Homily on the Incarnation

Was Jesus Christ really born on the 25th of December?  It’s an interesting question, but the real confusion is not about the day the Virgin Mary miraculously delivered the baby Jesus in a humble stable in Jerusalem but about the day when Christ was actually brought into being.  In this homily Fr. Anthony shares the mystery of a God begotten before all ages born as a baby in Bethlehem.  Enjoy the show!
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28th Sunday after Pentecost
Third Sunday before the Nativity
Colossians 1:12-18; St. Luke 17:12-19

When was Christ born?

News articles come out this time of year (along with retreads, thanks to FB): was Christ really born on December 25th or did the Church move His birthday to the 25th for convenience sake?

Today St. Paul reminds us that the real confusion that comes is not about the day the Virgin Mary miraculously delivered the baby Jesus in a humble stable in Jerusalem; but about the day when Christ was actually brought into being.

Even the terminology is confusing because we are talking about something mysterious:

  • Christ was God forever but was born a man as Jesus at Christmas.
  • Christ was “begotten” as the Logos from God the Father (without a mother) before the ages and then “born” as Jesus from the Virgin Mary (without a Father) two thousand years ago.

Last week we talked about the value of metaphors and other comparisons when learning something new. Let me use the metaphor of our own birth to help us understand the mystery of the God-man’s begottenness and birth. Today I want to compare the birth of the God-man Jesus to our own. There are many contrasts, but I want to focus on the ones that help us understand the point that St. Paul is making:

  • We were born of biological parents; a mother and a father. Did we exist before our birth?
    • Yes, our existence began at conception. This was the miracle of our life began. We then spent a few months inside our mother’s womb for us to begin breathing air.
    • It was the same for the baby Jesus; the Feast of the Nativity occurs nine months after the Feast of the Annunciation. In this, we are the same.
  • Did we exist before our conception?
    • No. Our parents carried the potential for us within themselves, as did our culture… but our souls and unique genetic expressions did not exist until we were conceived within our mother’s womb. Our souls were not waiting in some soul heaven to be assigned to a body, much less did they inhabit other things or people before us. They are completely unique to us; the soul is created in conjunction with the body – they are created inseparable and are meant to be together for eternity. This is one of the reasons that death is felt so viscerally and it is only by God’s grace that our souls are preserved in the Bosom of Abraham, waiting to be re-united in the perfect versions of these bodies, joined as God always intended for eternity. We did not exist at all before our conception.
  • Did Jesus Christ exist before conception (i.e. before the Annunciation). Yes and no. His human nature did not exist before His conception – in this He was fully human. Like us, His human soul was created when He was first formed in the womb.
  • But Christ was not just fully human from His conception on, He was and remains fully God. As God He had always been. In the Creed we say that, as God, Christ was “Begotten not created.” This is what St. Paul is saying; “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.”
    • We do not know what He or the Father, or the Holy Spirit did before time and matter were created. We know that when God made time and matter that God the Father did it THROUGH the God the Son. Again, we repeat this every time we pray the Nicene Creed.
    • We do know some of what God the Son – the Logos – did before He was born as the God-man Christ. We have studied some of these in our Old Testament class. He often took the form of an angel to protect and guide us. In the Old Testament, one of His names is “the Angel of Great Counsel”. Every time someone in the Old Testament “saw” God, he was seeing God the Son.

Why does all this matter? And I assure it does matter: the Orthodox Church is the “Church of the Seven Councils” and most of the seven councils were devoted to understanding the mystery of Jesus Christ.

But why does it matter to us?

  • It protects us from superstitions like the pre-existence of souls and re-incarnation. These are interesting hypotheses, but they are incorrect; they are the equivalent of believing in the flat earth or phrenology.
  • It helps us appreciate God the Son’s kenosis or self-emptying to become man and the sacrifice and power of His passion and resurrection.
  • It helps us understand who we are, and how we become what we were meant to be. Adopted children of the Eternal God, with the power and inheritance that match.

When you accept Christ as your Lord and Savior, when you open your heart to Him; you bring more than just a relationship with a human being: Jesus; you turn your heart and soul into a temple for the all-powerful God. Through Him, we still have a beginning in time, but there will be no end. And through Him, throughout all time, we will be blessed.

Now let us join the tenth leper, who like us was healed by his infirmity by the God-man Jesus Christ, in praising the Son who was, and is, and ever more shall be.

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