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)


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)

Who is the King of Glory – Jesus or Caesar?

When Augustus ruled alone upon the earth,
the many kingdoms of men came to an end,

and when You were made man of the pure Virgin,
the many gods of idolatry were destroyed.
The cities of the world passed under one single rule,
and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead.

Virgin Mary being enrolled for taxation

The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar,
and we the faithful were enrolled in the name of the Godhead,
When You, our God, were made man.
Great is Your mercy, O Lord, glory to You! 

(hymn from Vespers of the Nativity)

The events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke purposefully mirror images we know from historical evidence describing the celebration of the birth of the sons of Roman Emperors.  The Gospel writers want to be be clear that Jesus is not only the King of the Jews but more truly the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Caesars may rule THE Empire, but Christ rules the entire cosmos.  Sts Luke and Matthew set Christ from the time of His birth on a collusion course with the claims of the Roman Emperors.

“Ethelbert Stauffer in his work, Christ and the Caesars (SCM Press, 1955)…pays close attention to the evidence of the imperial coinage (which was regularly used as a propaganda medium) in this regard. The imperial coinage is full of the characteristic motifs of Advent and Epiphany, celebrating the blessings which the manifestation of each successive divine emperor was to bring to a waiting world. Among the adulatory formulas with which the emperor was acclaimed, he mentions, as going back probably to the first century, ‘Hail, Victory, Lord of the earth, Invincible, Power, Glory, Honor, Peace, Security, Holy, Blessed, Great, Unequalled, Thou Alone, Worthy art Thou, Worthy is he to inherit the Kingdom, Come come, do not delay, come again’ (p. 155).

Indeed, one has only to read Psalm 72 (**see below) in Latin, in the official language of the empire, to see that it is largely the same formal language which is used alike in the Forum for the advent of the emperor and in the catacombs for the celebration of the Epiphany of Christ (p. 251). Here there could be no compromise. Who was worthy to ascend the throne of the universe and direct the course of history? Caesar, or Jesus?”   (F. F. Bruce, The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament, p. 65)

**Psalm 72:1-17

Give the king thy justice, O God, and thy righteousness to the royal son!

May he judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice! Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness! May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor! May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!

May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Long may he live, may gold of Sheba be given to him! May prayer be made for him continually, and blessings invoked for him all the day! May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field!

May his name endure for ever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May men bless themselves by him, all nations call him blessed!

The Christmas Intrusion

The birth of Christ was a rude intrusion into the lives of so many:

Mary and Joseph have to deal with an unexpected pregnancy, and then the threats to the life of the baby whom God claims is His Son.

Mary being enrolled for taxation

The Shepherds are startled by the appearance of angels.

The Magi see signs in the heavens, a mysterious star that behaves nothing like any star they have ever studied and leads them on a months long journey to Jerusalem where they find their own lives threatened.

Herod and all Jerusalem are upset by the appearance of the Persian Magi seeking the newborn king which threatens the legitimacy of Herod’s reign.

The young families around Bethlehem who find themselves being attacked by Herod’s troops who murder the young baby boys.

And then there is us, who come out at the end of December because we too have heard the good news of the birth of Christ.  God intruding in all our lives through the birth of His Son, interrupting all the other things we might want to do this evening and this week with our families and friends, in our homes or at work.

Christ coming into our lives truly means we too at times will be troubled or afraid by the Gospel, by confession, by a sermon or the Liturgy or by receiving Holy Communion.

Though the angels proclaimed joy to the world, the response of so many at the birth of Christ was fear and upset and uncertainty and grief.

Magi appear before Herod

When we are troubled, then we need to find Christ who is meek and humble in our lives and only then do we find rest for our souls.

In the Scriptures, it is not the Jewish rabbis, who spend their life studying Torah who recognize the birth of Christ but rather it is the foreign astrologers and the uneducated shepherds.

It is not the people of God who recognize the Christ, but in the Gospel itself, it is the demons who recognize Jesus as Lord.

The Gospel of the Nativity of Christ is full of unsettling surprises which unexpectedly change peoples lives, including ours.  Yet, the fact is that God comes to abide in us so that we can live in Him.

We are to live in God

Think in God

Feel in God

Act in God

Be virtuous in God

Be immortal in God

Be eternal in God

Only in God is a human a real and full and perfect human.

In Christ we see humanity united to God.  We see what a human is to be in God’s eyes.  Only in Christ can we ourselves become fully human.

Christ is born!

Our Faithful Ancestors in Christ

Christ is born!

On the Sunday before Christmas,  we encounter in the Scripture readings of the Orthodox Church a cast of literally hundreds of women and men who were faithful to God’s promises as recorded in the history of the Old Testament.

We read the genealogy of Christ in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 1:1-25) about some of those people of the Old Testament who were part of God’s preparation for the incarnation. Entire generations of people preparing the way for the Lord. led by a few very faithful men and women.  In the Epistle from Hebrews (Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40) we hear a few more details from the lives of some of those same people who were faithful to God no matter that they suffered for the faithfulness and no matter that they didn’t receive the fulfillment of what God promised.   They remained faithful to God’s promise and trusted that God would fulfill what had been prophesied or promised.

