Sola Scriptura or the Incarnation of the Word of God?

nativity72 Notes from Christmas Sermon 2008   Luke 2:1-20   and  Matthew 1:18-2:23

One of the truths about the entire Christmas story is that it is all about God’s intervention into human history.  God speaks to Mary and Joseph through dreams and angels, to the shepherds through angels, and to the non-Jewish magi through the movement of the stars in the cosmos.  God intervenes into human history and uses supernatural and natural events to convey His message.

For us as Christians today, we also have ways in which God can speak to us – certainly through His Scriptures, His written word, but also in and through His people, the Church, through His saints, through the Liturgy, and also through angels, the Holy Spirit, through dumb beasts, the stars in the heavens, through poets and scientists.   God can use not only His written word, but people, events, symbols, poetry, prophecy, dreams, and animals to convey His message to us.   Our task is to be able to discern these messages, and to know the difference between hearing God speaking to us and listening to our selves, or between God speaking to us and the evil one tempting us.

annunciation1The teenager and Virgin Mary is pure and holy and yet finds herself pregnant.  She certainly knows the Torah and the righteous demands of how a woman impregnated by someone other than her husband is to be punished.  The Torah, the Scriptures,  are very clear.   And if all she has to rely on are the Scriptures, she is in trouble.  And yet she has heard the word of the Angel Gabriel, and accepts the pregnancy because she has been faithful to both God and to her betrothed.  The Scripture alone would not have been enough to guide her.

nativity4aJoseph the Betrothed is a righteous man.  He has studied Torah and knows the Law of righteousness.  He contemplates what to do with this pregnant teenager to whom he is betrothed.  And he is a just man and righteous, but also kind and merciful.  He knows what the Torah, the written word of God says about the likes of Mary.  But he is also moved by the mercy taught so clearly in the Torah.  He decides to quietly divorce Mary and not make a big deal or demand justice or public penance or punishment.  His mercy exceeds what Torah expects of him.  And yet, even in this God has some other word to him –  don’t follow Torah, take the pregnant teenager as your wife.  Don’t be afraid, for all of this is the will of God.  And Joseph the old man wizened by years of listening to and obeying Torah is open to the promptings of God and keeps Mary as his wife while contemplating what it could all mean to set aside Torah in order to obey God.

The shepherds hear of the birth of the Messiah from the angelic host, not in the temple, not from rabbis, but out in the field at night as they are keeping watch over dumb sheep – not while they are reading scripture.  They hear God’s message through the angels and then go to see what they have heard about.  Their faith guides them to seek out what new thing God may be doing.

nativity41The magi too apparently know of the scriptural prophecies of a Messiah King to be born, but it is not scripture but the stars which lead them to Bethlehem.  They too are open to the promptings of the Spirit and discern not only the stars but their own dreams to obey God.

We too are invited each Christmas to consider God’s revelation to the world and intervention in the world.   How does God speak to each of us at Christmas?  Through all of these people who were open to God’s promptings – magi, shepherds, teenage girl, old man.  God continues to speak to all of us through His scriptures, but also through the saints, in the Liturgy, and through nature itself.  The Holy Spirit is at work in the Church today and speaks in our hearts about what God is doing in the world right now but also in our hearts.   We like the characters in the Nativity story must be ready to hear God and to follow His people and His plan.

The Spirit of Christmas – The Spirit of Christ

While we can find plenty of references from our culture as to what the “spirit of Christmas” is (gift giving, family, food, friends, shopping, peace, warmth, light, tradition, feelings), I’ve tried to offer through this blog more theological ideas about the meaning of spirit of Christmas.   At nativity71least in its origins Christmas was a Christian Feast focusing on the birth of Jesus the Son of God and Messiah.  And yes there is good evidence that the Christians intentionally placed the Feast of the Nativity of Christ on December 25 to compete with pagan festivals of the Winter Solstice and the Invincible Sun.  Nevertheless, the Feast is a Christian theological feast, even though for the most part our culture and society endeavors to remove the theology to make Christmas into a winter festival acceptable to all.   As Christians, our best way to keep the Spirit in Christmas is to keep it as a Trinitarian Feast – a Feast which upholds the theology of God the Father, and God the Son/Word and God the Holy Spirit.   It was the Holy Spirit which came upon the Virgin Mary and impregnated her with the Word of God Jesus, Who also is the son of God the Father.   It is the Trinitarian truth about Christmas that gives the Holy Day its power and meaning.   Dorotheos of Gaza in the 6th Century wrote:

“Therefore our Lord did come, by being made man for our sakes, so that, as the scripture says, like should be healed by like, soul by soul, flesh by flesh, for he became completely man-without sin.  He took our very substance and took his origin form our race and he became a New Adam, like the Adam he himself had formed.  For he renewed man in his nature, restored the depraved senses and sensibility of human nature to what it had been in the beginning.  Having become man, he lifted fallen man up again.”    (DOROTHEOS OF GAZA: DISCOURSE AND SAYINGS

Constantine Tsirpanlis in his  INTRODUCTION TO EASTERN PATRISTIC THOUGHT AND ORTHODOX THEOLOGY says of the 4th Century St. Athanasius:

“For salvation and deification, therefore, Athanasius demands the Incarnation of God.  And even though he mingles the need of the redemption into his explanation, that need is not the ultimate reason, according to  him, why the Incarnation was necessary; the ultimate reason is the fact that man was a mere creature, and it takes a God-Man to deify man.  Consequently, if man was destined to be deified from the beginning, the Word had in mind, from the beginning, to become man.  Union with God is as impossible without the Incarnation as deification.”