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!

Christian: Obey Christ

Among Christians no one is unaware that he is under obligation to undertake the whole task. All alike, when they joined Him [Christ] in the beginning, vowed to follow Him through all things, and it was after they had thus bound themselves by those covenant that they underwent the sacred rites [of Baptism].

Since the Saviour’s commands are thus binding on all the faithful and are capable of fulfilment by those who are willing, they are most necessary. Apart from them it is impossible to be united with Christ, otherwise we should be at variance with Him in that which is greatest and noblest, will and purpose. If we share in His blood we must share in His will. We cannot be joined to Him in some ways, and yet be separated from Him in others, neither can we love Him in one way and be hostile to Him in another, not be His children on the one hand and worthy of blame on the other.

(St Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, pp. 160-161)

Being “In” Christ

In the present life those who are blessed are perfect in relation to God in respect of their will, but not yet with respect to the activity of their mind. One may find perfect love in them, but by no means pure contemplation of God. If, however, that which is in the future is present with them while they yet live in the body, they already experience the prize, yet not continually or perfectly, since this life does not permit it. For this cause Paul says, “we rejoice in hope” (Rom. 12:13), and “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7), and “we know in part” (1 Cor. 13:9). Even though he had seen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1, 15:8), yet he did not enjoy this vision at all times.

For “always” looks to the future only, and this he himself showed when he spoke of Christ’s presence, saying, “and so shall we always be with the Lord” (1 Thess. 4:17). Thus, anyone who is in Christ and has received eternal life has it through his will, and through love he will arrive at the ineffable joy. He has the pure vision of the mind in store for the future while faith leads him on to love. This the blessed Peter shows, saying, “though you do not see Him you believe in Him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy” (1 Pet. 1:8). (St. Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, pp. 226-227)

Reading the Scriptures with the Early Church: In Christ

This is the 3rd Blog in this series which began with Reading Scripture: the Old Testament, the Torah and Prophecy.   The immediate preceding blog is Reading the Scriptures in the Earliest Christian Communities.  In this Blog Fr. John McGuckin offers a glimpse at how early Christians read the Scriptures – and read them differently from how we read them today.

 “A modern reader, used to interpreting the Bible according to its sequential narrative content, and its historical or ethical significances, is singularly ill-equipped to realize that throughout the vast majority of Christian history this is not how the bible was generally read.  In earlier Christian ages (and the style still applies predominantly to most of the bible as it appears in Church in the form of liturgical poetry) the scripture was read in fragmented pericopes, each one turning around a Type (tupos): namely a figure or symbol or story from the old text that was reworked symbolically in line with the evangelical mystery. 

So, for example, the old story of Abraham and Isaac’s sacrifice becomes, by reference to the inherent symbols of the ‘Beloved Son’ carrying ‘the wood’ (the Cross) of his own sacrifice ‘up the hill’ (Calvary), for the establishment of ‘a new covenant’ of grace (the foundation of New Israel) … Type, in this case, means that this reference to the passion-covenant theology is ‘really’ what the Abrahamic story is all about.  Its ‘other meaning’ (what one might call the literal or first-sight meaning, as something to do with the patriarchs and the establishment of the covenant with Israel) was understood as a level of revelation on the surface, meant to be passed through by the enlightened reader (the one who had been given the key to the mystical interpretation through the acceptance of the Gospel story).

Our Father among the Saints: John Chrysostom

The mechanism of this form of interpretation was based upon three central notions common among the Fathers of the Church namely: that (a) all scripture was a single inter-related text telling the same story of the Incarnate Word; (b) that all scripture had superficial levels of meaning that deepened in a mystical significance made visible according to the initiation possessed by the disciple of Christ; and (c) that there were clues within the text, at surface level, that gave signs to the initiate reader who would read the old story (the Old Testament) ‘back from the new,’ not forward as if reading historically.*  Like the ‘type’ of an old machine-press, which was reversed so that its impression on the paper would render the letters in their correct readable alignment, so too the biblical ‘type’ was an enigmatic symbol, or story, hidden in the Old Testament whose ‘real meaning’ became apparent to the careful (initiated) observer only in the light of the Gospel, and only according to the degree of the illumination which the Divine Spirit of God gave to the heart of the faithful reading it ‘In Christ.**’”

[Notes:  *”Mar Theodore of Mopsuestia, described the issue succinctly in his argument that if the scripture is a sacred literature that transcends historicity, being of the eschatological moment, then it cannot be exegeted solely by linear historical methods of interpretation.”

