Deacon Joseph Gleason:
Deacon Joseph Gleason:
We have had this season of advent during which we had penitence and fasting, and we had different colored robes that we were wearing, and all of these things going on to remind us that we were in a penitential season. We were looking forward to something. We were praying. We were waiting for Christ, our Lord. We do the same thing every year during Lent, as we look forward to Pascha, to Easter, when we look forward to the time when we celebrate the Resurrection of the Son of God.
It’s sort of like what the world went through. There was darkness and then God said, “Let there be light“, and then there was light. After God had created man, man made a mess of things. We rebelled. We sinned against God, and we plunged the earth into a spiritual darkness, and for thousands of years we stayed in that spiritual darkness. Now God was shining His light here, God was shining His light there, God would send this prophet, and God would send that prophet, but no one came that was able to rebuild that level of communion that man had with God in the garden. And then finally that light shined in the darkness, and after thousands of years of waiting and praying — this penitential season of the world — finally this light shone in Bethlehem and little baby Jesus was born.
This was the Messiah; this was the One who had come to save God’s people from their sins. And yet He was not the type of Messiah that His people were expecting. They had their eyes, they had their minds set far too low. They knew that they were upset about how things were going on earth. They wanted it to be freed from the tyranny of the Romans, and they just knew that this Messiah who was coming was going to free them from all of this. They were looking for a great warrior. They were looking for a great fighter, somebody who would lead them with a sword, and through the shedding of the blood of the Romans, would lead them to victory.
They were right that blood needed to be shed. But they did not expect that it would be the blood of the Messiah Himself. And [it would also require] the blood of all of us who follow Him, for we ourselves are called to be crucified like Christ; we ourselves are called to sacrifice ourselves. The Apostle Paul said, “I pour out my life as a drink offering unto God.“ This just wasn’t what they expected. A poor, Jewish girl; this little, tiny baby, born in this stall where animals feed, basically born in a barn, if you will. Nobody expected salvation to begin in a barn, with cows, horses, goats, whatever types of animals that they had then. Nobody expected salvation to come so quietly and so peacefully.
I wonder, how often do we miss Christ because He’s not what we expect? We’re looking for the big show from God. We’re looking for the big miracle. We’re looking for the amazing action, where we can point to it and say, “Oh, that has to be God.” And meanwhile, this little baby is lying in a manger in a podunk town, on the outskirts of nowhere, somewhere in the Middle East, thousands of years before they even invented radio or television. Reminds me of Elijah.
Remember the story of the prophet Elijah? He said he saw the smashing of the rocks and he heard the blowing of a great wind, but God was not in the rocks, and God was not in the wind, but then he heard this still, small voice, and that was God, talking to Elijah. Well, here in the world, people were expecting something amazing. They were expecting this warrior prince, this Messiah who was going to come and save them from all their political problems.
I don’t know whether they thought Jesus was a Democrat or a Republican, but even to be thinking along those lines, you’ve already missed the boat, because it’s not about political parties and how we can fight our way to the top and get everything that we want and beat down the devil with hammers and with swords and with war machines. The way that Christ ultimately did conquer the Roman Empire took three hundred (300) years. For it took three hundred (300) years for Christianity to go from being this little no-name Jewish sect that hardly anybody knew about, to most of the people in the Roman empire joining the Church, and even the Emperor himself—Constantine—confessing the name of Christ as his Savior. That took three hundred (300) years of the blood of the martyrs. You see, Jesus conquered death and hell by dying, by laying down his life, and then Christianity conquered the Roman Empire, not through war, not through politics, not through money, but by doing the same things Jesus did: just laying down their lives and dying.
So, you see, there are many babies born into the world. There have been many people in the world who have died, and yet all of those other billions of babies do not save us. All of those other people who have died are not our Messiah. What is it that makes Him special? What actually happened at the Annunciation? What happened at Bethlehem? What happened at Christmas? You see, when God became man, this was not what a lot of people think it was. This was not God wearing a man suit. Now I used to think this was just people here and there [who believed this idea], but the more conversations that I’ve had, I’ve realized that this is a widespread conception, and it’s wrong.
This was not just God coming down and wearing flesh like a suit, like a hand in a puppet. That is not what happened at the Incarnation. Baby Jesus was not just God with the flesh of a baby wrapped over Him. Whenever you see something that is just flesh, is that fully human? No. If you just see a human body, something that is just flesh, you’re looking at a corpse. It’s only half human; there’s no human soul, no human spirit. And on the flip-side if you could imagine a ghost, you might imagine that that’s this ethereal, airy, incorporeal human soul or spirit with no body. Well, that’s not fully human, either. Jesus did not simply take the spirit of God and put it on the inside of a human corpse. For then He would be 100% God and 50% human. And the Incarnation [says that] Jesus is 100% human. That means there is a human mind, a human soul, a human spirit, 100% God.
That means that when He is lying there in the arms of His mother, what does He think about, what does He know? Not much. He had to learn things that He didn’t know. Let that sink in for a little bit. This is coming right out of Scripture, because we can look this up right in the book of Luke and elsewhere in the Bible. There were things that He didn’t know. He is a human being, just like us. He is a man, just like us. His mother Mary had to teach Him how to walk. She had to teach Him how to talk. Mary nursed Him at her breast. She fed him food. She changed His diapers. The Son of God had to learn Scripture from his mother. Do you think He was born just knowing the Bible? Nope.
