Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.
He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.
I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.
O sacred Head, now wounded, With grief and shame weighed down, Now scornfully surrounded With thorns, Thine only crown. O sacred Head, what glory, What bliss, till now was Thine! Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.
Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance, Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee And flee before Thy glance. How art thou pale with anguish, With sore abuse and scorn! How doth Thy visage languish That once was bright as morn!
Now from Thy cheeks has vanished Their color, once so fair; From Thy red lips is banished The splendor that was there. Grim Death, with cruel rigor, Hath robbed Thee of Thy life; Thus Thou has lost Thy vigor, Thy strength, in this sad strife.
My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me, For it was my transgression Which brought this woe on thee. I cast me down before Thee, Wrath were my rightful lot; Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!
My Shepherd, now receive me; My Guardian, own me Thine. Great blessings Thou didst give me, O Source of gifts divine! Thy lips have often fed me With words of truth and love, Thy Spirit oft hath led me To heavenly joys above.
Here I will stand beside Thee, From Thee I will not part; O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart, When soul and body languish In death’s cold, cruel grasp, Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.
The joy can ne’er be spoken, Above all joys beside, When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide. O Lord of life, desiring Thy glory now to see, Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.
What language shall I borrow To thank Thee, dearest Friend, For this, Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? Oh, make me thine forever! And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never, Outlive my love for Thee.
My Savior, be Thou near me When death is at my door; Then let Thy presence cheer me, Forsake me nevermore! When soul and body languish, Oh, leave me not alone, But take away mine anguish By virtue of Thine own!
Be Thou my Consolation, My Shield when I must die; Remind me of Thy Passion When my last hour draws nigh. Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, Upon Thy cross shall dwell, My heart by faith enfold Thee. Who dieth thus dies well!
Notes: Hymn #172 from The Handbook to The Lutheran Hymnal Text: Is. 50: 6 Author: Paul Gerhardt Based on the Latin poem “Salve caput cruentatum” By Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153, asc. Translated by: composite Titled: O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden Composer: Hans L. Hassier, 1601 Tune: Herzlich tut mich. This text was converted to ascii format for Project Wittenberg by Cindy A. Beesley and is in the public domain. You may freely distribute, copy or print this text.
I have come to admire the Golden Mouth, John Chrysostom, from a homiletic standpoint as well as an interpretative standpoint. He is sound in many of this thoughts, and although we may arrive at a different view of the Godhead, it would be difficult at best to find that difference in this homily.
BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed; He had the power; He descended; He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.
And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.
Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech.
For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.
What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.
Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.
Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature.
For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.
What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.
For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.
Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ¡in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.
Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.
To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.
St. John Chrysostom, “Homily on Christmas Morning”
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A cry was heard in Ramah– weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.” (Mat 2:16-18 NLT)
The Catholic Encyclopedia in 1910 argued that the Matthew Gospel account “is not contradicted by the mere silence of Josephus; for the latter follows Nicholas of Damascus, to whom, as a courtier, Herod was a hero.” It also cited an 1897 book by A. J. Maas: “Cruel as the slaughter may appear to us, it disappears among the cruelties of Herod. It cannot, then, surprise us that history does not speak of it”.
Josephus makes no mention of this history. The only writer who mentions it is Macrobius, in the Second Book of his Saturnalia, where, relating the jokes and taunts of Augustus, he says: When he heard that, by Herod’s command, the children in Syria under two years of age had been slain, and that his own son had been slain among the crowd, “I would rather,” said he, “have been Herod’s hog than his son.” But the authority of Matthew alone is abundantly sufficient for us. Josephus certainly ought not to have passed over a crime so worthy of being put on record. But there is the less reason to wonder that he says nothing about the infants; for he passes lightly over, and expresses in obscure language, an instance of Herod’s cruelty not less shocking, which took place about the same time, when he put to death all the Judges, who were called the Sanhedrin, that hardly a remnant might remain of the stock of David. It was the same dread, I have no doubt, that impelled him to both of these murders.
Finally, from the College Press NT commentary, which I believe actually helps in understanding how this even could have been passed over.
While the historicity of this event has been disputed by some, R.T. France has provided compelling evidence giving credibility to the Matthean account. Not only is the slaughter of the infants consistent with what is known about Herod, population estimates in and around Bethlehem, coupled with probable birth and infant mortality rates, have led to estimates of around twenty infants being slain by Herod. While not diminishing the tragedy of the situation, such a crime in the light of Herod’s other atrocities may very well have gone unnoticed by contemporary historical sources.
