|15. BOOK OF THE GENESIS OF JESUS CHRIST, Dec 20, 2020|
This Sermon was recorded live. It can be viewed on our St Herman's YouTube channel and public Facebook page.
Hebrews 11.9-10, 17-23, 32-40
In today’s Scripture readings we step into a vast garden stretching as far as the eye can see with beautiful, aromatic flowers. We’ll focus this morning on only one of those flowers, the opening of St Matthew. He begins: “The Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham.” Is this the whole book of St Matthew? Is it just the first chapter of Matthew? Is this Book like the “Book of the Law”? The Book of the Law, also called, so it appears, the Book of the Covenant, contained the Covenant (Ex 24.7, Dt 29.21 e.g.) the LORD gave to Moses on Mt Sinai. Here is where it begins to get interesting. For, was not the LORD who appeared to Moses the same Jesus Christ whose genesis or birth St Matthew now sets before us in this Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ?
The LORD who revealed His Name to Moses was, “He Who Is” (Ex 3.14). But, St John tells us that this Jesus whose birth St Matthew is setting before us is “He Who Is in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18). The Book of the Law contained the Law that was given by the LORD, “He Who Is”. St Matthew’s “Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ” contains the life, from His birth to His death, of this very LORD, Jesus Christ, “He Who Is” Himself the One who gave the Law to Moses, He Who Is Himself the very substance and perfection (telos) of the Law (Rm 10.4). How can He Who Is the Source, the Giver of the Law Himself be born of a woman under the Law? (Gal 4.4)
Moreover, this Jesus Christ tells Mary & Martha at the tomb of Lazarus that He is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11.25). This Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ is therefore but another name for the Book of Life, which we do not hear tell of, by the way, until we come into the pages of the New Testament (cf. Rev 13.8, e.g.). As the Book of Life, this “Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ,” would actually be the primordial Book of God, the Book that was ‘from the beginning,’ from before the foundation of the world, the Book not written by human hands (cf. Heb 9.11) long before the Book of the Law was written by the finger of God. This Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ would be the Book of the mystery of God hidden from the ages (cf. Col 1.26), the eternal Book of God of which the Book of the Law is but a chapter, or should we say, the copy! (cf. Ex 25.9&40)
But, this Book of Life is the Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ, that is, the Book of the Birth of He Who Is. How on earth can He Who Is be born? And, if this Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ is, in fact, the whole book of St Matthew’s Gospel, well, how can the whole Gospel of St Matthew be about the genesis of He Who Is when only the first chapter is about His birth?
This Book of the Birth of Jesus Christ, of course, takes us to the Holy Pascha of He Who Is, His death and resurrection; and, in His holy resurrection, does not Jesus Christ become the “First-born of the dead”? (Col 1.18, Rev 1.5) The Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ is therefore the Book of Jesus’ Birth from His Most Beloved Virgin Mother and of His Resurrection from the dead!
The end of St Matthew’s “Book of the Birth of Jesus Christ” has us at the top of the Mountain (we have every reason to believe that St Matthew means here the Edenic Mountain); i.e., at that point where the earth, creation, ends and meets the sky, the uncreated Heaven of God—a geographical symbol of death and resurrection. And there in that place, the LORD Jesus Christ commands His disciples: “Go into all the nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.” (28.19-20) To be baptized into the LORD Jesus Christ is to put on Christ, and so it is to be raised from death to life in Christ with Christ now in you. (Col 1.27) With Christ now in you, your baptism becomes your birth from above in the Holy Spirit of Christ as a new creation; and so, it is to be born, oneself, into the very mystery of the LORD’s Birth from the Virgin and into His death and resurrection and so it is to become one with Him who was born of the Virgin and who is the First-born of the dead!
The Book of the Birth of Jesus Christ, the Book of Christmas shows three births of God the Son: 1) His birth from the Virgin in the flesh, 2) His resurrection as the first-born of the dead, 3) and His being born in us in our baptism when we put on Christ and are raised from death to life, born now of God from above as children of God; and the Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ, the Book of Christmas, becomes the primordial Book of our life!
But what about the other question: how can He Who Is be born? This takes us to the rest of the title of this Book: “The Book of the Birth of Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of Abraham.” In David and Abraham, we step into the pages of this Book of Life, as it were. We enter into the riddle itself and we begin to comprehend its answer even as it transcends our comprehension.
When the LORD Jesus was teaching in the Temple, He said to the scribes there: “How is it that the Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Spirit, ‘The LORD said to My LORD, sit at My Right Hand till I make your enemies your footstool.’ If David calls Him (the Christ), LORD, how is He (the Christ) his Son?” (Mk 12.36) How can the LORD be both the ancestor and the descendant of King David? Where on earth did He come from? Who is He?
