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.]

The Real, Eyes-Open Love of God

Fra Angelico - Annunciation

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:46-48)

“Love is blind.” At least, that’s how the saying goes. The phrase means that when love is at work, a person is prone to overlook, or just plain fail to see, the problems within the person being loved.  There is some truth to that. We see it in good friends, family members, and even ourselves. “Hindsight is 20/20,” and we often ask ourselves after something has gone wrong in a relationship, “Why didn’t I see that?”

But the kind of love we all deeply desire is not a blind love, but a love that truthfully sees everything about us and still loves us. Love that is blind – that turns away from reality – is false love, while love that sees – that leans into reality – is real love. John 3:16 is such a revered passage of Scripture because it describes God’s love not as blind but as real love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17)

In the midst of a world stuck in the cycle of death, of blindness even to itself, Jesus the Son of God comes to bring liberating life and love. Even though the world could be condemned because of evil, sin, and injustice, God chooses a different route by sending Jesus to save the world. This is not because God is blind to the realities of the world, but because God desires a different way with the world. Jesus Himself echoes this later when He says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We see in Jesus the Messiah that God’s love is an eyes-open love, leaning into the reality of our world and our lives. Jesus shows us just how far God will go to hold us in His loving embrace.

When the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing God’s plan to bring the Messiah to birth through her, Mary was astounded. Her question, “How will this be?”, was both a question about the manner of the Messianic birth since she was a virgin and simultaneously a question about the possibility that something like this could occur in human history. When Gabriel emphasized God’s decisive plan to intervene through Jesus as Messiah, such knowledge eventually leads Mary to erupt with praise:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. (Luke 1:46-47, 50)

That little word ‘mercy’ (Greek: ἔλεος) is an echo of the Hebrew word hesed, which refers to God’s uniquely steady and faithful love. Mary grasps, and shares with us today, that God sees what is really there in the world and still chooses to love humanity from generation to generation throughout the earth. Mary becomes a picture not only of humble obedience to God’s call, but also boisterous praise of God’s real, eyes-open love for humanity and all creation.

As we draw close to Christmas Day, let us join Mary’s wondrous call to praise our God whose love is not blind, but rather eyes-open about us and our world. Let us draw near with anticipation to experience once again   the tenderly tenacious love of God found in Jesus the Messiah.

Visitation (discussion questions)

beginnings-series-gfx_app-squareHere are the discussion questions that accompany my message, “Visitation,” from this past weekend at Eastbrook Church. This is the second part of our series, “Beginnings.” The text for this week is Luke 1:26-56.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When have experienced a special gift in your life from a person or God? What happened?
  2. This week we continue our “Beginnings” series from the Gospel of Luke by looking at Luke 1:26-56. Ask God to speak to you and then, whether you are with a group or on your own, read that passage aloud.
  3. Background: Mary is a young woman in a relatively small town in the northern region of Galilee. She is in the first stage of two-stage marriage process, involving the public promise of marriage (like engagement) before the final marriage ceremony when the husband would take his wife home, sometimes up to a year later.
  4. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary with a great message about a miraculous child to come. What do you make of Gabriel’s greeting to Mary in verse 28?
  5. How does Gabriel describe this promised child in Luke 1:30-33, 35-37?
  6. For further background on the promise about David’s throne, you may want to look at: 2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:11-14; Psalm 89; 132:11-12; Isaiah 9:6-7; and 11:1-15.
  7. How would you describe Mary’s response to this dramatic announcement in 1:34 and 38?
  8. These two favored women, Mary and Elizabeth, meet one another at Elizabeth’s home in Judea. Why is this meeting special, according to Luke 1:39-45?
  9. Now, read aloud Mary’s song, known by its Latin name the Magnificat, in Luke 1:46-56. What stands out to you from Mary’s song? How might you compose your own song of praise to God?
  10. What is one specific thing that God is speaking to you through this study? If you are with a small group, discuss that with one another and pray for one another. If you are studying on your own, write it down and share it with someone.

 

Daily Reading Plan

To encourage us together in our growth with God, we are arranging a weekday reading plan through this entire series with the Gospel of Luke. As you read each day, ask God to speak to you from His word.

Follow along with the reading plan below, through the Eastbrook app, or on social media.

  • Monday, Oct 24          Luke 1:26-38; 2 Samuel 7:9-16
  • Tuesday, Oct 25           Matthew 1:18-25
  • Wednesday, Oct 26     Luke 1: 39-45
  • Thursday, Oct 27         Luke 1:46-56; Psalm 103:17-18
  • Friday, Oct 28              1 Samuel 2:1-10