Friday, January 11, 2019

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Jesus' Baptism

Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”… When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:15-22)

And after this, he again brings forward a second proof, saying, “I indeed baptize you in water: but He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire.” And this too is of great importance for the proof and demonstration that Jesus is God and Lord. For it is the sole and peculiar property of the Substance That transcends all, to be able to bestow on men the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and make those who draw near unto It partakers of the divine nature. But this exists in Christ, not as a thing received, nor by communication from another, but as His own, and as belonging to His substance: for “He baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” The Word therefore That became man is, as it appears, God, and the fruit of the Father's substance. But to this, it may be, those will object who divide the one Christ into two sons,—those I mean who, as Scripture says, are “animal, and dividers, and not having the Spirit,”—that He Who baptizes in the Holy Spirit is the Word of God, and not He Who is of the seed of David. What answer shall we make, then, to this? Yes! we too affirm, without fear of contradiction, that the Word being God as of His own fullness bestows the Holy Spirit on such as are worthy: but this He still wrought, even when He was made man, as being the One Son with the flesh united to Him in an ineffable and incomprehensible manner. For so the blessed Baptist, after first saying, “I am not worthy to stoop down and loose the thong of His shoes,” immediately added, “He shall baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire;” plainly while having feet for shoes. For no one whose mind was awake would say, that the Word, while still incorporeal, and not as yet made like unto us, had feet and shoes, but only when He had become a man. Inasmuch, however, as He did not then cease to be God, He wrought even so works worthy of the Godhead, by giving the Spirit unto them that believe in Him. For He, in one and the same person, was at the same time both God and also man.

“But how then,” they object, “was He baptized, and received also the Spirit?” To which we reply, that He had no need of holy baptism, being wholly pure and spotless, and holy of the holy. Nor had He need of the Holy Spirit: for the Spirit That proceeds from God the Father is of Him, and equal to Him in substance. We must now therefore at length hear what is the explanation of the economy. God in his love to man provided for us a way of salvation and of life. For believing in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and making this confession before many witnesses, we wash away all the filth of sin, and are enriched by the communication of the Holy Spirit, and made partakers of the divine nature, and gain the grace of adoption. It was necessary therefore that the Word of the Father, when He humbled Himself unto emptiness, and deigned to assume our likeness, should become for our sakes the pattern and way of every good work. For it follows, that He Who in every thing is first, must in this also set the example. In order therefore that we may learn both the power itself of holy baptism, and how much we gain by approaching so great a grace, He commences the work Himself; and, having been baptized, prays that you, my beloved, may learn that never-ceasing prayer is a thing most fitting for those who have once been counted worthy of holy baptism.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Luke 10, 11

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Invisible Aspects of Worship

What do we consider when coming together with other believers for Sunday worship? No, I do not mean what we see, hear, smell, taste, or feel. Those are common to all in attendance—unless distracted. My question is more of what we consider that cannot be grasped with our five senses but are nonetheless very present. In a lecture Dr. John Kleinig gave on Hebrews (see embedded link at bottom), he noted that the writer recognized seven of these in Hebrews 12:22–24 (ESV). I give them below with a few notes from his lecture.
  1. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem – We in the States tend to think of meeting in a structure with a roof and walls, however, we come to God’s dwelling place from which He reigns over heaven and earth.
  2. And to innumerable angels in festal gathering – Angels have the initial focus of leading in worship. Our worship is only imperfect, but they are able to do so perfectly.
  3. And to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven – Christ is the firstborn over all creation (Col 1:15), and every believer has their name registered in heaven. In our locale, we join with all others also worshiping around the world.
  4. And to God, the judge of all – Every Lord's day is judgment day and should be treated as such. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (He 10:31), but we are vindicated in Christ.
  5. And to the spirits of the righteous made perfect – These are the faithful who have fallen asleep in Christ and are now before the throne.
  6. And to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant – This is the summation of the book Hebrews. He is the mediator of that covenant ensured by better things.
  7. And to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel – The blood speaks, “This is the blood of the new covenant for the remission of sins.” It cries for mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
As Dr. Kleinig went through each of these, I noticed what appears to be a chiastic structure.
A. Location of worship (Mount Zion, holy ground) (Rev 4:2; 7:9)
     B. Heavenly host worships (Rev 4:6–11; 5:11–12; 7:11–12)
          C. Church Militant worships (Rev 7:9–10)
               D. Recipient of worship (Rev 14:7; 16:4–7; 19:1–5)
          C'. Church Triumphant worships (Rev 5:8–10; 7:9–10)
     B'. Heavenly Mediator for worship (Rev 7:15–17)
A'. Qualification for access (Rev 7:13–14)
I may have forced the structure on the text, but as I considered what was happening, the parallels to Revelation came to mind, especially those passages in which the worshipers acknowledge the Lord’s righteous judgment.

