middle-aged woman in a precarious marriage, finds an abandoned child in some bushes while she’s out for a run. She brings the child home and immediately bonds. Upon revealing the discovery to her husband he bristles at her even entertaining the idea of adopting this child into their family. When he pushes back, suggesting her affection for the child are more attributable to a lack in her than a love for the child, she responds with both humility, and also the possibility that there may be something more to this moment than meets the eye.
Mack, you think that I want that baby because l’ve got some hole in my life or I think I’m gonna have some hole in my life, but that’s not it. Or if it is it, it’s just a part of it. That baby needs someone to love it and take care of it. Something has happened. You can’t go back and have it not happen. Some kind of connection has been made. lt has to be played out. What if these are miracles, Mack? Maybe we don’t have any experience with miracles, so we’re slow to recognise them.
It’s an astonishing fact of A Secular Age that the notion of the miraculous endures, and from quarters least likely to entertain their possibility. But we are no fools for staking our hope upon what is inexplicable apart from the impossible. Tonight we’ll rehearse the story again, rehearsing our connection to the hope we’ve perhaps grown slow to recognize.
It’s our encounter with beauty that perhaps does most to persuade us of a transcendent dimension. Remember Francis Spufford’s observation of the rather unscientific denials of the transcendent exhibited by modern materialists?
“I’ve heard Richard Dawkins, on a stage respond to someone asking why people’s conviction of the presence of God doesn’t count as data: ‘Oh, all sorts of funny things happen in people’s heads. But you can’t measure them, so they don’t mean anything.’ Yet atheists, like everybody else, fall in love, read novels, hum songs, and value the unrepeatable shadings of their sensory and cognitive experiences. The subjective makes its irrefutable demand for attention as soon as you quit the lectern.”
Story, art, song–they all “conspire” to expand our sense of what’s possible beyond the limits of what’s predictable or manageable. For reasons that will be clear, we here reprise a choral work well furnished to unite you to the glory of Advent, and to the miraculous in which it trades.