|13 - THE GOSPEL OF CHRISTMAS, Dec 19, 2021|
Hebrews 11.9-10, 17-23, 32-40
Oh, the joy of Christmas! ‘Cast away fear!’ the angel proclaims to the shepherds; ‘for, behold, I proclaim to you a great joy which will be for all people!’ Proclaimed from the heavens by angels and the star, proclaimed on earth by shepherds and wise men, foretold by the LORD’s holy prophets, and proclaimed by the prophets Simeon, Anna, and John the Baptist, all of them filled with the Holy Spirit—the same Spirit that overshadowed the tabernacle of Moses (Ex 40), the temple of Solomon (2 Chron 2.7), and the Living Temple of the most Holy Virgin (Eze 44.4, Lk 1.35) and sowed in Her sacred womb as a living Seed, even as a mustard seed (Lk 13.18-19), the God-Man, the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father, full of Grace and Truth, Who alone makes the Father known, (Jn 1.18, Ex 3.14), He Who Is Himself the very Name of the Father, the Radiance of the Father’s Glory (Heb 1.3), the Wisdom of God, even the Tree of Life Himself, He Who Is Himself the mystery of Eden, the Resurrection and the Life, even the Heavenly Pattern seen by Moses on Mt Sinai (Ex 25.9&40), by Isaiah in the Temple (Isa 6.1), by Ezekiel on the LORD’s Holy Mountain (Eze 40.1 & 42-43), indeed, seen by all the prophets, the Living, heavenly Temple of God of which the Temple and all its ordinances were but copies, the Heavenly, Living Temple of the Holy Virgin filled with the Glory of God, the uncreated Light of God, Jesus Christ Himself, of whom the Law was but the shadow. And this Seed of God sown by the Holy Spirit in the earth of the Virgin’s womb now comes forth as from the East Gate of His Holy Temple, His Holy Mother, the Holy Virgin now become Theotokos, and He is now revealed in the flesh for all to see, hear and touch with their hands in the mystery of Christmas!
How much theology is made manifest at Christmas! Yes! How much? So much that it fills the whole of creation to overflowing. Remember what St John says (Jn 21.25)? If all the signs that Jesus did were written down, the world – i.e., space – could not contain all the books. And what did we hear St Paul say in our epistle this morning? Time, he says, would fail me if I were to speak of Gideon and Barak and Sampson, of David and Samuel and all the rest! Do you hear? If all the theology of Christmas could be written down, the world could not contain the books either in the whole of its space or in the whole of its time from its beginning to its end!
But, dear faithful—these OT saints named by St Paul are each one a ‘book’ of theology that, as St Paul tells us this morning, the world could not contain and who would not be contained by the world! They are each one a chapter in the one ‘Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham.’ Ig Jesus Christ is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11.47), is not this one Book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, then, the Book of Resurrection and Life, revealing to us the mystery of how Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Life, was written in the flesh and blood of Israel and therefore, in the flesh and blood of man.
But, dear faithful, if you have died in Christ in the Church’s Font of Holy Baptism (the uterus ecclesiae as it is called in Latin texts, or the womb of the Church, the Bride of Christ), have you not been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit as was the creation at the beginning, as was the tabernacle of Moses, the Temple of Solomon, the Living Temple of the Holy Virgin? And has there not been sown in the womb of your soul the Living Seed of Him Who Is Himself the Resurrection and the Life? And, if you have partaken of the Church’s Marriage Feast, celebrating your nuptial union with God in the Holy Font (St JnChrys), has not your flesh and blood been knit with the Spirit of Christ so that you are now, as His bride, bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh? The Book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, then, includes you as one of its chapters! You have been incorporated into the genealogy of Jesus Christ. The fathers and mothers of Christ are your fathers and mothers. You have been grafted as a seedling into the Vine of Israel, the Body of Jesus Christ the LORD God Pantocrator. If Christmas is the Theophany of God in the flesh, born of the Spirit and the Virgin Theotokos, then Christmas is the epiphany to you—if you have eyes to see—of ‘Christ in you, the Hope of your Glory!’ Christmas is the epiphany of the mystery of God that is now hidden in you, the revelation of the mystery that has now become your flesh and blood so that you must now understand that you have been born from above, born not from the blood or the will of the flesh or from a human father (Jn 1.13) but from God Himself. You are no longer your own. You have been bought with a price—the price of the flesh and blood of God that was broken for you on the Cross, and shed for your cleansing and your healing—and you are now a child of God and of His Virgin Bride, the Theotokos, the Church, so that God is your Father, the Virgin Theotokos is your mother, and all the saints are your brothers and sisters.