What is my takeaway thought after looking at these things? We miss a great deal in our worship. By and large, Christians grasp neither the scope of activity in heavenly realms nor the solemnity and reverence due to God. In some measure, we are simply ignorant;, never having been instructed on the wonder and vastness of whose company we keep as we are assembled; in another we are just casual and complacent in our comfortable pews. You see, for the most part are comfortable in our pews.

The solution is to understand the wonder of the majestic unseen company with whom we are privileged to join in the adoration of a holy and just God.

The 11-part series can be found here. Each video is about an hour long and well worth the time investment.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Worship Must Be Spontaneous—Not!

Jonathan Aigner has a well-written post addressing the idea that if worship must be spontaneous to be genuine. Here is a portion:
Worship based on personal expression is me-worship. It is a self-absorbed, self-referential exercise. It is like the immature utterances of a group of small children, each intent on dominating the conversation.

It is an exercise in human futility.

Me-worship values casual, familiar, extemporaneous conversation. True worship values planned, refined, elegant speech, carefully crafted to write God’s message on our hearts. True worship prays truly.
Aigner brings out the historicity of corporate liturgy and offers comparisons demonstrating its effectiveness and rightness.

When considering worship, choose wisely.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Epiphany

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matt 2:9–11)

Shall we see what sort of glorious thing they rejoiced to see in the lad, since they had undertaken the hard work of such a long journey in order to see a king? They did not see a palace resplendent with marble, did they? They did not see His mother crowned with a diadem and lying on a golden bed, did they? They did not see a child clad in gold and purple, did they? They did not see a royal courtyard echoing with all sorts of people, did they? But what did they see?… If, then, they had come to seek an earthly king, they would have been more confused than glad, because they would have undertaken the hard work of such a journey for no reason. But because they were seeking a heavenly king, even though they saw nothing royal in Him, nonetheless they rejoiced, being content with the testimony of the star alone. Their eyes could not notice that the boy appeared contemptible because the spirit in their hearts showed Him to be one to be revered. Moreover, if they had sought Him out as an earthly king, they would have remained with Him once they had found Him, as often happens in this age, as people leave behind their own king and hasten to another. But they worshiped this king and returned to their own, so that they had a heavenly king over their souls but an earthly king over their bodies.

They fulfilled the confession of the Gentiles in Christ, and they indicated that the prophecy of Isaiah had been fulfilled, who says, “All those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall come up with acceptance on my altar.” [Is 60:7] When at once they recognized Him and opened their treasure chests, they showed their offering through the very gifts that were fitting for the Gentiles in Christ. Because they recognize Him to be a king and a pure first-fruits and one precious to the saints, they offered the gold that had been stored away for themselves. Because they understood His divine and heavenly origin, they brought Him the fragrance of incense, a type of the pure prayer offered in the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit. Because they understood His human and temporal death, they gave Him myrrh.

Incomplete Commentary on Matthew, 2

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Lord Sees and Hears

I have written before of how the Lord’s promises to Abram (Genesis 12:1–3; 15:4–6) has far-reaching implications. Not only would Abram be blessed, but so would his offspring and all tribes of the earth. The blessing, though given to one person, was intended to extend to all peoples of the earth. One early reception of this blessing I had completely missed until just recently—the situation of Hagar and Ismael.

Hagar is introduced as Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant (Ge 16:1), presumably an acquisition when Abram and Sarai had gone to Egypt because of a famine and was later forced by Pharaoh to leave (Ge 12:10–20). Nothing much is mentioned of her afterward until Sarai became impatient with God’s promise of a son and hatched a plot of her own to gain the result through her own means: she would have Abram go into Hagar so that the resulting son would be Sarai’s by legal right (Ge 16:2–3). While the plan was an acceptable cultural practice of the day, this was not the Lord’s plan. What He had promised would be delivered in His own terms and timing, not through human machinations. As best laid plans so often do, the result backfired. Hagar indeed became pregnant, but she despised her mistress. A lowly servant was able to accomplish something her mistress could not. Sarai blamed Abram for the newly found discord within the family, so he allowed her to handle the situation however she wished. Taking advantage, she treated Hagar harshly so that the pregnant maid fled. During this trip, she had a remarkable encounter.

