I want to give you a little Christmas gift, one you’ve probably not gotten before, a present containing five letters, wrapping up a little package of good, important Lutheran theology.
Here you go: c-a-p-a-x. Capax. It’s Latin, and since you’ve been chanting and singing gloria in excelsis, you’re ready for it. Capax comes across in our words capability and capacity. It’s a particularly applicable word for Christmas. In church history, our capax word has been a link, with a question mark, between two other words. The full phrase is finitum capax infiniti. It’s nice because it already sounds a bit like English. We could say this is about the finite having capacity for the infinite. Rephrasing could ask if the mortal has room for the immortal, if created things are capable of holding the presence of the Creator. Do we and our world have capacity and capability for God in us? Capax or non capax?
To me, it starts out sounding like a physics question. You know you can’t empty a whole pot of coffee into a single mug; there isn’t enough capacity. On the other hand, if we had snow you could imagine taking a sledful of it and packing it into one dense snowball. Ratcheting it up a degree, would we be able to take all the air in this room and squeeze it inside an air compressor tank? Or what if we tried to focus the light of the sun to shine directly and only onto our planet? There we’d have to figure the answer is no, non capax, not capable. Our planet couldn’t bear so much solar radiation. Earth would simply burn up, disintegrate, melt away. The sun is too powerful, too overwhelming.
So this is the question of God. Can all of God’s omnipresent infinite size be poured into the body of a tiny baby? Can the God who created the entire cosmos be reduced into the form of one so little and impotent and helpless? Can we encounter all of God’s blazing spectrum of true Light, illustrated in this infant, or is that light so searing and intense that it would burn us up? Can we comprehend our unfathomable God, wrap our heads around this mystery, and hold it in our arms? What about this: could there be any possible validity in this eternal God of all life breathing his last, really dying, put to death, coming to nothing, annihilated on the cross? Capax raises these big theological ideas, which almost come across as nonsense questions.
Maybe we can take a bye on that last one this morning. But another of the lingering capax conundrums is for today, because it has been about Mary. I suppose partly it’s that the chauvinists of history haven’t wanted to grant such a place to a woman, but there was long and fierce debate about a title, of her being called “the God-bearer,” bearing God in her womb, and whether Mary’s body had capacity to contain God and deliver God into this world. The shock of that mystery I find, however, outdone by the beauty of another mystery, as we go on to say that Mary’s breast nursed God, that she was responsible for the nurture and care of God’s life.
To take away a degree of the lofty speculation or pondering Mary’s body so long ago, to place it in your own lap here and now, we also must ask if your stomach is big enough to hold God. Do you have an iron gut that can contain God? After all, this God, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread, broke it, and gave it to you, saying “This is my body.” It isn’t that you get a fragment or morsel of God, that you nibble up a bit, as if you took a bite out of a portion of a chicken. In, with, and under bread, you are given God’s body to eat. He promises his presence there for you. You swallow, and God is contained in your own belly.
Can God really do that—become flesh, be born as a human, wander around in a body, be killed, give himself to you in bread, be digested by you, dwell within you? Can the natural things of our world bear the weight of God’s presence and still exist? Capax? Really?
Clearly, it would be easier to answer “no.” It would be tidier to restrict God to heaven, some distant, foreign realm that doesn’t really relate to us and which we don’t have to encounter. Or to claim that God is spirit that pervades all things anyway, and we can’t add to it or take away from it. Or that rather than any sort of “it,” a some-thing, that God is more of an emotion, the sense of goodwill and generosity we feel, that which inspires love in us.
Yet that’s not Christmas. Our answer of capax has to be Yes. Maybe our unimportant, imperfect lives should be obliterated when coming face-to-face with the majestic holiness of God. Maybe that understanding should be too much, making the circuitry of our brains go haywire. Maybe that light is so intense, we shouldn’t be able to gaze at it or stand in its presence. Maybe God is so vast that nothing we say should be able to contain God. Maybe our capacity should always fall short.
And yet, here is God, among you. The full presence of God, arriving in our world to be nursed and swaddled. I saw the term yesterday from Mexico Niño Dios, the baby God. So God went on to grow and mature, was here for us to witness and praise, to beg from and to kill. God is here because God wanted to be like you, to be known by you, to be with you, to be for you.
Are we able to comprehend this, to explain God, to shine a light on God? Of course not. Or not normally. But God did it this way, coming into our world, emptied into our life, so that we could know God, so we could encounter God. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Even when it seems we couldn’t have capacity to receive more, he keeps pouring into us.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, he took on your flesh, so you may embody God’s presence for others, so that as you receive his body you may also live now and forever as the body of Christ in the world.
And God was cradled in his mother’s arms so that you may also know you are held in the bosom of the Father, close to God’s heart.
Capax. A miraculous gift, which you can keep uncovering and opening and treasuring. Merry Christmas.