It says in Scripture that as the years went on that He grew in wisdom and favor with God and man. He had to grow that, He had to learn. He had to acquire that knowledge. And even as an adult, remember when talking about the second coming, He said, “No man knows the day or the hour, not the angels in heaven, nor even the Son.“ He was talking about Himself, saying, “I don’t know. I don’t know when I’m coming back.”
You see, in the early Church, there was this one group of heretics who blasphemed the name of Christ. They pretended to be Christians. This group was known as the Arians. They definitely recognized that Jesus was fully human. They recognized Him as a man. But they could not fathom the idea that he could possibly fully be God. And so they had these little contemporary Christian songs that they would sing, “There was a time when He was not,” saying that there once was a time that the Son of God didn’t exist. They believed that He was a man, but they rejected Him as being fully God, and they were anathematized. They were thrown out of the Church, and ultimately the Church ended up confessing the Nicene Creed as its response to this heresy, for in the Nicene Creed, we confess Jesus as being fully God, of the same substance, of the same essence, as God the Father. Jesus is God. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.
That means Jesus is Yahweh, the Creator. Today in America, we already confess that. We already believe that. That’s not our heresy. We’re not Arians. But some of us have the opposite problem. We are tempted to think that “He was 100% God, but you know, when you start talking about Him being human, when you start talking about Him being man, well… well, yeah, he looked like a man. Well, sure, He had skin like a man, but if you were to look into His heart and His soul, there’s no human soul there. There’s no human spirit there, it’s just God in a man’s body.” Well, I’ll tell you what. God in a man’s body could not save us. If Jesus was just God in the flesh of a man, then all of us are going to hell, for 100% God and 50% man cannot save anybody. For Him to save us, He had to be fully human.
That means that when the Holy Spirit caused the Son of God to become incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary, a new human soul was created at the same time as a new human body was created. So we have two natures [of Christ]: 100% nature of God, and 100% nature of man, but we do not have two persons. We don’t have the Son of God, Logos, and the man Jesus, and the two of them just got to be really good friends. No. There was only one Person. One Person, the second Person of the Trinity, the Logos, had 100% nature of God from all eternity, and then at the Incarnation, He added to that 100% man: a human soul and a human body, a human mind. And according to His human nature, He was now able to experience things personally that He was unable to experience personally as God because when you are God you cannot sleep. When you are God, you cannot learn, for you already know everything. When you are God, you cannot die.
And so when we look at the Annunciation, when Gabriel spoke with Mary, nine months later when we look at Christmas, when baby Jesus is finally born into the world, we are looking at the Incarnation: 100% God, 100% man.
And why do we confess Mary as the Mother of God? Have you ever wondered about that? First of all, it’s biblical. Luke chapter one verse 43, Saint Elizabeth sees Mary and she says, “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?“ Scripture says she was a godly woman. Scripture says that she was blameless in all the commandments of God, she was blameless, and this holy woman of God sees Mary coming toward her and does not feel worthy. And right there in Scripture, you see Elizabeth saying, “Who am I?” “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?“ So we see that it is Scriptural.
But when we confess the Mother of God, it’s not about Mary, but it’s to safeguard this understanding of the Incarnation of Christ. For on Christmas Day, when Jesus was born, who was He? Was He just a man? Did He become God sometime later, at His baptism, or when He started doing miracles? Or was He God from the very time that He was incarnate? For the nine months that He grew in her womb, was He already God? When He was born on Christmas Day, was He already God? God in diapers.
If you do not believe that God was in diapers, then you are not a Christian. That is the awesomeness of the Incarnation; it boggles the mind. I think of that Mark Lowry song, “Mary did you know that your baby boy would someday walk on water? Did you know that your baby boy would heal our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy would walk where angels trod, and when you’ve kissed that little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God?” Not the face of a man who would become really close to God. Not the face of a half-man that was imbued with the spirit of God. No, this is a human baby; he had a human soul, a human body, and, at the same time, in that manger, as an infant, He was already God. He already had been for nine months, in her womb. She is the mother and the Child that she gave birth to, from day one, was God incarnate. So she is the mother of this Person and that Person is God, then she is the Mother of God, just as Elizabeth confesses in the scriptures. But so often today, especially in American culture, the only time we want to talk about Mary is at Christmas. That’s when the Nativity scenes come out, and okay, well, we’ll put a little Mary up there, since she’s holding baby Jesus. I guess it’s okay at Christmastime.
But Elizabeth had the right idea: Who am I? “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?“ And even moreso, who am I that my Lord should come unto me, for He comes unto us tonight. When we worship, we are surrounded with this great innumerable company of saints and of angels and of the Lord God Himself. The Father is here, the Son is here, the Holy Spirit is here. They’re in our midst, and we are in theirs, and then at the table of the Lord, we partake in the precious Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. The same Body and Blood that were in that little baby, two thousand years ago, on the very first Christmas. He came to die. He came to sacrifice Himself. He came to live as a man. To live as a man who was God. To sacrifice His life for us, and for the life of the world.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, God is one.
This sermon was preached on Monday evening, December 24, 2012, at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.