|18 - Circumcision of Christ, Jan 1, 2017 (with audio)|
For audio, click here
January 1, 2017
Luke 2:20-21, 40-52
The Psalmist says: “[The LORD] spoke and it came to be. He commanded, and [creation] stood forth” (Ps 33:9). Creation comes into being out of obedience to the WORD of God. The principle of creation is not some physical process that can be expressed in mathematical formulas; it is the theological mystery of obedience to the WORD of the LORD revealed now in Christ to His saints (cf. Col 1:26 & Phil 2:6).
Moreover, it says: “The LORD saw everything He had made and, behold! It was very good!” (Gn 1:31) Coming to be in obedience to the divine command, creation is “good”: vibrant, beautiful and filled with gladness. This is spelled out in Wisdom: “God did not make death; neither does He take pleasure in the destruction of the living. For, He created all things to be [i.e., not to pass away] and the generations of the world He created to be free and healthy [soterioi], and righteous – and righteousness,” says Wisdom, “is immortal.” (Wisd Sol 1:13-15).
In this theological vision of the bible, that we see everything subject to death and corruption (as well as the apparent phenomenon of evolution) is the visible sign that: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Rom 3:23) and that, “Men called death to themselves by their impious deeds and words;” i.e., by their disobedience. “Considering it their friend, they made a covenant with it and began to melt away” [like iron smelting in the fire, teko] (Wisd Sol 1:16). N.B. Disobedience is the seed of death, and death is the essence of disobedience. The question, then, isn’t: why is there suffering in the world; but, how does the world continue to exist at all in man’s disobedience? The first can lead to bitterness and despair. The second leads to humble gratitude for God’s incomparable mercy.
Obedience attains a higher, even divine character in the creation of man. Created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, man is created as persons, as male and female. In their conjugal love, husband and wife are icons of the personal love of God bringing into existence and life children as persons who before were not but who come into being in the personal love of Mom and Dad. Sex outside the faithful, loving commitment of marriage, then, is not in the image and likeness of God. Lust, adultery, fornication and homosexuality are but different symptoms of the trauma of man’s disobedience, of the idolatry of his self-will which in his self-love defiantly denies the image of God that is the divine principle of his nature.
The capacity to love and to be loved in faithfulness and in the love of God is the central principle of human nature. The family, then, is the incarnation of the divine image in man. That image comes alive when the family is centered on the theological principle of creation, obedience to the WORD of God. This bears witness to the deep kinship man has with God, which is “shown forth” in the Theophany of the Incarnation. The Son of God by nature becomes the Son of Man by nature when He is born of the New Eve, the Virgin Mary, whom the Church calls at her birth, the “Daughter of God”, she who is the daughter of Adam, the “son of God” (Lk 3:38). This “shows forth” even more deeply that the essence of the Christian Faith and the meaning of human existence is the tender love of the Virgin Mother for her Son and of her Son for His Holy Mother – and behind this, the love of the Father for the Mother of His Son, in which love the Son was conceived in her womb.
I’m meaning to show that in the creation of man, obedience shows a higher, divine character because in man, obedience is a freely chosen act of the will by which man makes his love for God “incarnate”. Through obedience to the command of God man, the beloved of God, becomes man, the lover of God; and thus, in man’s obedience to God, creation is raised up to exist, to move and to have its being in the goodness of God. It becomes what it truly is, and man becomes what he truly is: a child of God (Jn 1:12), perfectly one with God (Jn 17:23) in “faith, hope and love”, a “partaker of the divine nature” (II Pt 1:4).
This theological vision illumines our minds and now we understand why a commandment was given to Adam: “You shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Following, St Gregory of Nyssa (On the Creation of Man), quite apart from whatever the tree of good and evil represents, the commandment is given so that man has a command he can obey to express his love. The command is the opportunity given for man to become “perfectly one” with God if he would but “deny himself” for the sake of God and follow God, i.e., if he would but love God through active obedience freely chosen and so become what he really is, a child of God created in the image and likeness of God, becoming in the goodness of his creation a partaker, a communicant of the goodnessof God Himself.
In this theological vision, what stands out to me in the biblical witness to the mystery of the incarnate God as a babe and as a child growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, is His obedience both to God His Father – “How could you not know,” He says to His Beloved Mother – “that I would be doing my Father’s business?” – and also to His parents, His Holy Mother and to Joseph the Righteous. “He was obedient to them,” it says; and, even though they did not understand His words, He did not roll His eyes at them in the arrogant scorn of the narcissistic teenager (that I was!) – “and He went down with them and came with them to Nazareth” (Lk 2:50-51). Do you see? It was in His obedience to God and to the Law, not only of circumcision but of honoring His parents, that He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man” (Lk 2:52). Ah, but much deeper than that; it was His obedience to God, even to the point of death on the Cross, by which He destroyed death, that He crushed its gates of iron and broke its iron bars and delivered us from our bondage to the devil (cf. Ps 107:13-16)!
Note how everything that happens to the LORD as a babe and as a young boy growing up is in fulfillment of the prophetic word. I see a profound theology of history in this. The shape and movement of true history is of the incarnate God. Everything else is illusory, transient, not real, passing away as soon as it comes to be, except for its consequences, permeated with the “poison of death” (Wisd Sol 1:15) on our soul and body. But, the history of the incarnate God, “happens” according to the WORD that “happened” to the prophet, and nothing passes away (cf. Isa 55:11, “My Word that comes forth from my mouth shall not return to me empty”). In the liturgical life of the Church, the history of the incarnate God is present to us Today! And, the History of Christ is happening always Today in the soul that is denying herself and taking up her cross for the sake of Christ, i.e., in obedience to Christ, i.e., in love for Christ.
The Today of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship is in the True History of the Body of Christ (Eph 5:23). It is centered in the tomb, i.e., in the heart, and its End is to become perfectly one with God in the Resurrection and Glorification of Christ. Centered in the tomb means that the true movement of the Church’s Today is the circumcision of the heart (Rom 2:29), i.e., the creation in us of a clean heart and the breathing into us of a new and right Spirit, the Holy Spirit, Pentecost! – in fulfillment of the prophetic word (Ps 51:10, Eze 36:26) so that we become children of God (Psa 82:6), holy as God is holy; we become perfectly one with God who has become perfectly one with us in His death on the Cross, and so the creation is finished – it becomes healthy and free, ever-existing in its original goodness – in the deification of man.
When we were clothed with Christ, our biographical history was united to the True History of Christ. We follow the teaching and disciplines of the Church, Christ’s Body, as the concrete way to practice obedience to God. This is how it happens that our minds are illumined with divine knowledge; this is how it happens that our inner man is healed; for through obedience, it happens that we become perfectly one with God in the love of Christ. Understanding, now, that this is our purpose as Christians, let us resolve to deny ourselves and to take up our Cross in the spirit of repentance, and follow Christ to His Holy Pascha. Amen!