Encountering Christ: Incarnation and Inscripturation

Robert J. Daly  (in the book edited by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Spirit and Fire) explains the theology of the 3rd Century’s great scripture scholar, Origen, regarding the Word or Logos of God:

“When God reveals himself in history, the eternal Logos takes on the form of earthly, temporal existence. Daly’s summary of the various ‘incarnations’ of the Logos is worth quoting in full:

‘When Origen speaks of the biblical WORD, the WORD incarnate in the scriptures, at least four interconnected levels of meaning are in play. First, this WORD is the pre-existent, eternal, divine Logos, the Logos proclaimed in the prologue of John’s gospel and expounded in extraordinary detail and depth in Origen’s commentary on this prologue.

Second, this same divine Logos is the one who took flesh of the Virgin Mary, lived and worked among us, suffered, died, rose again and ascended to the Father, where he continues to intercede for us and to work until all things have become subjected to the Father who is all in all. Third, this same eternal WORD who took flesh of Mary has also become incarnate in the words of scripture. Fourth, this same divine WORD, born of Mary and also incarnate in the scriptures, also dwells and is at work within us, espoused to our souls, calling us to make progress toward perfection, and to work with him in ascending to and subjecting all things to the Father.’

Daly explains that there are four levels of meaning in connection with the word ‘Logos.’”  (Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church, Kindle Loc 3230-3243)

Ashish Naidu draws attention to this analogy between incarnation and inscripturation in Chrysostom’s thought:

‘As in the incarnation of the Word, so in the Bible the glory of God is veiled in the flesh of the text—human language and thought. It is by the careful reading and study of the Scriptures that one encounters its true Subject: Jesus Christ. The historical incarnation therefore is viewed as a paradigm for the nature of the Scriptures: God’s message is inextricably fused in the human message of the text.  God accommodates himself to the reader in the interpretive encounter, thus providing a divine pedagogy for the reader’s edification and spiritual life.’”   (Hans Boersma, Scripture as Real Presence: Sacramental Exegesis in the Early Church, Kindle Loc 2060-2066)


The Finite and the Infinite Meet in Christ

He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him, provided that you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which has been preached to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.  (Colossians 1:13-23)

Vincent Pizzuto in his excellent book, Contemplating Christ: The Gospels and the Interior Life, comments:

Raimon Panikkar speaks eloquently of this immanence of the divine in Christ, In Jesus Christ the finite and the infinite meet, the human and the divine are joined. In him the material and the spiritual are one, and also the male and the female, high and low, heaven and earth, the historical and the transhistorical, time and eternity. From the historic-religious point of view the figure of Christ could be described as that of a person who reduces to zero the distance between heaven and earth, God and [humanity], transcendent and imminent, without sacrificing either pole.    (Kindle Loc 1050-1056)

St Joseph the Betrothed

“… when Joseph became aware that Mary was with child, and was minded to put her away privily, the angel said to him in sleep: “Fear not to take to thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. For she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.” And exhorting him [to this], he added: “Now all this has been done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken from the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and His name shall be called Emmanuel;

thus influencing him by the words of the prophet, and warding off blame from Mary, pointing out that it was she who was the virgin mentioned by Isaiah beforehand, who should give birth to Emmanuel. Wherefore, when Joseph was convinced beyond all doubt, he both did take Mary, and joyfully yielded obedience in regard to all the rest of the education of Christ, undertaking a journey into Egypt and back again, and then a removal to Nazareth.”   (St. Irenaeus of LyonsAgainst Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. 6273-80)

We commemorate  St Joseph the Betrothed on the Sunday after the Nativity.

Christmas and the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents

On December 29, 4 days after Christmas, we commemorated King Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocent children (age 2 and under) as recorded in Matthew 2:16-18 as part of the Nativity narrative –
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.

While we may love a sentimental and romanticized version of the Christmas story, the Bible places the birth of Christ into the midst of a fallen, violent and sometimes vile world.  God enters the human condition because we need salvation from the mire of sin and death.  Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber reminds us:

But the Epiphany story of  Herod and infanticide reveals a God who has entered our world as it actually exists, and not as the world we often wish it would be. God’s love is too pure to enter into a world that does not exist, even though this is often how we treat Jesus, like we are trying to shelter him from reality. We often behave as though Jesus is only interested in saving and loving a romanticized version of ourselves, or an idealized version of our mess of a world, and so we offer to him a version of our best selves. With our Sunday school shoes on, we sing songs about kings and drummers at his birth, perhaps so we can escape the Herod in ourselves and in the world around us.”   (Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Kindle Location 1096-1101)

Christ wasn’t born in a cavern so that we could have warm fuzzies during the winter solstice.  Christ was born to take upon Himself the sin of the world, and to defeat the final enemy, death.  That is what we celebrate at Christmas.  The Nativity isn’t trying to take our minds off the world, but rather Christmas shows us that God so loved the world to give us His only-begotten son.   Despite the sin and evil present in the world – or more correctly, because of it – God is born in the flesh in Bethlehem.  God enters the human condition – not some idealized angelic condition, but the real world, the fallen world.   Bolz-Weber says the slaughter of the innocents immediately following the narrative of the Nativity inserts reality into the Christmas story and into our lives.