It was indeed a slaughter of the innocents, but it could very have been but a few children, perhaps as the commentary above, nor more than 20. This could easily have been buried in the heaps of historical events that surround Herod and indeed, could have escaped unnoticed since it was such a small number, albeit every murder is important.
The post from Dr. Gayle mentioned below is still one of my favorites. I have updated it just a little and will continue to repost it at Christmas time.
I am no feminist. I am not involved in the egalitarian debate nor the complegalitarian debate. I believe that a woman has her proper place in the house; however, so does the man for that matter. One is not Lord over the Lady, however, as I do not agree with the old Southern Baptist definition of ‘submission’. I am no feminist, but if I were, I perhaps would celebrate Christmas as a sacred holiday. It is the birth of Christ, in the manner that it happened, in which women were freed from the tyranny of the Law, and the first event in Christianity relying such much on the Woman.
There was a post several years ago which has found root in my mind, nurturing a better understanding of bible translation, voices contained therein, and the audience. (It not merely the words which are read, but how we perceive those words that hold value to a translator) I realize that it might be impossible to believe that such a post could do these things, but it was one of the first posts that I read from the author commonly known as J. K. Gayle. It would be impolite to repost his entire post here, but allow me to post some and you go read the rest (after you read mine, of course. For his post, go here. He adds a new voice to the Nativity)
Let’s think about Mary, for a minute.
It was a terrible time in Palestine – the priesthood corrupt, Jews turning on Jews, the king a despot, and Rome raping more than the Land. In the midst of this, there was a young girl named Mary (Or Miriam, if you are Jewish). Mary would have been a young Jewish girl, somewhere between the age of 12 and 16 (if we were to stretch it) while her intended, Joseph would have been a man some years her senior. Her family was most likely strict followers of the Torah, as the cousin‘s husband’s was a member of the inner priesthood. They ‘espoused her’ (marriage unconsummated) to a man in the traditional way. Suddenly, due to no fault of her own, she had the hope of the world thrust upon her shoulders, and in such a way as to cause great concern among those that saw such a young and unmarried girl with child.
There is much to be explored in the Birth of Christ. As Dr. Gayle points out, there is the audience, who perhaps some years later, perhaps transformed by the One born that very night, would read of the account. We too form a certain audience today, in that we are far removed from the culture to which Christ was born. We are far removed from Mary, and fail to see her for who she truly was and what the ordeal most likely meant to her. There is, as always, much to discuss concerning any account given in the Scriptures, but we focus only slightly on Mary.
This is Mr. Gayle’s translation,
18 τοῦ δὲ ἰησοῦ χριστοῦ ἡ γένεσις οὕτως ἦν. μνηστευθείσης τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ μαρίας τῶ ἰωσήφ, πρὶν ἢ συνελθεῖν αὐτοὺς εὑρέθη ἐν γαστρὶ ἔχουσα ἐκ πνεύματος ἁγίου.
This is the birth of the Anointed, Joshua. His mother Miriam was engaged to Josef; before they came together she held in her womb a child who came by the Breath of the Special One.
19 ἰωσὴφ δὲ ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς, δίκαιος ὢν καὶ μὴ θέλων αὐτὴν δειγματίσαι, ἐβουλήθη λάθρᾳ ἀπολῦσαι αὐτήν.
Josef, her man, her husband, a just person who didn’t wish to make a show of her, counseled secretly to release her from himself.
20 ταῦτα δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐνθυμηθέντος ἰδοὺ ἄγγελος κυρίου κατ᾽ ὄναρ ἐφάνη αὐτῶ λέγων,
ἰωσὴφ υἱὸς δαυίδ, μὴ φοβηθῇς παραλαβεῖν μαρίαν τὴν γυναῖκά σου, τὸ γὰρ ἐν αὐτῇ γεννηθὲν ἐκ πνεύματός ἐστιν ἁγίου·
These inner passions of his were angst. See. An announcer of the Master, in a dream, appeared to him to state:
“Josef, son of David, don’t be afraid to take beside you Miriam, your woman, your wife; the baby birthed in her, in fact, is by the Breath of the Special One.
21 τέξεται δὲ υἱὸν καὶ καλέσεις τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἰησοῦν, αὐτὸς γὰρ σώσει τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῶν ἁμαρτιῶν αὐτῶν.
She will deliver a son, and you will call his name Joshua; he will, in fact, save his people from their wrongdoings.”
22 τοῦτο δὲ ὅλον γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑπὸ κυρίου διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,
These events were born out entirely so that the things spoken by the Master would be fulfilled through the Prophet who stated:
23 ἰδοὺ ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει καὶ τέξεται υἱόν, καὶ καλέσουσιν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐμμανουήλ, ὅ ἐστιν μεθερμηνευόμενον μεθ᾽ ἡμῶν ὁ θεός.
