Thursday, December 5, 2013
Advent Evening Prayer - Wednesday of Ad Te Levavi (The First Sunday in Advent)
Theme: "The Origins of Jesus According to the Four Evangelists" - This week, St. Matthew.
Matthew 2:1-12; Ephesians 1:3-14; Isaiah 60:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Perhaps it strikes you as odd to speak of the origin, or the beginning, of Jesus. It does me. After all, Jesus is the Word and the very Son of God, whom St. John says was with God in the beginning of all things and, in fact, was and is God in human flesh and blood on earth, resurrected and ascended into heaven, and coming again in glory as King on the Last Day. Therefore, how can we speak of the origin of He who is eternal, having no origin but God, who is Himself eternal and without origin?
Here we must take a step back from the bright mystery that is our Holy Triune God and remember that, though Jesus is God, He is not the Father, but He is the Son, distinct from both His Father and the Holy Spirit, yet sharing the fullness of the substance of the Godhead with each of the persons of His Trinity. Further, it is the Son of God alone who became a man, born of the Virgin Mary. And, it is of His humanity that we can rightly say that Jesus had an origin, or a beginning.
In fact, that is precisely the word that St. Matthew uses to begin His Gospel: biblos geneseōs Iēsou Christou – The book of the beginning (origin) of Jesus Christ. The Greek word translated as beginning or origin, geneseōs, is the same word from which we get the name of the first book of the Bible – Genesis. Further, as Genesis is in many ways the story of the beginning of mankind and God’s relationship with mankind, so too Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus, beginning with Abraham.
We might ask, why begin merely with Abraham? Why not Noah, or even Adam? Well, here we get to Matthew’s purpose for writing the Gospel: Matthew wishes to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise made to Abraham: “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. […] So shall your offspring be.” Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise for both Jews and Gentiles, indeed, for the entire world. He is the savior of the nations, come. Moreover, Matthew also demonstrates that Jesus is the undisputed royal heir of King David through Joseph, His legal father. However, in God’s divine providence, through St. Luke, we are also provided Jesus’ genealogy through His mother Mary, also of the House of David, going back, not merely to Abraham, but all the way back to Adam, and to God Himself.
Who then is this Jesus? What is His origin? He is man, born of His mother Mary, and He is God, conceived in Mary’s womb by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. He is the son of King David and the rightful heir to his throne; yet, He is also the Son of God, thus He is both David’s son and David’s Lord. He is the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham, thus He is the Messiah of the Jews, their Christ, but He is also for the nations, the Gentiles, for the entire world. He is the true King of prophecy, in contrast to Herod the puppet king, whose kingly reign is one of mercy, forgiveness, humility, sacrifice, and love.
It is arguably this aspect about Jesus, His kingship, which St. Matthew wishes to proclaim above all. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew highlights the kingly reign of Jesus. It is in Matthew’s Gospel that we hear of God’s kingdom no fewer than fifty-four times. In chapter thirteen, Matthew presents seven of Jesus’ parables about the kingdom, each beginning with the words: “The kingdom of heaven is like….” In this series of kingdom parables, Jesus describes what it is like to live under the reign of King Jesus: You have to co-exist with unbelievers. While you’re co-existing, keep in mind that Jesus is powerful. While you’re co-existing, keep in mind that you have an incredible treasure in your possession. But in the end, Jesus will glorify you. In conclusion, the kingdom of heaven is about God’s work for you, and God’s work through you for others.
Throughout his Gospel, St. Matthew demonstrates that God is in control, guiding and directing all things in accordance with His will despite the ignorance and sinful rebellion of men. According to human reason and wisdom, Joseph sought to divorce his betrothed Mary quietly; but when God revealed the truth to Joseph, he took her as his wife and become the legal father of the unborn child she carried. According to their own reason and wisdom, the Magi wrongly followed the star to Jerusalem, and would have to Bethlehem, believing that there they would find the King of the Jews; but when God revealed the truth to them, they went instead to Nazareth and they returned home another way, thus thwarting Herod’s attempt to murder the infant Jesus. Once again, Joseph is warned in a dream that Herod is about to search to destroy Jesus, and that he and his family must flee to Egypt until Herod has died. To demonstrate that God is in control, Matthew tells us about the holy family’s flight into Egypt before he tells the account of Herod’s murderous plan. Herod’s plan was foiled before he even conceived of it.
All of this serves to show that Jesus is the Lord of history, that all things serve the purpose of pointing to Him as the climax of history from the beginning. Jesus’ origin and history are man’s origin and history, for He is the fulfilling of all that man was meant to be. This point St. Paul makes in the Epistle to the Ephesians: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.” And, as the writer to the Hebrews has put it: “In many and various ways, God spoke to His people of old by the prophets. But now in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.