14 - So, This is Christmas! Dec 23, 2018

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Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40

Matthew 1:1-25

“The genesis of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham:” such a boring way for St Matthew to open his Gospel! Or, is it? No, it is not! Judge not by the ordinary appearance of St Matthew’s genealogy but by the Righteous One whose mystery it veils.

David was the King of Israel with whom God established an eternal covenant. Abraham is the father of Israel; but, he and his wife, Sarai, were old and barren, past the age of child-bearing, and so, as St Paul says, they were as good as dead (Heb 11:17). This, then, is the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the King of Israel, who reigns from the tomb.

But, who is this Jesus? He is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25), in whom is the Light of men (Jn 1:4). He is the beginning (arche) (Col 1:18) in whom all beginnings (archai) are created (Col 1:16). This, then, is the genealogy of the Resurrection and the Life that reigns in light from the darkness of the tomb, in whom we find each one our true beginning, our true name, our true meaning and destiny.

 He is the WORD of Life that was from the Beginning says John (I Jn 1:1-4). That Beginning is the Father (Heb 1:2) outside of and before all time (Col 1:15-18). But, St Matthew’s genealogy proclaims Him to be also from Abraham and King David. They are His “beginning” in time! See how the pre-eternal God, the WORD of Life and Resurrection knits Himself into the fabric of our earthly existence. In Jesus Christ, the divine energy of uncreated Light and eternal Life is working in our birth and death. In this, He is not an idea one believes or disbelieves. He is the primal energy Who has woven Himself into the fabric of our earthly existence. St Matthew’s genealogy reveals the concrete epiphany of the prophetic promise: “Thou, O LORD, has been our refuge from generation to generation!” “Thy mercy, O LORD, endures forever!” To believe in this “Jesus the Christ” is to live in the energy of His death as the principle of one’s earthly life.

How does one attain to this divine life of Jesus Christ hidden from the eyes of the world, as His birth of the Virgin in the cave signifies?

I see the answer given with sublime beauty in the movement of St Matthew’s genealogy. Beginning in Abraham, it begins in the tomb; for, Abraham and Sarai were barren, past the age of child-bearing. They were “as good as dead” (Heb 11:12)! The genealogy moves through the generations of Israel to the Virgin as though the genealogy of Jesus Christ is itself an Exodus in time from the barrenness of Abraham and Sarai to the Virgin giving birth to God in the flesh.

But, note that Mary is outside of St Matthew’s genealogy. We come to Joseph, but he does not sire anyone. It says, rather, that he was the husband of Mary, and that it was of Mary that Jesus the Christ was born. But, where does Mary come from? Who is she? In St Matthew’s genealogy, she appears as though from out of nowhere! One thinks of what Zacharias said when the Panagia came to the temple at the age of 3: “Strange is the manner of your birth, strange the manner of your growing, strange and marvelous, beyond all expectation is everything about you, O holy maiden!” (Festal Menaion, 182) But, is this not true of mankind? “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” says the Psalmist. “The heart of man is deep, beyond all things, and it is the man!” (Jer 17:9 LXX) “Adam, the son of God” (Lk 3:38); God made man in His own image and likeness (Gn 1:26-27). Man originates in God somehow! You can’t explain man until you have explained God! Or, what of the hymn of St John of Damascus in the funeral service: “What is this mystery concerning us? How are we wedded unto death?” God made man an image of His own eternity! (Wisd Sol 2:23). The Virgin, that is to say, sets before us the mystery of our own heart! Her mystery is the mystery of man, she is the mystery of each one of you.

Nor does St Matthew give us where she gives birth to Jesus the Christ. I think this is St Matthew’s way of expressing the theological mystery of Jesus’ birth from the Virgin that St Luke and Church iconography express by the Cave. That is, St Matthew’s genealogy—as does St Luke’s in its way—leads, as it were, into the wilderness, outside the city of ordinary human society, into the “mystery beyond nature”, for it leads us to the Virgin who brings forth God in the flesh. It leads us out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, which is Jesus Christ Himself, Israel’s Inheritance.