The great joy of Christmas that is to all people, proclaimed by the angels in heaven, is the joy of Christ in you, the Son of God sown in your soul and body through the mysteries of His Holy Church. It is the joy of the Gospel, the Glorious News of your having been raised from death to life as a child of God in the Noel, the Birth of God from the Virgin as Her firstborn son in the flesh, even the Birth of God from the New Tomb as the firstborn Son of Man from the dead.
I say we must understand this so that, inspired by this living hope that is not just an idea, not just a ‘message’ but a concrete flesh and blood reality that has been made to become the mystery of our flesh and blood in the mystery of Our LORD Jesus Christ, we may be strengthened and encouraged to hold fast to the faith that has been given to us, that we may join Abraham and Sarah, Samuel and David and all the rest, all of them now our ancestors, all of them now our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters in the LORD Jesus Christ, in the Heavenly City, so that in the substantive reality of this living hope, we will not allow ourselves to be enticed to fall away and settle for the city of this world that passes away!
In the beginning, Adam was fashioned by God from a mound of earth (Gn 2.7). Reading this in the mind of the ancients, one understands that the earth from which God fashioned Adam in His own image and likeness was sacred. It was good, it was living, verdant, beautiful. And Adam was fashioned as Man not from the blood or the will of the flesh, and not from a human father, but He was fashioned by God. Do you see? Man in his origin was made as a Temple of God not made by human hands! Do you see? The Child that was fashioned from the pure blood of the Virgin not by the blood or will of the flesh and not by a human father but by the Spirit of God was truly Man.
And if Man was fashioned by God from a mound of earth, that is, if he was fashioned as a Temple of God, then man is not truly man until the Spirit of God overshadows him and fills him with His Glory, and the Son of God, the LORD and true Bridegroom of the human soul, takes up His dwelling in the flesh and blood of man as in His Holy Temple! And so if the Child conceived in the womb of God’s Living Temple, the Holy Virgin, is the WORD of God incarnate, God in the flesh, Emanuel, God With Us, can you see that through the Virgin’s Child, the God-Man, we may now become truly Man?
St Paul writes: ‘For we know that even though the tabernacle of our earthly house is destroyed (our earthly body), we have a home from God, an eternal house in the heavens not made by hands.’ (2 Cor 5.1) What is that house not made by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens? It is the Body of Christ to which we were united in our Holy Baptism and of whose flesh and blood we have partaken as our food and drink in the Church’s Holy Eucharist. It is the mystery of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory!’ It is the joy of Christmas sealed by the Holy Spirit in the glory of the LORD’s Holy Pascha!
This is the house, the Temple of God, that we can see God building in the flesh and blood of all the forefathers of Christ until it reaches its completion in the mystery of the Holy Virgin Theotokos. This is why the genealogy of Christ is so profoundly theological! To study the theology hidden in the genealogy of Christ is like mining for precious, imperishable gold in ‘them thar hills!’
But the joy of Christmas, the Gospel of Christmas, proclaims that you who have united yourselves to Christ in the mystery of Holy Baptism, because you have been united to Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection, you are now incorporated into the genealogy of Christ. Should we note how the earthly genealogy of Christ ends—and begins—with Christ? Christ’s earthly life ended in the Tomb. But His genealogy does not end, for in the Tomb, in the mystery of the Church’s Holy Font, the LORD Jesus Christ becomes the beginning of a new genealogy in the Holy Spirit that continues in you! All those who do His will, who love Him as He loved us, become His father and mother, His brother and sister! They become children of God, born of the Holy Spirit in the mystery, in the joy of Christmas and the LORD’s Holy Pascha!
Might this year be the Christmas, then, that we wake up to the truth of ourselves proclaimed by the angels at Christmas: that we are truly who and what we are only when our life is hidden with Christ in God, only when it is no longer we who live but Christ who is living in us? In this Gospel of Christmas, may the LORD through His Holy Spirit inspire us to lay fast hold to that by which Christ has laid fast hold of us: His precious, life-giving Cross! And may we begin working out our own salvation in fear and trembling, that is, in the mystery of the LORD’s Pascha, in the living hope that through all the sufferings, trials and afflictions of this present life, we are being fashioned by God into smooth stones for His Holy Temple not made by hands. Amen!