 

The Word of God

**”Reading the text, en christo (1 Cor 4:10; 2 Cor 5:17; Eph 1:9) or with the ‘mind of Christ’ phronema Christou, (cf. 1 Cor 2:13-16), it passes from simple textual reading to become a sacrament of divine revelation.  The Church Fathers, then, believed that the Scripture really only became ‘sacred revelation’ when it fulfilled that function in Christ, and through Christ.  His was the presence that sanctified the literature and made it revelatory for the purpose of salvation.  It was in this sense that Origen called the scripture, the ‘sacrament’ of the body of the Logos….”] 

(John McGuckin,  HARP OF GLORY, pp14-15)

 Next: Reading the Scriptures with St. John Cassian

The 12 Apostles

St. John Chrysostom

St. John Chrysostom in one of his commentaries on the Psalms marveled at the great success of the Apostles: they were 12 men against the entire world, sheep in the midst of wolves and yet the sheep triumphed!   They triumphed not by means of civil power, but because they obeyed Christ the Lord, and their own disciples recognizing their obedience to Christ, in turn obeyed Christ as well.

St. John wrote in his commentary that the key for the Apostles, which is still key to all of us who wish to be disciples of Christ and to fulfill His Great Commission  (Matthew 28) is to have Christ in us.

The 12 Apostles

“In sending them, remember, he said this: “See, I am sending you out like sheep in the midst of wolves,” something no less a marvel than the former one. After all, for those in the guise of sheep to prevail over wolves is no less remarkable than for those apprehended in the midst to overcome; but even more remarkable is for men twelve in number to win over the world.  Exercise dominion in the midst of your foes. He did not say, “Conquer in the midst of your foes,” but Exercise dominion so as to indicate not the spoils coming from battle array but the lordship coming from command. After all, the  apostles, having Christ within them, prevailed in the manner of people doing everything by command. Hence all doors were open to them, and the believers obeyed more compliantly than any slave, selling their possessions and laying the proceeds at the feet of the apostles, not presuming to take anything for their own needs.”  (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Psalms, pg.18)

Christmas in our Lives as Christians

Nativity Icon Detail

The celebration of Christmas is not mostly the remembrance of a historical event, though it is that.  The Nativity of Christ is also the personal salvation of each of us and the reconciliation of the entire world to God the Creator.  For Christians, celebrating Christmas begins with being in Christ:  we are to be one with Him, united to His death and resurrection so that we can die with Him and rise from the dead with Him.   Christmas is among the most theological of Christian Feasts.  It speaks to us about God and His relationship to us and the world.  It is the feast of salvation revealing the world and humans to be capable of bearing God in themselves.

“Let us become like Christ, since Christ also became like us; let us become gods because of him, since he also because of us became human.  He assumed what is worse that he might give what is better.  He became poor that we through his poverty might become rich.  He took the form of a slave, that we might regain freedom.  He descended that we might be lifted up, he was tempted that we might be victorious, he was dishonoured to glorify is, he died to save us, he ascended to draw himself to us who lay below in the Fall of sin.  Let us give everything, offer everything, to the one who gave himself as a ransom and an exchange for us.”    (St Gregory of Nazianzus Festal Orations, pg 59)

In Christ We are a New Creation

“Paul presents redemption in Christ as a radical restructuring of human nature:  it is in effect a new creation (2Cor 5:17).  Christ became what we are in order that we might become what he is.  It is not a case of ‘Christ died on our behalf; therefore we live’, but of ‘Christ died and we have died with him; he lives, and therefore, we live’.  Christians must expect not simply to die with Christ, but to suffer with him (Romans 8:17).  The Christian moves from the sphere of Adam to the sphere of Christ by accepting all that Christ has done and by becoming one with him:  even the believer’s initial response—by faith—is a sharing in the obedient, faithful response of Christ himself.”   (Hooker, Morna D, From Adam to Christ:  Essays on Paul, pgs 182-185)