Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Genealogy of Christ

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

This long list of names from the first chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel is of course the genealogy of Jesus Christ. It is read in the Church on every Sunday before Christmas to remind us that the eternal Son of God has truly been born as a man and has entered forever into our human race. This is the most significant event to have happened to us since our original creation, and if you think about it, it is even more amazing.

Out of love God created the heavens and the earth. He then took not the highest, most sublime element of that creation but indeed the very lowest element, the dust of the earth, and formed that into a man made in His own image. Already we see the humility of God in this action. For men make images of themselves in bronze or perhaps even gold, but God has placed His holy image in a creature made of dust, of mere clay. He then breathed His own Holy Spirit into that man and animated him, making him a living soul.

As further proof of God’s humility He not only made man in His own image, but according to His likeness. This is not a redundancy; these two descriptions of “image” and “likeness” found in the Genesis account of our creation have been understood by the holy fathers of the Church as referring to two different things. Image in a sense is static; we are made in God’s image and remain that way even if that image should become corrupted and distorted by our sin. Likeness on the other hand is dynamic; it implies growth toward whatever it is that we are made to become like, in this case, God.

This means that man was created with the capacity to continually grow in “God-likeness” and by such growth, to gain an ever-increasing share in the very glory of God. In describing the fall of man, St. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”. In this brief description we can see that the apostle mystically understood the original intention of God for man, namely that man might grow toward the glory of God. The fall represents the interruption of man’s theosis or deification; the loss of his very path of growth toward God-likeness and a share in His glory.

To bring man back to that path, God did the most unexpected and incredible thing. Even the thought of what God did should leave us mere creatures trembling with awe and fear.

For what God did was to become one of us.

The eternal and Almighty Creator of all that exists, the One before Whom the heavenly hosts bow down in worship and continually cry out “Holy, holy, holy,” forever joined Himself to the lowly clay of His own making. In the hymn, “With mystic apprehension,” the Church poetically portrays the archangel Gabriel as stunned by this revelation as he exclaims “Lo, He who in His descent didst bow the heavens is housed unchanged and whole” in the womb of the Virgin Mary. He continues, “As I behold Him in thy womb, taking on the form of a servant, I marvel and cry out to thee: Hail, O Bride without Bridegroom!” In another hymn we hear, “Awed by the beauty of thy virginity and the exceeding radiance of thy purity, Gabriel stood amazed and cried to thee, O Mother of God: What praise may I offer thee that is worthy of thy beauty? By what name shall I call thee?” And listen to this, for this portrays the incredible heavenly wonder so well, as the archangel Gabriel exclaims, “I am lost and bewildered.” What amazing words for the Church to place in the mouth of the great archangel! Fearful and speechless before the marvel he beholds, Gabriel can only reply, “I shall greet thee as I was commanded: Hail, thou that are full of grace.”

How earthshaking is this event! And not the earth only, for heaven itself was deeply shaken at the sight of the glorious and Almighty God lowering Himself all the way down to take on our flesh in the womb of the Virgin. Can you see, my brothers and sisters, why this event is even more amazing, even more astonishing than our very creation in the first place?

Have you ever wondered why the Orthodox Church makes such a big deal out of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ—why we fast for forty days, why we have so many services leading up to it and celebrating it—when so many others seem to only observe it on a single day, or else blow it off entirely and make Christmas a stay-at-home “family day”? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the incarnation of the Son of God is such an awesome event that the archangels and all the hosts of heaven tremble at the sight of it! How much more should we?

Many years ago a Christian friend whom I once looked up to instructed me that Christ didn’t do anything special by being born. “All men are born,” he reasoned. “What Christ did special was to die on the Cross for our salvation”. Just a year after that, this friend fell away from Christ and became a disbeliever. I was disappointed, but not surprised. If one has no comprehension of the glory of the incarnation and no appreciation for the divine condescension shown by the Son of God in accepting our flesh for all eternity, it is a small step indeed from there to complete apostasy.

It is this marvel of Christ’s incarnation that the Church keeps before us continually, even throughout the entire year, lest we fall into the slumber of disbelief. This is why we constantly call Mary the “Theotokos and Mother of the Light” and honor and glorify her in song. We honor Mary, even as the archangel did and as the heavenly hosts still do, so that we might never forget the wonder of the incarnation or the unspeakable humility of God that it reveals, or the great honor that has been bestowed upon our lowly race by the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christ is born. Glorify Him!

Glorify Him, by never forgetting what God has done for you.

Glorify Him, by your willingness to take on the sufferings of others in imitation of Christ and to become a “little Christ,” helping them to find their own salvation.

Glorify Him, by remembering the self-emptying humility of God and take to yourself that same meek and lowly spirit found in Christ. Serve others and do not seek to be served yourself. Be like the Lord, who served you in this way.

Glorify Him finally, by allowing Him to glorify you. We must not resist the Holy Spirit whose work it is to guide us into a pure and faithful life as Orthodox Christians, by which we are destined to gain a share in the glory of God. Glorify Jesus Christ in your life, for He came ultimately to glorify you.

Let us forever praise the divine humility! In our celebration of the Feast of the Nativity of Christ tomorrow, let us glorify the God Who entered our human race and eternally joined Himself to us for our salvation!

+To the glory of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Comments:

At 12/24/2006 5:51 AM , Anonymous Bruce said...

Oh my word Father, this is a wonderful piece of writing. I am going to read this to my family on the eve of Nativity (tonight)!! It is great to have you back.

With much appreciation, Bruce

 
At 12/29/2006 3:40 PM , Anonymous handmaid leah said...

Truly wonderful!
Christ is Born!
Glorify Him!
handmaid leah

 

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