|12 - Entrance of the Theotokos, Nov 21, 2010|
Luke 10:38-42; 11:27-28
Already at the Feast proclaiming the birth of the Theotokos at the beginning of the Church New Year, the Church was announcing to us the Gospel, the Good News, that hides in the mystery of the Theotokos. It is a “secret” that stares us in the face; we look right at it all the time and we never see it because we are blinded in our spiritual ignorance of God.
At her Nativity, the Church cries out such things as these: “The Joy of all the world has shone forth upon us. Because of her exceeding goodness, the Theotokos has become the living temple of God.” She is the “heaven of God”, the “Throne of God”. “She is born and the world becomes new again. She is the Holy Temple, the Receiver of God, the Bridal Chamber of the King.” Why is the world become new again at the birth of the Theotokos?
At the Feast of her Entry into the Temple, the Church sings to the Theotokos: “The temple that is to hold God is led into the temple of the Lord.” “The tabernacle that is to hold God, the sanctuary of the glory of God has chosen to dwell in the temple.”
Do you see, yet, the “secret” of the Gospel, the Good News, hiding in these proclamations of the Church at the Feasts of the Theotokos’ Nativity and of her Entry into the temple?
Here are more clues: “The prophets proclaimed thee (the Theotokos) in ages past, speaking of thee as ark of holiness, golden censer, candlestick, and table; and we sing thy praises as the Tabernacle that held God.” In the Akathist hymns to her, the Theotokos is called the Garden of Paradise, and at this the feast of her entry, is called a blameless sanctuary and the Mother that bore Christ as a holy Tree bringing forth fruit to God. At the Feast of Christmas, we will hear the Church calling out to us: “The middle wall of partition of the ancient enmity is laid low and destroyed by Thy coming in the flesh, O Christ, and the flaming sword now gives way before all who approach. And I partake in faith of the life-giving tree in Eden, becoming once again a husbandman of immortal plants.”
The thrust of all these feasts leading up to Christmas is to the Garden of Eden. “O Bethlehem, receive Christ: for made flesh, He comes to dwell in thee (Bethlehem – House of Bread) opening Eden to me.” At the Feast of the Theotokos’ Nativity, the Church sings out: “Adam is set free. Eve dances for joy.” Why? Because in the birth of the Theotokos, the words of the prophet David are fulfilled: “’I will raise up the holy tabernacle of holy David that has fallen.’ Thee, O Undefiled Theotokos, did his words prefigure; for through thee was the dust of man wholly refashioned into a body for God.”
Do you see the secret hiding in the Gospel, yet, the Good News of the Christian proclamation, the secret staring us in the face? Here it is: at the Nativity of Christ, Christmas, the Church cries out: “O Creator, Thou makest new those born on earth by Thyself becoming clay.” Do you see how all these sacred things in the OT give way in the mystery of Christ to sacred persons? The temple of the OT is incarnate in the Theotokos. She is the living temple, the real temple that the OT temple simply prefigured. The Law of the OT, the Word of God, becomes flesh in the Person of God the Word incarnate to reveal that the Law is not an ethical code or a set of intellectual propositions or religious beliefs. It is a personal reality. The world, space-time, reality are essentially personal.
God created man in His Image. We learn in the revelation of the NT that the Image of God is not a thing, not an abstract, impersonal principle. It is the Person of God the Word. Created through the Word of God, the Person of God the Son, the world in its essential principle is personal. The world’s existence is a mystery of personal communion, personal fellowship, personal love.
Adam and Eve, wanting to become like God on their own terms, disobeyed God’s command and they partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The fruit of the tree – I think it was a fig – was a thing, a part of the creation. It was not God. In giving their desire to that fig, Adam and Eve sold the birthright of their personal likeness to God and instead of ascending the holy mountain of Eden to become like God, personal existing in the personal communion of the Holy Trinity, they descended into impersonal matter and they became thing-like: enslaved to desire for impersonal things. They lusted after the flesh for the sake of the flesh. In Adam and Eve, the whole of creation was separated from God and fell away from the personal light and life of His Holy Spirit and into the darkness of impersonal, material reality. In spiritual darkness, man throughout the millennia has identified different principles of nature: earth, air, fire, water, the ether, the infinite, even love – not as the personal movement of lover and beloved, but as the ceaseless impersonal movement of change by which things are always being united together and then dissolved into their disparate elements. In man’s spiritual ignorance, he has come to believe that if only he could find the right mathematical formula, the right set of numbers, a Grand Unified Theory, he could comprehend and explain himself and the universe.