Now the Angel of the Lord found her…
The story may be so familiar that we lose sight of the import: the Angel of the Lord, the preincarnate Christ, paid Hagar a visit (Ge 16:7). Take note that this is the first appearance of the Angel found in Scripture. That privilege did not come to Abram or Moses or anyone else of great faith found in Hebrews 11. Rather He saw and visited someone who was no person of position and was completely outside the bloodline of the promise.

Hagar admitted that she was running away, and after her confession, the Angel told her to return to her servitude with a humble heart, but He also offered something unexpected.
Again, the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will surely multiply your seed exceedingly, that it may not be counted because of its multitude.”
The son to be born received the promise of abundant offspring. While the number would not be as overwhelmingly grand as was given to Abram (as sand on the shore and stars in the sky), but he would receive it in similar measure. Hagar recognized that the One before her is the God of Abram and what was being offered and called the name of the Lord “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees-Me” (Ge 16:13). She knew He saw because He responded and dealt with her attitude, circumstances, and future.

But God heard…
The story of God’s involvement with Hagar and Ishmael continued beyond the initial meeting. Years later, after Isaac was born and tensions once again arose, God told Abraham to follow through with Sarah’s plan to send away Hagar and Ishmael (Ge 21:12–13). While the previous fleeing had presumably been in familiar territory, so that Hagar could stop at springs, now they were in a life-threatening situation, so that she separated herself from Ishmael because she could not bear to watch him die. She had given up hope. Evidently, Ishmael had not, because God heard him and responded.
But God heard the voice of the lad from the place where he was. Then the Angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven , and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.” (Ge 21:17)
Rather than a face-to-face meeting, this time the Angel of God called from heaven. At this point someone may object that this cannot be Christ because of the change of reference from of the Lord to of God, however, notice what the Angel promised:
“Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.” (Ge 21:18)
I will make him a great nation. No angel had the power or authority to make, much less ensure, such a promise. This was the same Person who had appeared to Hagar previously. Certain that God had abandoned her, she could not raise her voice to heaven, but Ishmael would, receiving mercy in their dire straits and reassurance for his mother.

Outside the promise, but still blessed
We can only wonder what would have happened had Ishmael clung to the God of his father, yet we know from history the continual conflict between his family and that of Isaac, through whom the promise continued. Even so, Hagar and Ishmael, having no hope of a future, received that very thing within the family of Abraham. They received what they had not right to receive.

Gentiles—those outside the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—are outside the family, yet we can come under the promise by virtue of like faith.
Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification. (Ro 4:16–25)
We who were formerly outside the promise, now stand within it when we believe the God who promised by His Word what is accomplished for us in Christ. We are accounted as Abraham’s offspring and receive the blessing of righteousness.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the First Sunday after Christmas

And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was just and devout, waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, he took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace,
According to Your word;
For my eyes have seen Your salvation
Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples,
A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25–32)
We must seek an explanation worthy of God’s purpose as to why, as is written in the Gospel, “Simeon, a holy man and one pleasing to God, awaiting the consolation of Israel, received an answer from the Holy Spirit that he would not perish in death before he saw the Lord’s Anointed.” What did he gain from seeing Christ? Did he have only this promised to him, that he would see him, and derive no profit from seeing him? Or is some gift worthy of God concealed here, a gift that the blessed Simeon both merited and received? “The woman touched the fringe of Jesus’ garment and was healed.” If she derived such an advantage from the very edge of his garment, what should we think of Simeon, who “received” the infant “into his arms”? He held him in his arms, and kept rejoicing and exulting. He saw that the little child he was carrying had come to release captives and to free Simeon himself from the bonds of the body. Simeon knew that no one could release a man from the prison of the body with hope of life to come, except the one whom he enfolded in his arms.

Hence, he also says to him, “Now you dismiss your servant, Lord, in peace.” For, as long as I did not hold Christ, as long as my arms did not enfold him, I was imprisoned, and unable to escape from my bonds.” But this is true not only of Simeon, but of the whole human race. Anyone who departs from this world, anyone who is released from prison and the house of those in chains, to go forth and reign, should take Jesus in his hands. He should enfold him with his arms, and fully grasp him in his bosom. Then he will be able to go in joy where he longs to go. Consider how great a saving act had taken place earlier, so that Simeon should deserve to hold the Son of God. First he had received an answer from the Holy Spirit, that “he would not see death unless he had first seen the Lord’s Anointed.”

