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Center for Action and Contemplation

Incarnation at the Edge

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Winter Solstice

In this Christmas homily, Father Richard speaks of the surprising nature of Incarnation. We find God in all the places we don’t expect.

We see in the original Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth that there’s really nothing pretty about the first Christmas. The only way human beings can understand spiritual things is that they have to be presented in physical, material form. We can’t get it otherwise. We have to see it and we have to touch it. How God comes into the world would also seem to be very important, as if to say to us: this is where God is to be found. The great question has always been, “What is God? Who is God? Where is this God hiding?” because initially, God isn’t really obvious to most people. The mystery we celebrate at Christmas is saying that the divine has chosen its hiding place in the world, and it’s in all material things. And that all becomes summed up now in the body of Jesus.

Where is this God being revealed? Not in the safe world, but at the edge, at the bottom, among those where we don’t want to find God, where we don’t look for God, where we don’t expect God. The way we’ve created Christianity, it seems like it’s all about being nice, pretty, middle class, “normal” and under the law. Here we have in the Gospel stories Jesus, Mary, and Joseph being none of those things. It might just be telling us we should be looking elsewhere. [1]

Writer and organizer Kelley Nikondeha describes how the context of Jesus’ birth demonstrates God’s Incarnation amongst those who suffer and are oppressed:

The advent narratives demand we take the political and economic world of Roman Palestine seriously. The Gospel writers named the empires of Caesar and Herod not for dramatic effect; they didn’t mention a census or massacre for literary flourish. The Gospel writers used contextual markers to describe in concrete ways the turmoil of the times that hosted the first advent.

It is this very context that makes the advent narratives contemporary—whether in Israel-Palestine or lands beyond. Our troubled times, shaped by all manner of injustice, cause continued suffering, making the loud cries of lament and cries for peace timely, as they are answered by advent. . . .

The Incarnation positions Jesus among the most vulnerable people, the bereft and threatened of society. The first advent shows God wrestling with the struggles common to many the world over. And from this disadvantaged stance, Jesus lives out God’s peace agenda as a counter-testimony to Caesar’s peace.

This is the story of advent: we join Jesus as incarnations of God’s peace on this earth for however long it takes. God walks in deep solidarity with humanity, sharing in our sufferings and moments of hope. Amid our hardship, God is with us. Emmanuel remains the name on our lips in troubled times. [2]


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Christmas Mass 2015: The Great Embodiment,” homily, December 25, 2015.

[2] Kelley Nikondeha, The First Advent in Palestine: Reversals, Resistance, and the Ongoing Complexity of Hope (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2022), 181, 182–183.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Zoe Schaffer, Seedling (detail), 2022, Pennsylvania, photograph, Unsplash. Markus Ilg, Austria (detail), 2020, Austria, photograph, Unsplash. Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 11 (detail), 2022, New Mexico, photograph, used with permission. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge image.

Image inspiration: The Christ in everything: nature, Advent candles and Scriptures, God in the cells of our hands.

Story from Our Community:

These are some thoughts I’ve compiled whilst sitting and watching the sun come up over [a] majestic, pristine landscape: This intensive, all-pervading consciousness of the presence of the Creator. Tranquility, but at the same time a feeling of tension—what’s out there? What forces will affect this little community—animals, weather? This is how religion began. A burning need to fit it all together, this beautiful circle of life—the grasses, forbs, trees, geology/ geomorphology, weather, climate, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals. As a human, the need to name and classify. How does the astronomy and our place in the galaxy influence all this—phases of the moon, closeness of Earth to the Sun? Privilege of being in this spiritually stimulating place and having a small ability to perceive God in me through God in everything around—the people, too. —Charles D.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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