Hebrews 11.9-10, 17-23, 32-40

Matthew 1.1-25

We believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was conceived as Son of Man in the womb of the Virgin by the Holy Spirit. Dear ones, what does this Orthodox doctrine of Christmas teach us about ourselves, about our own nature and destiny? For the Virgin is not a Goddess; She is woman; She is fully human just as we are. We magnify Her, we bless Her as the Birth-giver and Mother of God, and we ask ourselves in amazement: Who are we, creatures that we are, that our nature can receive into itself, in the person of the Virgin Mary, the uncreated Fire of God so that God becomes truly Man by nature, even as He is still God by nature, and we are made able to become God by grace even as we are still man by nature, and so we can become all Fire without burning up? We can become theotokoi, Birthgivers and even Mothers of God!

The Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ, it says. Genesis means the source or origin as well as lineage or ancestry. The Book of the genesis of Jesus Christ is all the generations of Israel back to Abraham, which takes us to the birth of Isaac. Going back to Abraham, does St Matthew mean to show that the birth of Jesus is the ‘heavenly pattern’ of which the birth of Isaac was the ‘copy’? (Ex 24.9&40)

For listen: Jesus reveals to Mary and Martha at Lazarus’ tomb that He is the ‘Resurrection and the Life.’ The birth of Isaac is a resurrection, for he was born of Sarah who was past the age of childbearing and was as good as dead. In the joy of Christmas, in the birth of Jesus from the Virgin, the nation of Israel, born from the loins of Isaac, is revealed to exist as a flesh and blood image, a copy, of Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life.

Jesus is the only-begotten God whose ‘genesis’ in the flesh is from within the loins of Abraham. This draws an icon in my mind of God patiently and painstakingly building the Temple of His Body throughout the generations of Israel until it is completed in the blessed Virgin Mary. She is the true and living Temple of God of whom the tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon were but copies, images, and shadows because the only-begotten God didn’t just descend upon Her with His Glory as He did on the tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon. He became flesh of Her and dwelt in Her in the flesh. The Blessed Virgin, then, is shown to be the purpose of Israel’s existence. In Her, we see that the true Temple of God in which He would come to dwell among men is not of wood and stone but of flesh and blood.

That means that She, because She is the Stem of Jesse, the Rod of Aaron from whom God blossomed forth as the Son of Man, is the revelation of the true Israel; and as fully human, She is the revelation of what it is to be truly human. We in our flesh and blood [a fortiori, in our gender], are not our own creation but God’s creation [‘It is He who made us and not we ourselves,’ Ps 100.3], and He has created us to be His own living temple in whom He can dwell, to be filled with His Glory, His Heavenly Spirit, as was the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Solomon.

Jesus Transfigured on Mt Tabor, then, is the revelation not only of His divinity hidden beneath the Robe of His humanity, but also of our humanity burning with the uncreated Fire of God like the burning bush that was not consumed. And it reveals that Man, not as an abstract lump of human nature but Man in concrete, particular persons, male and female – I’m drawing now from St Irenaeus (2nd Century) – is ‘the Glory of God.’ That means that none of us is human, none of us is who or what we really are, if we are not in body and soul living temples of God, if Christ is not dwelling in us and we in Christ, if Jesus Christ is not our life and our glory.

But St Matthew also is revealing to us Jesus’ ‘genesis’ in the Father when he records the word of the angel to Joseph: ‘That which is conceived in Mary, your wife, is of the Holy Spirit. And you will call His Name, Jesus.’ It was the father in Jewish tradition who named his sons; and here it is God the Father who is naming His Son, Jesus, conceived in the womb of the Virgin.

Even the Name of Jesus reveals His divine genesis in the Father. ‘Jesus’ means ‘the LORD saves.’ Jesus, LORD, Savior: He is named, that is, after God His Father. And St Matthew is teaching us that this Jesus is the God who visited the prophets and spoke to them in visions, and told them He would come to dwell with His people, when he says: ‘All of this happened to fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah: Behold, a Virgin shall conceive and bring forth a child, and His Name will be called Emmanuel, God With us!’ A virgin shall conceive, says the prophecy. Why a virgin?

According to St Luke, the Angel says to the shepherds: ‘I bring to you a Gospel of great joy!’ (Lk 2.10) Why is the Gospel of Christmas of such great joy? Precisely because this Child is born of a Virgin! Why is Christ’s Virgin birth itself a Gospel of great joy? Because the Savior’s Virgin birth means that our human nature is made new; it has been re-created. No man is born without a father and a mother. But in Jesus Christ, man now is born of a human Mother, the Virgin, and of the uncreated God, the Heavenly Father. Jesus’ Mother is virgin because the Father of Her Son is not a man but God. The Virginal conception and birth of Jesus Christ, then, is the genesis of human nature’s deification, of man becoming God by grace in his union with the God who became man by nature. God does not cease to be God when He becomes man; and we do not cease to be man when we become ‘partakers of the divine nature,’ when we ‘become God’ as the fathers are so bold to say. For when we are raised from the baptismal Font as ‘children of God,’ we are restored to our original beauty and nobility in the image and likeness of God, which is Jesus Christ, the Son of God born of the Virgin as the Son of Man.

‘You will call His Name, Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins,’ the angel says to Joseph. And Jesus tells Mary and Martha that He is ‘the Resurrection and the Life’ in front of the tomb of Lazarus who had died four days earlier. The scene is showing us the spiritual substance of our sins; it is our death; and the ‘real’ death is to be cut off from God as Lazarus was cut off from Jesus by the stone that sealed his tomb. In death, we are stripped of the divine beauty and nobility inherent to our nature. I believe we experience the spiritual death of sin even now in the anguish and despondency that settle over our soul from the miseries we suffer in this life.

If Jesus will save His people from their sins,’ it means that He will save His people from death, from being cut off from God. As Isaac was raised from the ‘dead’ womb of Sarah, so God’s people – those who are Jews inwardly, who are circumcised in the heart, i.e., who live in the faith of Abraham – will be raised from their graves by this Jesus Christ, the God-Man who is truly God, truly Man, the Son of Man whose genesis is in God the Father before all ages in His divinity, the Son of God whose genesis is in His human Mother in His humanity.

Coming to the Cave of Christmas, the birth of God in the flesh, then, we are also coming to the Tomb of His Pascha, the death of God in the flesh. But Christmas is the birth of that joy the world cannot take away, for it is the coming of the True Light into the world the darkness of death cannot extinguish, because He is the Son of God born of the Virgin in the flesh, who by His death as the Son of Man, destroys death as the Son of God, and illumines the Temple of our body with the Heavenly Glory of His Holy Spirit.

In the light of this Christmas doctrine, ‘Merry Christmas,’ as nice as it is, simply doesn’t capture the full beauty and joy of Christmas. It feels so flat, it sounds so worldly, so unenlightened. And so, in the Church, we greet each other in the joy of the Feast: ‘Christ is born! Glorify Him!’ because in the flesh, Christ is risen! And because of the LORD’s Holy Pascha, divine hope, heavenly joy, and eternal life, God Himself is born in us! Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory to God forever! Amen.