Then he entered the temple—but not by chance, or naively. He “came to the temple in the Spirit of God.” “For, as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” Therefore the Holy Spirit led him into the temple. If you wish to hold Jesus, and to embrace him with your hands, and to be made worthy of leaving prison, you too must struggle with every effort to possess the guiding Spirit and come to God’s temple. See, you stand now in the temple of the Lord Jesus—that is, in his Church. This is the temple “built from living stones.” But you stand in the Lord’s temple when your life and your conduct are worthy of the title “church.”

If you come “to the temple in the Spirit,” you will find the child Jesus. You will lift him up in your arms and say, “Now you dismiss your servant, Lord, in peace, according to your word.” At the same time, notice that “peace” has been added to the dismissal and the sending forth. For he does not say, “I wish to be dismissed,” but to be dismissed with the addition of “in peace.” This same thing was promised to the blessed Abraham: “But you will go to your fathers in peace, after you have been cared for in a good old age.” Who is the one who dies “in peace” if not he who has “the peace of God, which surpasses every perception and guards the heart” of him who possesses it? Who is the one who departs “in peace” from this world if not he who understands that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself”? Who if not he in whom nothing is hostile to God or opposed to him, but who by good works has acquired all peace and harmony in himself? Thus he is dismissed “in peace” to go on to the holy fathers, to whom Abraham also went forth.

Why do I speak about the fathers? He is to go to the very prince and Lord of the patriarchs, to Jesus, of whom it is said, “It is better to be released and to be with Christ.” He who dares to say, “I live, now not I, but Christ lives in me,” he possesses Jesus. Therefore, let us pray that we too might stand in the temple, hold the Son of God, and embrace him, and that we might be worthy of release and of going on to better things. Let us pray to Almighty God, and let us pray to Jesus himself, the little child. We long to speak to him and hold him in our arms, to whom is glory and power for ages of ages. Amen.

Origen, Homilies on the Gospel of Luke 15

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Whom Are You Seeking?

People want direction and meaning in life. As we grow, we generally imitate what is modeled by our families, but sometimes branching into other pathways and assessing alternate philosophies of life. Whichever way we choose, the impetus behind the search is to answer two basic questions: 1) Where am I going in life? and 2) How do I get there? Once a course is set, changes are made along the way as we refine our understanding in the light of new information and circumstances. This is especially true when our lives have been greatly affected in a spiritual way. Two such occasions are recounted in the Gospel of John: two scenarios in which people had been greatly affected by God’s intervention but were faced with unsettling circumstances and decisions. Searching for answers, they met an inquiring Jesus.

John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, had made a following for himself. Living in the countryside, he looked like a fanatic dressed in his camel hair garment, eating only locust and wild honey, yet he struck a cord with his call to repentance. The Jewish elite did not know what to make of him, asking outright if he was Elijah or another prophet: they wanted to know if he was safe. Indeed, he was not. As they approached in what was certainly a feigned act of piety to demonstrate their self-made righteousness, John called them a “brood of vipers.”

Two who had become John’s disciples, Andrew and another unnamed, at some point heard the Baptizer speak of another in a most remarkable way:
Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour). (John 1:35–39)
These two disciples had already recognized their sinful selves before a holy God and were received by John through their confession with baptism; but now John is pointing all to One who, by virtue of the title proclaimed, had a divine mission that transcended John’s ministry. The difficulty was knowing how to engage Jesus, but He began by asking what they were looking for.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus had met and healed many people from various ailments. While many were sent back to their friends and family as a witness, others followed Jesus to assist in whatever might be needed. One of these followers was a woman of little notoriety. All we know of her is her name, hometown, and what Jesus had done for her—Mary Magdalene from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons. Grateful for what had been done, Mary was one of a small group of women who agonized nearby as Jesus was nailed to a cross, died, and buried. Their world had been turned upside-down. To make matters worse, when the women went to the tomb for final burial wrappings, they found it opened with the the body missing. What else could it be but goons sent to desecrate the remains? Then Jesus comes to her.
But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. Then they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:11–15)
Searching and being found
What were they looking for? Did the two disciples or Mary even know? Was it a prophet who would turn hearts to God? Was it a teacher to show them the way more correctly? Was it a healer who would ease the suffering of a world groaning under the effects of the curse? Was it a martyr to serve as a rallying point? Was it a friend who loved without reservation? Somehow I doubt they had any idea. They were not sure what they were looking for. All they understood was the import of the moment: something had to be done, and they were seeking an answer. Wonderfully, the answer was more than they could ask or think. What they sought found them and chose them as His own. They found the teacher, healer, etc. and so much more: they found a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Patristic Wisdom for Christmas Day

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1–5, 14)

The Word perceived that corruption could not be got rid of otherwise than through death; yet He Himself, as the Word, being immortal and the Father's Son, was such as could not die. For this reason, therefore, He assumed a body capable of death, in order that it, through belonging to the Word Who is above all, might become in dying a sufficient exchange for all, and, itself remaining incorruptible through His indwelling, might thereafter put an end to corruption for all others as well, by the grace of the resurrection. It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent. For naturally, since the Word of God was above all, when He offered His own temple and bodily instrument as a substitute for the life of all, He fulfilled in death all that was required. Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.