She appears from out of nowhere just as does the mysterious figure, Melchizedek, who appeared, moreover, to Abram outside the city. And the birth of Christ is outside the city; in the stable according to St Luke, the Cave according to Christian iconography, in a mystical nowhere and thereby mystically everywhere in St Matthew; that is, it is not an ordinary birth. He is born of the Virgin (Isa 7:14). It is a virginal birth, it is the prophetic birth. In this, both the Virgin and her Son are presented as being like Melchizedek: without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.

In this, St Matthew’s genealogy leads secretly, mystically out of Egypt and into the Temple—not the temple made by the hands of Moses and Solomon, but the Living Temple made without hands (Heb 9:11), namely, the Temple of the Holy Virgin herself. His genealogy leads us to the greater and more perfect Temple not made with hands, the Temple of the good things that were to come, because that Temple is the Living Temple of the Holy Virgin who conceived God in the flesh not by the seed of man but by the Holy Spirit and became the Mother, the true Temple of God! In the way he places her in his genealogy, I believe, St Matthew is telling us that she is the Temple of this Priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, the Temple that is not of this creation (Heb 9:11). That means her Son is that Priest after the order of Melchizedek. And, that means that the old Levitical priesthood has come to an end, that it is now taken up into the New Covenant of the New Priest of the New Temple, which is God Immanuel, God with us, Christ in our midst!

She, then, is the mystery of the Heavenly Temple that Isaiah saw in his vision (chptr 7), and that Ezekiel saw in his (chptrs 42ff.). She is the Heavenly City, the Holy Mountain, even the Garden of Eden; but, if that is so, it means her Son is the Tree of Life, and that Eden “has been opened again!

 St Matthew’s genealogy, then, leads us to the mystery of the Temple of God, where earth opens onto heaven, time opens onto eternity, man opens onto God—in the mystery of the Virgin in the cave, outside the city, in the wilderness, in the human heart that is deep, beyond all things, and that is the man (Jer 17:9). He has led us to that “place” of our true name, to the Image of God in whom we came to be, in the mystery of His Holy Temple, the mystery of His Holy Virgin Mother in the cave!

This is the wonder, the joy, the glory of Christmas! Eden is opened again! We have found joy in secret in the Cave; for, we have found God Immanuel, God, the thread on the Virgin’s spindle woven into the fabric of the mystery of our birth and death. God has become our own kin (Heb 2:14). Why? That weaving Himself into the fabric of our birth and death, He might destroy the Pharaoh who held us in the power of death (Heb 2:14) and bring us out of Egypt and into the wilderness—to the Cave of Bethlehem, to the Cross, to the Tree of Life, Himself, on Golgotha, and into the Empty Tomb and out onto the other side in the Promised Land of our Inheritance, His Kingdom of Life in whom is the Light of men, the Light that shines in the darkness of the Cave, in the darkness of the tomb, in the darkness of the human heart illuming us and revealing to us our true name in Him who is the very Name of God.

How, then, do we attain to this divine life hidden in the deep of our heart in the terrible Beauty of Christmas; how do we go in Spirit to the Cave of Bethlehem? How do I make this beautiful vision the principle of my everyday life?

The wilderness outside the city is the image of my barren soul, but also of the purity of heart to which we attain when we put to death what is earthly in us. It is then that we come upon the mystery of the Virgin birth when the LORD, in the power of His Cross outside the city restores us to our original beauty, or our original virginity. I make my way, spiritually, into the wilderness, I come to the Cave outside the city by “denying myself, taking up my cross in the ascetic disciplines of prayer and fasting, and following Christ outside the City to His Cross, to unite myself to Him in the likeness of His death, to lose my life in Him—not outside of Him!—that I may find it in Him, in His Empty Tomb, the font of my resurrection in Him. This is how we come out of Egypt, how we come out from the slavery of our passions in the power of Christ’s Holy Cross working in us to bring us into the Cave of Bethlehem and to Golgotha, into the bridal chamber of our heart, which He purifies; and we ourselves become, in the mystery of the Holy Virgin, temples of Christ, even mothers of God, bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit in this joy of repentance, this inner Exodus of the Gospel.

In this biblical vision of the Church, then, and in the joy of the beauty and glory of the Feast, in the love of the pre-eternal God born of the Virgin as a little Child, let me say to all of you: MERRY CHRISTMAS! This, dear faithful, this is Christmas! Amen!