“We may be used to hearing some Christians say ‘let’s keep Christ in Christmas,’ but my friend Joy Carroll Wallis wrote an essay called ‘Keeping Herod in Christmas,’ and I have to say I’m with her, because the world into which Christ was born was certainly not a Norman Rockwell painting. The world has never been that world. God did not enter the world of our nostalgic, silent-night, snow-blanketed, peace-on-earth, suspended reality of  Christmas.

Image result for norman rockwell christmas paintings

God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world. This Christmas story, the story of  Herod, the story of the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents, is as much a part of  Christmas and Epiphany as are shepherds and angels.”  (Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, Kindle Location 1131-1136)


The Paradox of Christmas and Good Friday

“On Great Friday, the paradox is how can God, who is eternal—who has no end—be killed? On Christmas Eve, the paradox is how can God, who is eternal—who has no beginning—be born?”     (Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth, Kindle Loc. 682-83)

Scripture, Humankind, the Mother of God

Christ is born!   Glorify Him!


On December 26, the day after Christmas, we commemorate the Virgin Mother of Christ for the role she played in the incarnation of God and the salvation of us all.  St Gregory Palamas perhaps thinking about the genealogy of Christ writes:

“Observe also that the Holy Spirit makes it clear to such as have understanding that the whole of divinely inspired Scripture was written because of the Virgin Mother of God. It relates in detail the entire line of her ancestry, which begins with Adam, then passes through Seth, Noah and Abraham, as well as David and Zerubbabel, those in between them and their successors, and goes up to the time of the Virgin Mother of God.


By contrast, Scripture does not touch upon some races at all, and in the case of others, it makes a start at tracing their descent, then soon abandons them, leaving them in the depths of oblivion. Above all, it commemorates those of the Mother of God’s forebears who, in their own lives and the deeds wrought by them, prefigured Christ, who was to be born of the Virgin.”   (On the Saints, Kindle Location 298-303)

St Gregory acknowledges that the Scriptures are not the history of all humankind – Scriptures follow those people who lead to the birth of the Messiah and ignore the many other people of the world who were not part of this salvation history.  One will not learn the complete history of the human race by reading the Bible, for it is a book which focuses on our salvation which comes through the incarnation, through the Theotokos and those righteous men and women who were faithful to God for all the centuries leading to the Nativity of Christ.

The Nativity: Humanity United to Divinity

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!


“Do you see that the same person who was born of Mary is also called ‘Son of God‘ by means of the union effected in his mother’s womb? He himself both spoke and taught; he himself both performed divine deeds and suffered human sufferings. Although it was the Word who did the divine deeds, this was nonetheless not God ‘stripped down,’ but was rather God the Word united with humanity, and even if it was a human being who suffered human sufferings, it was nevertheless not humanity divided from Divinity, but was rather humanity united with the Godhead.  I am speaking therefore of the transformation of neither the Word nor the flesh, but rather am confessing their undivided union.


Thus we can conceive of the impassible Word and believe that he is the Son of God who suffered for us, since each nature, in a manner befitting God, remained integral to itself while making the properties of the other its own for us. As a result, Christ, composed of both natures, became mediator between God and humanity [1 Tim 2.5]. May he be conceived of as sole Son of God and believed in at every moment and in every place and through every powerful act and deed, in accordance with Holy Scripture. To Christ be the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”   (St Mark the Monk, Counsels on the Spiritual Life, Kindle Location 5571-5583)

Wishing everyone a blessed and safe Christmas celebration.

“… it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20)

Christmas: Joy to the Fallen World

The Gospel means good news and so too every event of Christ’s life is good news for us.   As the priest says at the end of the Nativity services: “He who was born in a cavern and lay in a manger for us and for our salvation, Christ our true God...”  Christmas, the birth of God in the flesh, is and is supposed to be good news.  It is the world – the fallen world – which is the contrast against which we see the Good News in the Nativity of Christ.  To hear the good news, we do have to recognize the noise of the fallen world which darkens our minds and breaks our hearts, and then listen for the mellifluous sound of the Spirit.   It is when we have experienced the sting of death, then we can best rejoice in the Gospel.  In the bitterness of life and death, we taste the sweetness and goodness of the Lord.   If we aren’t hearing good news at Christmas, we aren’t looking for God and/or we have become so accustomed to the world that we no longer recognize it falls short of the glory of God.  The Nativity of Jesus is pointing to the Kingdom which is to come, not to amassing more things in this lifetime.

Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian writes:

“It is our human vocation to translate or transcribe God’s intelligible, eternal, transcendent liturgy into sensible speech and action. Doing God’s will is not merely morality.  More important, it is joining in song to sing God’s hymn of Creation so that all things may be made perfect. Short of this participation in God’s Trinitarian love song, we cannot hope to comprehend the deep, deep meaning of Creation and our common destiny with it. In a fallen world, however, sin and death preface liturgy: what should be an unhindered path to holy knowledge, harmony, and joy is marred by ignorance, discord, and suffering.  The constant cacophony of a fallen Creation interrupts the melody of faith and drowns it out almost everywhere.