Did He come from David’s ancestor, Abraham? What kind of absurd answer is that? For, even as the Son of Abraham, the LORD says of Abraham, “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8.58). And so, not only of David but also of Abraham He is both ancestor and descendant. What foolishness is this? Well, we could say it’s the foolishness of the Cross, but that would only deepen the riddle beyond the breaking point. That is, if our mind received that answer, the earth would quake and the stone would be rolled away and our mind would be emptied of all its own wisdom and we would see what St John saw in the LORD’s now empty Tomb—that is, we would see into the mystery on the other side: the meaning of the Book of the Law and of all the Holy Scriptures. (Jn 20.8)
The epistle to the Hebrews, in fact, speaks to this riddle at length, but only to deepen it even further. Hebrews traces Jesus’ genealogy directly to King David (7.14) only to prove from this that Jesus is before David as King and High Priest according to a Law even older than the Law of the Levitical priesthood (which the LORD instituted on Sinai long before David); for the LORD says to David’s LORD (in the same Psalm Jesus quoted to the scribes in the Temple): “Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek!” (Ps 110.4) From Melchizedek, Abraham—and so also Moses and the Levitical priesthood, for they were all in the loins of Abraham (cf. Heb 7.5)—received a blessing and to him Abraham gave a tithe of the spoils he had gotten from his victory in battle (Gn 14.17-20), showing in this that this Melchizedek was as the LORD to Abraham.
So, Hebrews traces Jesus’ genealogy directly back to David and to Abraham to prove that precisely as their Son, He is their LORD in the likeness of this Melchizedek who was without father and without mother, without genealogy, having no beginning of days or end of life, but made like unto the Son of God (Heb 7.3).
Perhaps this riddle was too deep, too impenetrable even for the early Christians. So, perhaps St Luke was setting out to answer it, without, however, lessening the mystery of it, when in his own genealogy he traces Jesus’ genesis, His origin all the way back to Adam, the “Son of God” (Lk 3.38).
For, the riddle is solved only in the mystery of God that produces it. It is solved only by confessing that this Jesus who is the Son of David and the Son of Abraham is also their LORD because He is the Only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father (Jn 1.18, Ex 3.14), who became flesh of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary (Lk 1.35) and dwelt among us (Jn 1.14). As Hebrews says, this LORD Jesus Himself, the uncreated Son of God, “He Who Is” the very Brilliance of the Father’s Glory, the very Stamp of His Hypostasis, His ‘Person’ (Heb 1.3), drew absolutely near to us (paraplhsiwV) and partook of our flesh and blood. The Son of God by whom the Father created all things, who bears everything by the WORD of His Power (Heb 1.2-3), became flesh of the Virgin—she is the rod of Aaron that blossomed, she is the stem of Jesse that flowered—and in her, He became Son of David, Son of Abraham. “He Who Is” the Son of God in the bosom of the Father, became the Son of Man in the sacred womb of the Most Holy Virgin. For this reason, He is not ashamed to call us His brothers, even His children (Heb 2.12-14).
Do you begin to catch the beauty of Christmas? Christmas is the Book of the Birth of Jesus Christ that opens onto the origin of Jesus that can be traced all the way back to God within the blood of Israel, within our own human nature here in the world on this side of the grave, in the Cave of Bethlehem. In the Cave, in our own flesh, in the birth of Our LORD Jesus Christ from the Holy Virgin, we find ourselves coming to a tomb not as to the end of our life but as to the beginning of a life that is not of this world; for, in the Cave of Bethlehem, in the Birth of the Savior of the Holy Virgin, we come into a Tomb that has been emptied, cleansed of death. The stone has been rolled away! The primordial Book of God hidden from the Ages, the Book of Life, has been opened to reveal its hidden content: the Son of God Himself, the very WORD of God, the only-begotten God, He Who Is in the bosom of the Father, He Who Is the uncreated Brilliance of the Father became flesh and dwelt among us! We come into the Cave of Bethlehem as into the narthex of the LORD’s Tomb, and we come into the LORD’s Tomb as to the Royal Doors that open onto the Sanctuary of the Holy of Holies out into the deep, beyond all things. It is the mystery of our own heart (Jer 17.9 LXX) wherein we come into the mystery of God hidden from the ages. Here, in the tomb of our heart now emptied, cleansed of death, we see, we believe, we know beyond knowing. For we know the LORD not as a religious doctrine; we know Him in our heart as ‘He Who Is’ the Image of God in whom we were made, in whom we find who we are. He is now in the flesh, God With Us! Jesus Christ the LORD in us as in His Holy Temple! Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Glory to Jesus Christ!