“See, the young virgin will hold in her womb a child, and will bear a son, and will call his name Emmanouel,” which is translated “With us is God.”
24 ἐγερθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἰωσὴφ ἀπὸ τοῦ ὕπνου ἐποίησεν ὡς προσέταξεν αὐτῶ ὁ ἄγγελος κυρίου καὶ παρέλαβεν τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ·
When Josef got up from his sleep, he did what the announcer of the Master told him, and he took beside himself his woman, his wife.
25 καὶ οὐκ ἐγίνωσκεν αὐτὴν ἕως οὖ ἔτεκεν υἱόν· καὶ ἐκάλεσεν τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἰησοῦν.
And he did not know her until after she delivered her son; and he called his name Joshua.
Like any other man, the Christ child came into the world, born of a woman, perhaps the most central woman since Eve.
I also am mortal, like all men, a descendant of the first-formed child of earth; and in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh, within the period of ten months, compacted with blood, from the seed of a man and the pleasure of marriage. And when I was born, I began to breathe the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth, and my first sound was a cry, like that of all. I was nursed with care in swaddling cloths. For no king has had a different beginning of existence; there is for all mankind one entrance into life, and a common departure. (Wisdom 7:1-6 RSVA) (Note here and here)
Christ came not dependent upon man, or independent of any, but dependent upon His mother. Just as any child, he would had fed of His mother, being nurtured in a way to protect His life. In as much, He never dismissed a woman for being a woman, but pressed them, or was pressed by them, to a point that a great spiritual truth was manifested for the entire world. First, it was the prophetess Anna (Luke 2.38) which announced just a short time after His birth, that He was to bring redemption. It was His mother who in Cana pressed Christ to start His ministry. It was the prostitute in Jerusalem (John 8 – yes, I know) where Christ showed what forgiveness under Grace would be. Further it was the Greek (Gentile) woman in Mark 7 that pressed Christ to shed His grace beyond that of Israel, to the Gentiles. Finally (perhaps not), it was Mary Magdalen which announced Christ Risen to the cowering disciples.
It it these voices which we hear when we mediate upon Mary. Imagine being in the shoes of that young girl who had just been given the Blessing of Abraham, the Inheritance of the Faithful, the Word of God. She most likely would have had nothing to her name – her husband having given her ransom to her parents – yet she had suddenly become the richest woman in all the world, and indeed, the most hated and hunted. Yet is was her who was considered the most blessed among women (Luke 1.42).
Her song has been remembered, sometimes falsely, since it was first written down by Luke.
And Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, And holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him
From generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things,
And the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel,
In remembrance of His mercy, As He spoke to our fathers,
To Abraham and to his seed forever.” (Luke 1:46-55 NKJV)
It might do us well to put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, and perhaps the other women as we read this account, who sought Christ and pressed Him during this season that is focused on the birth of the Child but generally ignoring the womb which bore Him. In this season which we focus on the birth of the Child who would give His life for the salvation of all, we must not forget the womb which carried Him, and the breast which nurtured Him, and the mother who raised Him. It is not unconstitutional for either a fundamentalist or an evangelical to consider Mary in the light which she is portrayed in Scripture and the unwritten words found only in a culture long dead.
We have four gospels in the New Testament, but half of them mention the Virgin Birth (Matthew and Luke), and only at the announcement of that Birth. Further, that means only two books of the 27 in the New Testament mention the Virgin Birth. There is nothing beyond Matthew and Luke in the entire New Testament pertaining to the Virgin Birth (although Galatians 4.4 might allude to in a strictly Pauline way).
This is a pivotal prophecy – one which no Messiah could do with out. Granted the Jews believe that the Hebrew means ‘young woman’ and indeed, it very well may. (Of course, what great sign from God would be a young woman with child?) Of course the Septuagint’s Translators understood Isaiah to mean ‘virgin’. Even without the prophesy in Isaiah, we have the words of God in Genesis concerning the Messiah being of the seed of a woman (Genesis 3.15). The first mention of the Messiah concerns the Virgin Birth – yet, again, it is mentioned twice in the New Testament.
This point is used by scholars and liberal theologians to attack the Virgin Birth. But what is the answer? Why, if the Virgin Birth is so important to the Messiah, is it mentioned briefly, twice, in the New Testament?
