12/22 Readings: Below and Above

4 Advent

Isa. 7:10-16
Ps. 80:1-7, 16-18
Rom. 1:1-7
Matt. 1:18-25

The prophet Isaiah spoke the word of the Lord to Ahaz, the king of Judah, at a time when Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel had entered into an alliance against the southern kingdom of Judah. Jerusalem was threatened, and the Davidic line’s succession in peril. Isaiah spoke for God, saying, “Look, a young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14). This may have been a promise that the wife of Ahaz would bear a son, Hezekiah, and so carry on the Davidic line.

Over time, this prophesy and many others came to suggest something more. In the prophet’s words God was promising a final deliverer, a true Messiah. Indeed, in proclaiming Christ, St. Paul sets Jesus the Messiah within this historical record: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:1-3). The first verse of the Gospel according to St. Matthew says this, “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). Jesus is written all over the pages of the Old Testament and he is its hidden hope. He is the culmination of a sweeping saga.

While it is true that Jesus comes forth from a long and revered human lineage, there is another sense in which Jesus is not from us. He was with God in the beginning, and from God, and so, is “true God from true God.”This is dramatically portrayed in the account of his conception. “When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:18).

Here a two-fold mystery of faith is worked in the one person who is Christ our Lord. He assumes our nature from his mother, and so enters human life and human history where salvation must be worked out. He takes our nature in its fallen and frail condition, though he himself remains without sin, and assumes and transforms it into a new humanity.

There is, in this mystery, a great purgation, a putting to death of the old human being and the birth of the new, which is why the Incarnation in inextricably linked to the cross. Jesus suffers our condition and the consequences of sin while, in his divine power, he transforming the old humanity into something new. He confers upon humanity his divine grace and by that grace we are drawn into the obedience of faith, an obedience born not of fear but of the joy and privilege of “belonging to Jesus Christ” (Rm. 1:5-6).

A theological master is at hand, Leo the Great. Listen. “Unless the new human being (novus homo — this is deliberately inclusive and universal), made in the likeness of the flesh of sin, had received our old nature, and being consubstantial with the Father, deigned to be consubstantial with his mother, and being alone free from sin united our nature to himself, the whole human race would be held in captive under the yoke of the devil, and we would not be able to use the victory of the one who triumphs, if it had been won outside our nature” (Letter XXXI). This is not beyond your comprehension! Your salvation is accomplished by the Son of God in you. He is with you and he is transforming you into his divine likeness.

Look It Up: Eph. 2:15

Think About it: Jesus reconciles a divided humanity and humanity divided from God. He is the Son of God and the new human being.


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