Christmas Joy

Merry Christmas! This is why we celebrate.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation; tempera on wood; between 1433 and 1434.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Sadao Watanabe, Nativity; Hand-colored stencil print on crumpled paper.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:1-7)

The Simple Mystery of the Conception: a word from John Chrysostom

I came across this excerpt from a sermon by St. John Chrysostom that illuminated something Kelly and I could not address in our recent message on Mary at Eastbrook Church. Chrysostom was one of the most significant preachers in the history of the church and a powerful voice in the 4th and 5th centuries. This excerpt is taken from Homily 4 on the Gospel of Matthew.

Do not speculate beyond the text. Do not require of it something more than what it simply says. Do not ask, “But precisely how was it that the Spirit accomplished this in a virgin?” For even when nature is at work, it is impossible fully to explain the manner of the formation of the person. How then, when the Spirit is accomplishing miracles, shall we be able to express their precise causes? Lest you should weary the writer or disturb him by continually probing beyond what he says, he has indicated who it was that produced the miracle. He then withdraws from further comment. “I know nothing more,” he in effect says, “but that what was done was the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Shame on those who attempt to pry into the miracle of generation from on high! For this birth can by no means be explained, yet it has witnesses beyond number and has been proclaimed from ancient times as a real birth handled with human hands. What kind of extreme madness afflicts those who busy themselves by curiously prying into the unutterable generation? For neither Gabriel nor Matthew was able to say anything more, but only that the generation was from the Spirit. But how from the Spirit? In what manner? Neither Gabriel nor Matthew has explained, nor is it possible.

Do not imagine that you have untangled the mystery merely by hearing that this is the work of the Spirit. For we remain ignorant of many things, even while learning of them. So how could the infinite One reside in a womb? How could he that contains all be carried as yet unborn by a woman? How could the Virgin bear and continue to be a virgin? Explain to me how the Spirit designed the temple of his body.

[John Chrysostom, Gospel of Matthew, Homily 4.3 from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 12-13.]

Christmas Eve 2020 at Eastbrook

Join us for worship services on Christmas Eve at Eastbrook Church for a celebration of Jesus, the Light of the world!

Join us in person (RSVP required here) or online for Christmas Eve 2020! If you plan to worship at home, please sign up for a Christmas Eve at Home kit here. Pick up your kit December 18-23 at Eastbrook Church.

**Note that we will have 6 identical services on two different days:
Wednesday, December 23 at 6 and 7:30 pm and
Thursday, December 24 at 1, 2:30, 4 & 5:30 pm.

Joseph’s Inward Musing: a word from the ancient church

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly….he…considered this” (Matthew 1:19-20)

When studying for my message on Joseph this past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I stumbled upon this excerpt from a sermon by an anonymous church leader in the early church. The way that he speculates on the thinking of Joseph about Mary’s situation was enlightening. This excerpt is taken from an incomplete work on the Matthew, Homily 1.

Perhaps Joseph thought within himself: If I should conceal her sin, I would be acting against God’s law, and if I should publicize it to the sons of Israel, they would stone her. I fear that what is in her womb is of divine intervention. Didn’t Sarah conceive when she was ninety years of age and bring forth a child? If God caused that woman who was like dry wood to flower, what if the Godhead wanted to cause Mary to bear a child without the aid of a man?

Does the conception of a woman depend on a man? If the conception of a woman depends always on a man, doubtless when a man so desires, the woman will conceive. But in this case it is not when the man so desires that the woman conceives but when God so desires. Therefore, if a woman’s conception does not depend on a man but on God, what is so incredible if God should wish to give her offspring without a man?

What shall I do then? I will put her away secretly because it is better in an uncertain matter that a known prostitute should get off free than that an innocent person should die. It is indeed more just that an unjust person should escape justly than that a just person should die unjustly. If a guilty person should escape once, he can die another time. But if an innocent person should die once, he cannot be brought back.

Anonymous, Incomplete Works on Matthew, Homily 1, from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 12-13.