The answer is simple. The great majority of Scripture was written by the Apostle Paul. He was not writing to unbelievers, but to long-established congregations. He was writing doctrine for the Church, not to the unbelievers. It was not Luke’s job in Acts to detail to the unbelievers prophesies of Christ, as his was the history of the Church. According to Papias,
Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatsoever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterwards, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the necessities [of his hearers], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. Wherefore Mark made no mistake in thus writing some things as he remembered them. For of one thing he took especial care, not to omit anything he had heard, and not to put anything fictitious into the statements. Matthew put together the oracles [of the Lord] in the Hebrew language, and each one interpreted them as best he could.
We find that Mark is the preachings of Peter – Mark wrote as Peter preached. (This does not line up with the scholarly ‘Q’ source, but Papias is rather old.) John wrote his gospel to fill in the gaps, which is evident by his epilogue,
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:30-31 NKJV)
So, John wrote what the others did not, and for a purpose, to declare without a doubt the deity of Christ. He started at the very beginning (John 1.1), before the Virgin Birth, but allude to the act of the divine in the birth (John 1.14).
Matthew wrote to a community, most likely of converts and unbelievers, as did Luke. Mark was transcripts of preaching; John had a different agenda of deity. Paul wrote to established congregations, to affirm their faith and to establish a continuing doctrine for the Church as did Peter, James, and Jude. It is not mentioned by Paul because it was unnecessary to to bring up such a basic principle of Christ for those Christians who were years removed from conversion.
The Virgin Birth was not the Evangelists’ way of exploring the uniqueness of Christ, nor was it a myth conjured from surrounding paganism. The indwelling of the Virgin by the Spirit (Breath) of God is the initial sign of the coming salvation. It is a real event, meaningful to the Jews as a sign of the Messiah. It was used to show that Christ was the promised Messiah, God with us, and indeed, to the Gentiles to show that He alone fulfilled the prophesies. Once past the miracles, as with Paul, it was necessary to build up sound doctrine that relied upon Tradition and Scripture. It was not that the Virgin Birth was unknown to Paul or refuted by Paul, but it was not Paul’s mission to those congregations, to relay the foundation of the truth of Christ.
One of the most forgotten men in the Scriptures is Joseph, who was a man from the line of David who had a certain Jewish girl espoused to him. He makes a small appearance in Matthew and Luke, the only two Gospels to record something about him. His name appears only a few times in all of the New Testament. It is only in Matthew’s work which we find him and his actions as any part of the story,
This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’ ” When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Mat 1:18-25 NLT)
A wise man once said that the words that we read are the headlines, and this is especially true in this case. We find a great story of love and sacrifice in Joseph, in as much as he was willing to become an outcast – if only temporarily – in order to protect Mary, the young girl who he would have paid a dowry – the young girl who carried the public signs of a betrayal. The law required death for Mary. In this instance, we find the first shadow of the Grace which was to come.
The law is clear – death for Mary:
“If a young woman who is a virgin is betrothed to a husband, and a man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NKJV)
Mary was considered evil – a blot on the community, something to be killed and done away with – exterminated ruthlessly. We see something in the horror of the law that is not mentioned – the great love of Joseph for Mary. He would have paid a dowry, perhaps a goodly sum for the espousal. He would have made preparations for Mary in his home, and already giving her that which was sacred – his family name. I can only imagine what love he had for her and the loss he felt to have gone so far but to have been betrayed with such a great sin. She had slandered him, his family, and his family name.
Joseph had such a love that he was determined to take the ridicule, the shame, and give her the bill of divorce privately. Like anyone in pain due to love, with his heart breaking, he most likely took time, mourning, to determine his next course of action for the young Jewish girl whom he clearly loved.
If we step away from Joseph, to a higher plane, we can see the sovereignty of God in this matter. God did not just choose Mary, and because of that Joseph, for no reason. Joseph was a man of great love (Mary with her own qualities), a love that would rather endure shame and the outcast of a community instead of harming Mary. He would risk breaking the Law of Moses to protect someone who he loved. What better caretaker for the son of God?
Returning to Joseph, we find that it was in the middle of his deliberations – I can imagine them maddening and tortured – that the Angel of the Lord appeared to him with words of consolation. So, with this love of Joseph, we find faith. Joseph disobeyed the cultural mores of ancient Palestine, obeying rather the will of God, and held Mary as his wife, in the face of what would have been certain opposition from everyone, perhaps even his parents as well as Mary’s.