Athanasius, On the Incarnation 9

Monday, December 24, 2018

Patristic Wisdom for Christmas Eve

The Dream of St. Joseph, Philippe de Champaigne
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus. (Mt 1:18–25)

The Evangelists help us to recognize both the divine and corporeal birth of the Lord, which they describe as a two-fold mystery and a kind of double path. Indeed, both the divine and the bodily birth of the Lord are indescribable, but that from the Father vastly exceeds every means of description and wonder. The bodily birth of Christ was in time; his divine birth was before time. The one in this age, the other before the ages. The one from a virgin mother, the other from God the Father. Angels and men stood as witnesses at the corporeal birth of the Lord, yet at his divine birth there was no witness except the Father and the Son, because nothing existed before the Father and the Son. But because the Word could not be seen as God in the glory of his own divinity, he assumed visible flesh to demonstrate his invisible divinity. He took from us what is ours in order to give generously what is his.

Notice here too the order of a mystery: The devil first spoke to Eve the virgin long ago, and then to a man, that he might administer to them the word of death. In the latter case, a holy angel first spoke to Mary and then to Joseph, that he might reveal to them the word of life. In the former case, a woman was chosen unto sin; in the latter case, she was chosen unto salvation. In the former case, the man fell through the woman; in the latter case, he rose through the virgin. The angel therefore said to Joseph, “Do not be afraid, Joseph, son of David, to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is begotten in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

And he added, “She shall bring forth a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” But this name of Lord which was given to Jesus from the virgin's womb is not new to him but old. For Jesus translated from Hebrew into Latin means “Savior.” This name is agreeable to God because he says through the prophet: “Just God and a Savior; there is none beside me.”* Lastly, when the Lord himself would speak through Isaiah about the bodily origin of his nativity, he says, “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.”† His name is certainly not strange, for Jesus was called according to the flesh (i.e., Savior, who was a Savior according to divinity). For Jesus, as we said, is rendered as “Savior.” This is what he said through the prophet: “From the body of my mother he named my name.”‡ And that he might more fully show us the sacrament of his incarnation, he went on to say, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword ... he made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me away.” By the arrow he signified his divinity; by the quiver he assumed a body from the Virgin in which his divinity was covered with a garment of flesh.

Chromatius, Tractate on Matthew 2.1, 3-4.

* Isaiah 45:21
† Isaiah 49:1
‡ Isaiah 49:2

Friday, December 21, 2018

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to the Fourth Sunday in Advent

And you, O Bethlehem, House of Ephrathah, though you are fewest in number among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to me the One to be ruler of Israel. His goings forth were from the beginning, even from everlasting. Therefore He shall give them up until the appointed time for her to give birth, and then the remnant of their brothers will return to the sons of Israel. And He shall stand and see, and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, and they will dwell in the glory of the name of the Lord their God, for now they will be magnified unto the ends of the earth. And she will have peace. (Micah 5:2-5a)

Ephrem the Syrian

In this night of reconcilement let no man be wroth or gloomy! in this night that stills all, none that threatens or disturbs! This night belongs to the sweet One; bitter or harsh be in it none! In this night that is the meek One’s, high or haughty be in it none! In this day of pardoning let us not exact trespasses! In this day of gladnesses let us not spread sadnesses! In this day so sweet, let us not be harsh! In this day of peaceful rest, let us not be wrathful in it! In this day when God came to sinners, let not the righteous be in his mind uplifted over sinner! In this day in which there came the Lord of all unto the servants, let masters too condescend to their servants lovingly! In this day in which the Rich became poor for our sakes, let the rich man make the poor man share with him at his table. On this day to us came forth the Gift, although we asked it not! Let us therefore bestow alms on them that cry and beg of us. This is the day that opened for us a gate on high to our prayers. Let us open also gates to supplicants that have transgressed, and of us have asked [forgiveness.] Today the Lord of nature was against His nature changed; let it not to us be irksome to turn our evil wills. Fixed in nature is the body; great or less it cannot become: but the will has such dominion, it can grow to any measure. Today Godhead sealed itself upon Manhood, that so with the Godhead’s stamp Manhood might be adorned.

Ephraim the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity I