St. John of the Cross On the Incarnation

Because today is the feast day of St. John of Cross, and we’ve been meditating on the mystery of the Incarnation, I thought we might look at what he had to say on the subject.  In the Eighth Ballad, he wrote:

Then he summoned an archangel;
Saint Gabriel came,
And He sent him to a maiden,
Mary was her name,

Whose consent and acquiescence
Gave the mystery its birth;
It was the Trinity that clothed
With flesh the Living Word.

Though the three had worked the wonder
It was wrought in but this one,
And the incarnated Word
Was left in Mary’s womb.

And He who had a father only
Now possessed a mother,
Though not of man was He conceived
But unlike any other.

And deep within her body
His life of flesh began:
For this reason He is called
The Son of God and Man.

The poem properly focusses on the figure of Mary, by whose acquiescence the mystery of the Incarnation begins.  In many ways, Mary operates as the lynchpin of the season of Advent.  Our Orthodox brothers and sisters call her the Theotokos, or God-Bearer. 

During this season of Advent, we might properly reflect on what it means to be pregnant with God.  I suggest that we consider that, not only as it pertains to the Holy Mother, but also as it pertains to each one of us.  What does it mean for you and I to bring God into the world, a world which is sometimes hostile and often indifferent to Christ?  And while we’re doing so, as with any expectant parent, we might properly wonder just what this event will cost.  How do we carry Jesus into the places where, as with Bethlehem so long ago, there’s just no room for Him?

Part of the mystery of the Incarnation, part of the wonder of belonging to the Body of Christ we call the Church, lies in the recognition that Christ must live within us.  Somehow, through the enigma of God coming to live among us, our very DNA has changed.  St. Paul recognized this, writing:  “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  Gal.  2:20.   Paul reminds us that following Christ does not so much hinge on an intellectual assent to a certain doctrine  as it does on surrendering to Christ’s indwelling within us and allowing Jesus to re-make us.

Our Advent hope lies in recognizing that God’s entry into the world is not an event that took place a couple of thousand years ago, and which made things a bit more bearable.  Rather, the very fabric of time and space have changed.  God has and will re-create all things (including you and me) through this Son of God and Man.

Have a good and holy Advent,

James R. Dennis, O.P. 

© 2011 James R. Dennis

15 responses to “St. John of the Cross On the Incarnation

  1. Thx for this message. I think you may enjoy my daughter-in-law’s post on Mary, especially since she is expecting.

  2. Great parallel in thinking about bringing Christ where there is no room for him. The Incarnation, while glorious, reveals that God is willing to come to a messy world. This has been a great encouragement to me to keep in mind our calling as Christ-followers to do the same, especially during the busyness of the holidays. Thanks Br. James!

    • Coleman,

      You are most welcome. I think the notion of making room for Jesus is something we all struggle with. Have a wonderful Advent.

      Br. James

  3. Thank you for reminding us it is the feast day of blessed St. John of the Cross. But even more thanks for the gracious message of Christ living within. Today I was working in church on an icon of the holy cross and a warden from the Quaker house came and sat next to me. She said, she felt that love is the most important thing we can contemplate on, the love of Christ and allowing ourselves to be filled with it, as you say, Br. James. She likened this aspect of Christ to be the Second Coming – His entering within. Incredible times and incredible awareness.

    • Constantina,

      What a wonderful story! I don’t know much about Quaker spirituality, other than what I’ve learned from reading Richard Foster. If he’s examplary of Quaker theology, I want some of what they have.

      Your work with icons is quite wonderful. As you can probably tell from the blog, I’m terribly fond of iconography and the spirituality they point us toward. God’s peace.

      • apocalypseicons

        God’s Peace. The only place to be- just repeating the words can bring so much. It is clear by your gracious reply and the care you take to reply that you have that peace within you, Br. J. Pax et bonum.

      • Well, sometimes more than others. When my great aunt passed away, my inheritance consisted of a stone that rested in her kitchen windowsill. On it, someone had painted, “May the peace of Christ disturb you greatly.” It has, and it does and I hope it always will. Pax Christi.

  4. Outstanding blog, Nin Brother! I need not ask you what “the Lord is with you” means to you. You have a very clear understanding.

    • My dear Sister,

      I have a certain understanding of the phrase, but am convinced I only see through a glass darkly.

      With great affection,

      Br. James

  5. I love that you pointed this out>> “Paul reminds us that following Christ does not so much hinge on an intellectual assent to a certain doctrine as it does on surrendering to Christ’s indwelling within us and allowing Jesus to re-make us.”

    It reminds me of how ACTIVE Christianity is. We are not passively signing an agreement to believe. Our faith is real and dynamic, physical, emotional, spiritual…

    • Lara,

      I think that’s precisely right. Even a contemplative is compelled to participate in the life of Christ. Our faith simply isn’t a spectator sport. Hope you’re well…

      Br. James

  6. 🙂

  7. Oh, this is good, so true… “the very fabric of space and time”… thanks for the reminder. Blessed Advent to you too!

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