In the darkness of this ignorance, the light of the Church shines, proclaiming the secret of the world, the mystery hidden from the ages in God: the world is not rooted in an impersonal principle or an abstract mathematical formula. The world, nature, the cosmos is personal because it is rooted in the Person of God the Father through the Person of God the Son by the Person of God the Holy Spirit. Our primary principle is our having been made in the Image of God, the Person of God the Son. In the Image of God, this principle of our being, we exist fundamentally in a personal capacity to receive the personal God and to live in personal communion with Him.
The joy that bursts forth in the Church in her joyous proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News, the Secret that she proclaims to all who have ears to hear is that the personal character of reality has broken through and shattered the cold, iron chains of impersonal, unfeeling matter. In the birth of the Theotokos and in her Entry into the Temple, the temple of the OT is revealed to have been but the foreshadowing of the real temple of God, the person of the Theotokos. The temple of
God is revealed not to be brick and mortar, wood and stones. It is revealed to be the person of the Theotokos. The ark, the censer, the candlestick, the lampstand – all of these sacred things of the OT are revealed to have been but prefigurements of the real ark, the real censer, the real candlestick, the real lampstand: the person of the Theotokos.
She is the Queen of Heaven. She is the real receiver of God. She is the real tree of life. In the mysteries of the Theotokos and in the mystery of Christ, the Gospel is proclaiming a vision of the world that none of the philosophers ever saw. Even as it stared them in the face, they denied it, they dismissed it. Aristotle, for example, spoke the mind of philosophy when he wrote that the individual is of no interest. You cannot define the individual, since the individual is unique and irreducible and unrepeatable. Therefore, you cannot know the individual, and so he is of no interest to the philosopher or to the scientist except insofar as he gives them clues they can use to concoct a definition of the universal, the general, the abstract idea. The Gospel of the Church reveals to us what we all know intuitively and instinctively: individuals are real, and each one is of eternal value. It is precisely the individual, the one lost sheep, that the Savior came to find. How did He come to find the one lost sheep?
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Creator of the world, the Person of the Son of God, He it is who is the beginning and the end of all things – and not some mathematical formula, not some thing like energy or carbon-14. The newness of the Gospel is that with the birth of the Theotokos, and with the birth of Christ at Christmas, the world becomes personal, because the Person of God the Word becomes flesh. The personal principle of the world comes to dwell among us, to gather us to Himself, to call us out of the darkness of immaterial thingness, slavery to impersonal lusts that are soul-destroying because they take the soul away from the person that we are in the principle of our being and into the dark thing-ness of impersonal matter.
If one had to know geometry to become a philosopher in antiquity, to become a Christian you must come to know who you really are. You must come to know Jesus Christ, the Person of God in whose Image you were made and who in these last days became flesh in the person of the Theotokos. We come to know Jesus as we obey His commandments. That’s how we eat not from the impersonal fig tree of good and evil but from the Tree of Life that is the Person of the Theotokos, who carries the Person of Christ in her womb as a cluster of grapes full of life. As we obey Christ’s commandments, we are raised out of thingness to become more and more personal. Like our mother the Theotokos we become receivers of God, living temples of God that hold God. In this vision, Anna, the mother of the Theotokos, is calling to us this morning as she calls to her daughter on the feast of her Entry into the Temple: “Go into the sanctuary, the place where none may enter: learn its mysteries.” Come into the mystery of the Church; follow her ways, practice her Savior’s commandments and learn the mystery of yourself as a person created in the Image and Likeness of the Person of God the Word. “Prepare yourself to become a pleasing dwelling-place of Jesus.” Fall in love with the Lord Jesus Christ and become a person living and moving and having your being in the love and fellowship of God.” Amen.