So, we have a picture of Grace and Love in the life of Christ even before He began His ministry. Joseph was ready to sacrifice his standing in his family and community to save the life of a pregnant girl – a trollop, a whore, a sinner – and to protect her and her unborn Son – the bastard child of this trollop and perhaps a Roman solider, Panthera – from the death demanded by the Torah. It was because of this love that the Angel appeared to Joseph the Carpenter and told him that this Child would be the deliverer of all Israel. His wife who was dead to him was now alive again.
If we remove the doctrine and traditions that surround both Mary and Joseph, we find a picture of grace – we find love – we find a truly holy family.
46. Now that you have heard the explanation of the type and of that which corresponds to it, hear also what goes into making up the mystery. What is the passover? Indeed its name is derived from that event–”to celebrate the passover” (to paschein) is derived from “to suffer” (tou pathein). Therefore, learn who the sufferer is and who he is who suffers along with the sufferer.
47. Why indeed was the Lord present upon the earth? In order that having clothed himself with the one who suffers, he might lift him up to the heights of heaven.
2. The Creation and Fall of Man (47b-48)
In the beginning, when God made heaven and earth, and everything in them through his word, he himself formed man from the earth and shared with that form his own breath, he himself placed him in paradise, which was eastward in Eden, and there they lived most luxuriously.
Then by way of command God gave them this law: For your food you may eat from any tree, but you are not to eat from the tree of the one who knows good and evil. For on the day you eat from it, you most certainly will die.
48. But man, who is by nature capable of receiving good and evil as soil of the earth is capable of receiving seeds from both sides, welcomed the hostile and greedy counselor, and by having touched that tree transgressed the command, and disobeyed God. As a consequence, he was cast out into this world as a condemned man is cast into prison.
3. Consequences of the Fall (49-56)
49. And when he had fathered many children, and had grown very old, and had returned to the earth through having tasted of the tree, an inheritance was left behind by him for his children. Indeed, he left his children an inheritance–not of chastity but of unchastity, not of immortality but of corruptibility, not of honor but of dishonor, not of freedom but of slavery, not of sovereignty but of tyranny, not of life but of death, not of salvation but of destruction.
50. Extraordinary and terrifying indeed was the destruction of men upon the earth. For the following things happened to them: They were carried off as slaves by sin, the tyrant, and were led away into the regions of desire where they were totally engulfed by insatiable sensual pleasures–by adultery, by unchastity, by debauchery, by inordinate desires, by avarice, by murders, by bloodshed, by the tyranny of wickedness, by the tyranny of lawlessness.
51. For even a father of his own accord lifted up a dagger against his son; and a son used his hands against his father; and the impious person smote the breasts that nourished him; and brother murdered brother; and host wronged his guest; and friend assassinated friend; and one man cut the throat of another with his tyrannous right hand.
52. Therefore all men on the earth became either murderers, or parricides, or killers of their children. And yet a thing still more dreadful and extraordinary was to be found: A mother attacked the flesh which she gave birth to, a mother attacked those whom her breasts had nourished; and she buried in her belly the fruit of her belly. Indeed, the ill-starred mother became a dreadful tomb, when she devoured the child which she bore in her womb.
53. But in addition to this there were to be found among men many things still more monstrous and terrifying and brutal: father cohabits with his child, and son and with his mother, and brother with sister, and male with male, and each man lusting after the wife of his neighbor.
54. Because of these things sin exulted, which, because it was death’s collaborator, entered first into the souls of men, and prepared as food for him the bodies of the dead. In every soul sin left its mark, and those in whom it placed its mark were destined to die.
55. Therefore, all flesh fell under the power of sin, and every body under the dominion of death, for every soul was driven out from its house of flesh. Indeed, that which had been taken from the earth was dissolved again into earth, and that which had been given from God was locked up in Hades. And that beautiful ordered arrangement was dissolved, when the beautiful body was separated (from the soul).
56. Yes, man was divided up into parts by death. Yes, an extraordinary misfortune and captivity enveloped him: he was dragged away captive under the shadow of death, and the image of the Father remained there desolate. For this reason, therefore, the mystery of the passover has been completed in the body of the Lord.
I have posted on Melito some before, and find myself returning to him for a bit especially his homily on the Passover. He provides us with an accurate manner in using the Old Testament, and it is an example that is well served for the past few millenia. He does not create something that is not there, no drench the Prophets with our Hope, but stands in the good Tradition of using the New Testament to read the Old. For a New Testament example of this, we need to turn no further, dig no deeper than the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Note, if you will, the powerful images that Melito presents us with.
In celebration of this Easter, I am reposting several of my posts on Melito of Sardis. In my opinion, he doesn’t get enough attention in the early Christological debates of the 3rd and 4th centuries. The facts are collected, but the comments on Melito are mine.