Spirituality for Today – December 2015 – Volume 20, Issue 5

When Salvation Became Possible

Rev. Raymond Petrucci

A mosaic starburst

The word "demand" may be defined as "a requirement" or something that is "in need of." Searching for a source of inspiration for a Christmas homily, I happened to encounter the poem, For the Time Being by W. H. Auden. In particular, I was taken by this stanza:

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act?
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

At first, the words stun us somewhat. Somehow the lines seem not to fit into the theme of Christmas. Yet, the poem is part of an Advent/Christmas collection by Auden. Becoming thoughtful, I realized that these lines were perfect for the Christmas event. Yes, we who are mired in mortality demand, require, are in need of a miracle to save us. I especially was drawn to the words, "Nothing can save us that is possible." Much is possible within the creative powers of the human mind and much can be made by that creativity using the resources of the earth – but nothing within the capacity of the human mind and nothing about the forces of nature or the material world can save us from sin and death. For salvation, we demand a miracle.

On that night nearly two thousand years ago, humanity received its miracle. The Nativity of Jesus Christ is a narrative related in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that tells us of that miracle. All of the events surrounding the coming of the Word of God into human nature and into our time and our history cause us to affirm them as miraculous. An angel appears not to a princess but to an obscure girl from an insignificant town and announces that she is to become the mother of God. Impossible! This young woman is to conceive, not by human intervention, but by the creative power of God, through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Impossible! Joseph, her betrothed, turns his despair into joy through the instrumentality of a dream in which he is assured by an angel that Mary has not lost her virtue, but through her virtue has conceived and still remains virginal. Impossible! Then, in his manhood, Jesus proclaims the reign of God to all people and brings salvation from sin and death to those who believe in spite of being the object of rejection and hostility by the very people that he came to save. Impossible! And after becoming the Lamb of sacrifice upon the cross, Jesus rises from the dead to send the Holy Spirit into the minds, hearts, and souls of his apostles and disciples and commanded them to bring the news of love, mercy, and salvation to all the people of the world. Impossible! Yes, it was all impossible. Thus, the line from Auden's poem declaring that nothing that is possible has the power to save us rings true. Our salvation, indeed, called for a miracle.

Through the centuries, countless men and women have heard of the miracle of God becoming man in order to bring humanity the gift of salvation. Now, it is our time to hear of that miracle and live in its promise. Now, it is our responsibility to bring that good news to the people of our time. Still, so many believe only in the potential of the human mind to solve every problem, unravel every riddle, cure every disease, and bring peace to the world. Correctly, they hold to the gifts of human reason and creativity as a valuable resource for addressing the challenges of life. Human beings have great abilities and potential, but none should believe that anything that the mind of man can devise, anything that humanity can determine to be within the realm of possibility can save them. Only that which transcends the possible can save us. Come and see, come and believe, come and witness the miracle – Christmas.