All these women and men heard about the promise of the coming of the Messiah but none of them lived to see it, yet they remained faithful to God.  St. Gregory Palamas describes them as refining humanity, slowly moving us from the original rebellion of Eve and Adam to the time of Blessed Virgin in whom God would become incarnate.   Besides all these examples of people who followed God in faith, if we studied the lives of all these people we would find examples of both people who remembered God in times of trouble, and those who forgot God even in good times.

Really for us to prepare for Christmas we should  be reading the scriptures year round to know what God promised, what people suffered for these promises and as a result of them.  We would learn about our spiritual ancestors in the faith who struggled for several thousand years before the coming of Jesus and since the time of his death.  We would learn how hard a struggle it was for the people to be faithful, and how long the sojourn.

Matthew’s genealogy and the Epistle from Hebrews include people who are farmers and shepherds, business people and slaves, carpenters and soldiers, generals and kings, wise and foolish, musicians and poets, rich and poor, apostles and apostates, faithful and faithless, adulterers and prostitutes, sinners and saints, murderers and law abiding citizens.

And when we study God’s promises and what God did through the centuries we understand the faithfulness of our God and God’s patience in working with us His creatures for countless cnturies.  For our history is not one of continual improvement in morals and faith, but rather a jagged history of ups and downs and falling away and turning back and repenting.

And then the surprise of Christmas.

God became like us in the incarnation – God became one of us, taking on human form.  At Christmas we remember God becoming one of us, becoming human.  God became human to lift us up out of our own sinfulness and to transfigure and transform our humanity to become like God, to become God’s children.  God became human so that we humans could again become like God.  God wants nothing to separate us from Him.

If we remember all these people and their successes and failures we can learn from them about how we are to behave.  We can learn both from their examples of faithfulness and the examples of faithlessness.

We might remember the old saying:  Forget your mistakes, remember their lessons.

Faith, is not “blind” but rather is conviction based on revelation, promise of God and past experience.  Faith is based on a knowledge of God fulfilling His promises in Scripture, and looking to the future where more of God’s promises will be fulfilled.  The lives of the saints, or our spiritual ancestors helps us to understand God and our role in our salvation.

God does not ask us to leap off tall buildings nor to turn bread into stones.   God asks us to know Him through the study of His scriptures and through the lives of the saints and people of God.  God wants us to know Him in and through our daily lives – in prayer, the sacraments, through charitable giving, through fasting, forgiveness and repentance.   None of what God asks from us is impossible for us or beyond our reach.

God does not call us to do absurd things (just to make a funny video or to make a name for ourselves), or to go against sound judgment, though God may expect us to do very difficult things.   Mostly, God calls us to open our hearts to know Him, to test and see if what God said is true in the lives of the saints and in the scriptures.  God asks only that we continue to trust in Him and to trust the witness of our spiritual ancestors, the women and men and children who are saints in the faith.  Christmas indeed is a family affair, but the family turns out to include all those who have ever believed God and who prepared the way for us to believe as well.  And we call to mind that family at Christmas.

As the Epistle concluded about these saints, our faithful ancestors:

And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

All of those believing saints have been waiting through the centuries for us to believe as well, and to follow Christ.  They await Christ being born in our hearts, our lives and our homes so that they can join us in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Glorify Him!

Mary, The Virgin Earth

The Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed to the world for 2000 years.  That message is as new and refreshing today as it was when first proclaimed.  Tertullian writing in the 2nd Century gives us a look at not only how long ago the Good News was received with joy but also how early in Christian history the depth of the message was recognized, for the Gospel is salvation for the world.  Christmas is not about sentimentality but about divinity and what it means to be human.

First of all, we need to show the reason why the Son of God had to be born of a Virgin. The initiator of a new birth had to be born in a new way, and Isaiah had predicted that the Lord would give a sign of this. What is that sign? ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive in her womb and bear a Son’ (Is. 7:14). Therefore the Virgin conceived and bore Emmanuel, God-with-us.

And this is the new birth: that man is born in God when God is born in man, having assumed the flesh of the old seed, but without using this seed, and to purify the flesh after having eliminated all its ancient stains. But, as it happened, this whole new manner of birth was prefigured in the ancient wise design that depended upon a virgin. When man was created by God’s action, the earth was still virgin, not yet pressed down by man’s toil, not having been sown. We know that, from this virgin earth, God created man as a living soul.

If, then, the first Adam was introduced in this way, all the more reason that the second Adam, as the apostle said, had to come forth from a virgin earth, that is, from a body not yet violated by generation, by God’s action, so that he might become the spirit who gives life. However, lest my introduction of Adam’s name appear meaningless, why did the apostle call Christ ‘Adam’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45), if his humanity did not have an earthly origin? But here, too, reason comes to our aid: through a contrary operation, God recovered his image and likeness, which had been stolen by the devil.

For just as the death-creating word of the devil had penetrated Eve, who was still a virgin, analogously the life-building Word of God had to enter into a Virgin, so that he who had fallen into perdition because of a woman might be led back to salvation by means of the same sex. Eve believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. The fault that Eve introduced by believing, Mary, by believing, erased.”  

(quoted in Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p 67)

Christ is born!    Glorify Him!