Monday, February 05, 2007

Incarnation

The sea has many faces and manifests them mysteriously, unpredictably, without warning, sometimes unto delight and sometimes unto danger. It can be dark and brooding, even stormy and violent. It can be bright, colorful, peaceful and playful. Sometimes it can even be a fascinating combination of light and darkness, cold grayness pierced by sparkling brilliance from on high. In any case, it is always grand, always majestic. The sea is somehow trying to reflect the mystery of its Maker, and thus there seems to be no end to its attractive power.

I like to watch the ocean, especially on days when it is particularly rough, when its waves crash into the rocky shores and even into each other, curling, swirling, swelling, swaying, spraying bits of salty foam into my face. It is mesmerizing; one gets caught up into its roar and reckless might, its brightness and its dance. Sometimes in such moments I think of the incarnation of God.

When God was about the business of creating the heavens and the earth, He willed the waters into being, and then said, “Let them be gathered together,” and it was so. And God called the waters “seas,” and He saw that they were good (Gen. 1:9-10). That was all quite wonderful, and was sufficient to inspire poets and prophets for millennia. But then God did something even more marvelous. He Himself jumped into the Sea!

The Incarnation means that God united his Uncreated Being to creation, his divine nature to a created human nature, thus uniting to Himself all that He had made, inseparably, in a wholly unprecedented manner. Now God not only saw that it was good, He knew its goodness from the inside, as it were, and all creation was suddenly flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone. Now behold, it is the joy of the Lord that sends the seafoam hurtling high into the air, turning the ocean white-blue-green-gray-gold faster than you can follow. Now Christ is in the water, and He would like nothing better than to give his people a good dunking, immersing them in the mysteries of death and resurrection and the new life of the Grace-bearing Spirit. Because He is in the water, this can happen. Before the Incarnation this was impossible. Water could only point to Him, yearn for Him, try to open our perception to something greater than what our bodily eyes can see. But now water—to its indescribable joy—can give Him to us, can impart his secret life to us as it wraps us in a wet embrace.

The Spirit comes anew upon the waters, not this time to bring order to chaos, but salvation to the fallen. This is the power that the coming of the Son of God in the flesh has given to the waters, in which He Himself was once immersed in the Jordan (what follows is from the rite of blessing of baptismal water): “O Lord, God Almighty…You have created heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them. You have created the depths of the sea and sealed it with your awe-inspiring name… O Lord God, look down now upon this your creature, and bless + and sanctify + this water, and give to it the grace of redemption and the blessing of the River Jordan. Make it a source of incorruptibility, the remission of sins, a remedy for infirmities, the destruction of demons…and let all adverse powers be crushed beneath the sign + of your Cross. O Lord and Master of all things, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of rebirth, the gift of filial adoption and renewal in the Spirit, so that all who are baptized with this water may strip off their old selves and put on the new; that they may be likened to your death and become sharers in your resurrection, and be numbered among the first-born who are inscribed in Heaven…”

See, if the eternal, uncreated Son of God hadn’t leapt into the waters through his incarnation, none of the above would be possible. He is present in a special, sacramental way in baptismal water through the ministry of the Church, but let us remember that in virtue of his incarnation He is present in all the waters, all the stars, all that He has made. Because of Christ’s incarnation the Kingdom of God can be not only in our midst but also within us (both interpretations are possible from the Greek in Lk 17:21).

So, go and sit by the sea, watch and listen. The voice of the Lord is over the waters (Ps. 29), and his glory fills the earth. There is nothing in creation that is not in some way like Him. Lions are like Him, but so are lambs. Thunderstorms are like Him, but so are starry nights. Earthquakes are like Him, but so are gentle breezes. Forests and mountains are like Him, as is the infinite horizon of the sun-sparkled sea. He who seeks finds. I sought Him whom my heart loves in the sea, and there I found Him…