Worship is sacrificial until Christ, the New or Second Adam, renders up his sinless and holy life on the Cross as the final bloody sacrifice. “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (Heb 9:11). In Christ, in his perfected humanity, the church,  the temple of Creation, is rebuilt and the song is renewed.” (The Melody of Faith: Theology in an Orthodox Key, Kindle Loc 191-98)

Christ is born!

Glorify Him!

Indebted at Christmas

Fourth Century hymnographer St Ephrem poetically contrasts the birth of the Messiah King, Jesus, with the activities of the Emperor Caesar Augustus.  Augustus as king orders a census to be made of all citizens so that he can determine what taxes they owe him.  The earthly king is interested in making sure his citizens pay their taxes, or in other words are indebted to him.  Christ the King comes to cancel debts – the debt created by our sins against our Creator.  Sin in this sense is our failing to give God what is due to Him (our thanks, tithes, praise, worship, our hearts), and thus creating a debt.  Christ not only pays that debt but as St Ephrem notes Christ in His own teachings takes on Himself the debt of all the poor to whom we give charity.  What we give to the poor is what He as Lord owes us and He promises to repay us in the Kingdom.  Thus, true Christmas giving is when we give to the needy who cannot repay us (what credit is it to us to give to those who will repay you equally? see Luke 6:32-34).  When we give in charity not only do we give those in need the joy and grace of Christ, but the Lord accepts the charitable gift as a debt He owes back to us.  Indebtedness at Christmas should not be about our credit cards but about what we joyfully give to those in need which makes Christ indebted to us for caring for the least of His sisters and brothers.  Christmas giving, that which is not repaid in mutual gifts or food, should cause us to look for that great last day in which Christ will bless us with all we have given to those in need.

On this feast of the Nativity the openings in the curtains are joyous,

and the Holy One rejoices in the holy Temple,

and a voice thunders in the mouth of babes,

and the Messiah rejoices in His feast as Commander of the host.

On the birth of the Son, the king was enrolling the people in the census,

so that they would be indebted to him.

To us the King came out to cancel our debts,

and He wrote in His name another debt,

so that He would be indebted to us.

(quoted by Gary Anderson in Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis, Kindle Loc 4307-4315)

Ancestors, Ancestral Sin and Christ

The Sunday before the Nativity in Orthodoxy celebrates all of the righteous men and women of the Old Testament who prepared the way for Christ.  They are commemorated in the Gospel lesson of the genealogy of Christ.  The genealogy tells us how we got to the point of Christ’s birth, but the genealogy also reminds us about why we have come to Christ’s birth.  For even before Abraham was, humanity had taken a stance on its relationship to God our Creator.  It is humanity’s broken relationship with God which Christ came to heal and repair.  The ancestors of Christ point to Christ (thus leading us back to God), but also are the link to the ancestral sin which separated humanity from God.  St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes:

The case of Adam, however, had no analogy with this, but was altogether different. For, having been beguiled by another under the pretext of immortality, he is immediately seized with terror, and hides himself; not as if he were able to escape from God; but, in a state of confusion at having transgressed His command, he feels unworthy to appear before and to hold converse with God. Now, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;” the sense of sin leads to repentance, and God bestows His compassion upon those who are penitent. For [Adam] showed his repentance by his conduct, through means of the girdle [which he used], covering himself with fig-leaves, while there were many other leaves, which would have irritated his body in a less degree.

He, however, adopted a dress conformable to his disobedience, being awed by the fear of God; and resisting the erring, the lustful propensity of his flesh (since he had lost his natural disposition and child-like mind, and had come to the knowledge of evil things), he girded a bridle of continence upon himself and his wife, fearing God, and waiting for His coming, and indicating, as it were, some such thing [as follows]: Inasmuch as, he says, I have by disobedience lost that robe of sanctity which I had from the Spirit, I do now also acknowledge that I am deserving of a covering of this nature, which affords no gratification, but which gnaws have retained this clothing for ever, thus humbling himself, if God, who is merciful, had not clothed them with tunics of skins instead of fig-leaves.   (Against Heresies and Fragments, Kindle Loc. Loc. 5005-15)

Adam covered himself with fig leaves because he felt ashamed in his nakedness before his Creator.  Irenaeus interprets Adam’s behavior as penitence for his sin – Adam doesn’t want God to have to look upon what Adam has done.  Adam knows he has lost the ‘garment of sanctity’ with which God had clothed him.  But at Christmas we celebrate God putting on our flesh, accepting the nakedness of Adam as He is born a baby in Bethlehem.  Not ashamed of his body, Christ knows His body means death but He unites Himself to our flesh to give us eternal life.  The ‘garment of salvation’ which Christ put on Himself is our flesh.  God became human, put on flesh, so that we humans could once again share in God’s life.  In putting on the flesh, Christ robes Himself in majesty, restoring all things to their proper place in God’s creation.

Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling, so that by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.  (2 Corinthians 5:2-5)