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.]

Mary

This past weekend we continued our series “Family Tree” at Eastbrook Church. This is the fourth week in the first part of our extended journey through the Gospel of Matthew. During Advent, we will focus on the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew, chapters 1 and 2. It was a joy to co-preach this message about Mary with my wife, Kelly. The message is largely drawn from Matthew 1:18-25 and Luke 1:26-38.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“’The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”  (Matthew 1:23)

The Obedience of Mary

  • Her place in the genealogy
  • Contrast with Eve

The Role of the Holy Spirit

  • God is fully holy and Mary is honored
  • Parallel with Genesis
  • Dignity of the body in the incarnation

Mary the Virgin Mother

  • This is something new and different through God’s power and initiative alone
  • Fulfillment of Isaiah 7:9-11
  • Significance of Immanuel

Mary the Highly Favored One

  • Although she has no position, she is the “favored one”
  • She responds with bold faith, surrender, and humble obedience

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the life of Mary in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Mary’s words in Luke 1:38 and/or 1:46-55
  • Consider reading about Mary in all of the New Testament accounts of her:
    • Matthew 1:16, 18-25; 2:9-12, 13-23; 12:46-50; 13:55
    • Mark 3:31-35; 6:1-3
    • Luke 1:26-56; 2:1-52; 8:19-21; 11:27-28
    • John 2:1-12; 6:41-42; 19:25-27
    • Acts 1:12-14
  • If you want to dig deeper into the life of Mary, consider reading St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, accessible online here
  • Consider watching the Bible Project’s video on the first two chapters of Luke here

Eastbrook at Home – December 20, 2020

Eastbrook-At-Home-Series-GFX_16x9-Title

Join us for worship with Eastbrook Church through Eastbrook at Home at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM. This weekend we continue our Advent journey with the series “Family Tree,” which explores the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, chapters 1-2. This week my wife, Kelly, and I will speak about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Also, don’t forget to join us for Christmas Eve services at Eastbrook on December 23 (6 & 7:30 PM) and 24 (1, 2:30, 4, 5:30 PM). More info here.

Join in with the Eastbrook 365 daily devotional for this series here.

We also continue in-person services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00 AM this weekend at the Eastbrook Campus, but you do need to RSVP ahead of time. Find out more info here.

Each Sunday at 8, 9:30, and 11 AM, you can participate with our weekly worship service at home with your small group, family, or friends. This service will then be available during the week until the next Sunday’s service starts. You can also access the service directly via Vimeo, the Eastbrook app, or Facebook.

If you are not signed up for our church emailing list, please sign up here. Also, please remember that during this time financial support for the church is critical as we continue minister within our congregation and reach out to our neighborhood, city, and the world at this challenging time. Please give online or send in your tithes and offerings to support the ministry of Eastbrook Church.

The Weekend Wanderer: 19 December 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


CT book awards“Christianity Today’s 2021 Book Awards” – I always enjoy looking at end-of-the-year book lists, regardless of the source. Christianity Today‘s annual book awards are always worth reading and this year Matt Reynolds, the books editor, offers some commentary on the distinct challenge of staying focused for this year’s selections: “I was determined to preserve a degree of principled detachment from the rush of daily headlines. Our books coverage will always stay attentive to the news cycle—after all, we’re called Christianity Today, not Christianity in General. But even in moments of crisis, we won’t allow a myopic sense of What’s Happening Now to govern our priorities, as though books not speaking directly to the danger at hand are luxuries worth indulging in only after the danger has passed.” You may also enjoy browsing through LitHub’s “https://lithub.com/the-award-winning-novels-of-2020/Award-Winning Novels of 2020.”


Francis Collins Templeton Prize“What NIH chief Francis Collins wants religious leaders to know about the coronavirus vaccines” – “Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, is a physician-geneticist who talks openly about his Christian faith and its compatibility with science. Now he’s on a mission to talk to people of faith about the coronavirus vaccines that are expected to become widely available in 2021. Since the early days of the pandemic, Collins, who watches McLean Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia services online, has urged churches to avoid holding services indoors and done interviews with religious leaders like theologian N.T. Wright and pastor Timothy Keller on how people can protect themselves. Most recently he spoke with pastor Rick Warren and Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore about the vaccines.”


lloyd jones child“With Faith Like a Child” – From Sally Lloyd-Jones at Comment: “I have the best bosses in all the world and the best possible job. I hate to boast, but it’s true. I work for children. And my job is to write them the best stories I can. One of the perks of the job is the hugs I get from my bosses. And the other great perk? The profound truths they teach me. Here are some of them.”


Henry Osawa Tanner - The Annunciation“A canvas that brings together Heaven and Earth: Henry Ossawa Tanner’s ‘Annunciation'” – From Joynel Fernandez at Aleteia: “Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), the first African-American painter ever to gain international acclaim, treats the classic Annunciation motif in a rather unconventional manner: he reckons the simplicity of the scene, rather than its theatrical recreation. In the intimacy of a chamber, Mary is portrayed as a dark haired Jewish peasant girl, seated at the edge of her couch in a striped crumpled attire. The orderly arrangement of the room, in contrast to her bed, suggests that Mary has suddenly been awakened in the middle of the night.”


toxic social media“Facebook Is a Doomsday Machine: The architecture of the modern web poses grave threats to humanity. It’s not too late to save ourselves” – I quit Facebook and Instagram several years ago after significant reflection, occasional stoppages from social media, and some people close to me leading me to reconsider my online life. I continue to believe that is one of the best decisions I have made in the past several years, not only because of algorithmic manipulation and information privacy, but because I came to see I was becoming someone I didn’t want to be. Here is Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic making a slightly similar but more forceful argument not for personal disengagement, but for a widespread awareness and recalibration about the damage caused by the megascale at any cost mindset of social media.


Stuart and Jill Briscoe“At 90, renowned Elmbrook pastor Stuart Briscoe is still living for God — while living with cancer” – Here’s a little local color from Milwaukee, where Stuart Briscoe, evangelist and Pastor Emeritus at Elmbrook Church, recently celebrated 90 years. This is a wonderful article in the Journal-Sentinel about Stuart and his wife, Jill, reflecting on their ministry over many years, with quite a bit of input from family, friends, and congregants. Eastbrook, where I serve as Senior Pastor, was the first of Elmbrook’s church plants just over forty years ago.


Music: Andrew Peterson, “Matthew’s Begats,” from Behold the Lamb of God

The One Who is to Come: Jesus Like Isaiah

Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. (Isaiah 49:1)

Isaiah the prophet was raised up for a purpose: to speak the words of God and to glorify God before all the nations. But this passage is not about Isaiah, but about Israel. Israel was called from the womb by God as the infant Jacob, renamed Israel after wrestling with God. Israel was also a a people set apart since the calling of Abraham to be birthed into the world for the blessing of the nations. This people would strive with God and glorify God before all people. Ultimately, however, this people would falter in their calling.

Yet out of the womb of Israel would come the true Servant of the Lord, “one who is to be the ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old” (Micah 5:2). “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him…and his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:2, 3). This One, set aside by God from the womb of Abraham and Sarah, from the womb of Jacob and Rachel, from the womb of the Virgin Mary, will come to bring good news of God’s kingdom, manifest the power of God, and bring blessing to the nations. He is a prophet like Isaiah, but more than a prophet. He is God’s servant but faithfully, even to the end. He is a son of David, but also the One before whom very knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord. He is the Word made flesh and Immanuel. He is Jesus the Messiah, and we worship Him.