The Word [lit. “Verb”] Became Flesh and Dwelt Among Us
December 17th, 1978
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28
“One day we were explaining here a word that I tried to analyze: kenosis. You will remember, kenosis is humiliation, it is anonomizement, it is undoing oneself, disappearing. With that word is expressed this act of humility of the God that is infinite and eternal and is enclosed in the womb of a young virgin to be born flesh.” (67)
In lieu of writing a little bit about multiple themes in Monseñor Romero’s Advent III sermon (as I did for his Advent II sermon last week), I decided to tackle one particular theme: namely, his conception of kenosis and how it applies to Advent.
Stick with me while I get ever-so-slightly technical/nerdy. Kenosis is a Greek word meaning “emptiness.” The noun kenosis does not itself appear in the Bible, though its associated verb does appear on several occasions, most famously in Paul’s letter to the Phillipians :
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form. [Phillipians 2:6-7]
Most theologians have an opinion about what kenosis is, what it means, and how it is supposed to theologically apply to our lives as Christians. Romero is no exception. He does not go into a major explanation of what he means by this term in this particular sermon, but he does do this in a later sermon that he preached two weeks later, on Christmas Eve:
“Brothers [and sisters], this coming of Christ on the night of Christmas is a humble coming; humble to the point that theology calls it kenosis, that is to say, “humiliation”, that is to say, disappearing. It is when Saint Paul tells us that Christ, having God’s dignity, did not pay attention to this dignity, but rather that he humiliated himself to the point of being born as a man and, afterwards, live that life humble and poor, unto the most disgusting humiliation that history knows, a crucified one. For this Christ is born for his kenosis, for his humiliation.” (109)
To clarify: I do not think that Romero is saying that Jesus’ life, which was one of poverty and suffering, was “humiliating” in the usual English sense of the word. I think he means it in a broader sense of “the sensation one experiences when one suffers an offense caused by someone or something.” For Christ, to be humiliated was to be humiliated as the campesinos (rural people) of Romero’s El Salvador were (and are); they suffered unjustly at the hands of their government and they lived in desperate, wrenching, structurally-imposed poverty. Furthermore, Jesus disappears Godself into a human body, into human flesh, just as Salvadoran bodies were disappearing at the hands of the military, the death squads, and anonymous, inescapable poverty. As Romero says, if Jesus were to show up to Mass in the very Cathedral where he was preaching, he would look like one of the poor rural people visiting from the Salvadoran countryside. You would not be able to pick him out of the throng. This is solid, ancient Christian theology, applied quite blatantly and honestly in a context where it was politically dangerous to do so.
Romero’s understanding of kenosis leads to this theological question: if God emptied Godself into a poor, oppressed body, what does that say about poor, oppressed bodies?
And if God not only incarnated but also continues to incarnate in bodies like these, then what do you think God thinks about societies, about nations, that treat these bodies horribly? That continue to structurally and socially oppress the poor? That continue to oppress other groups of people?
These are important things to ponder during the third week of Advent, I think.
 Some biblical scholars believe that these verses were part of a very early Christian confession—something like the Apostles or Nicene Creed, but much older than either of them.
 From the Christmas Vigil (December 24th, 1978).
Top image retrieved from: https://nsarchive.wordpress.com/2011/03/24/learn-from-history-archive-posts-documents-to-remember-archbishop-oscar-romero/