Divine Confirmation of Perpetual Love
The days of Caesar Augustus, emperor of Rome, were ruled with the sword. History emphatically records this true fact. A democratic government never existed nor was spoken of anywhere in palaces, on street corners, or in marketplaces. Fierce Roman emperors maintained peace through self-serving ambitions and vehemently carried them out with the swords of their obedient armies.
Men who publically questioned or opposed either the Caesar or his appointed governors, for example, Herod, governor of the Roman province of Judah, faced a brutal death. Any competitiveness and rivalry were quickly vanquished before the threat was even conceived of. When the wise men "magi" from the Far East arrived in the Roman province of Judah in search of "a great king" recently born, Herod immediately sought them out.
Dissatisfied and uneasy with the wise men's visit with the "newborn king", Herod implemented a horrendous plan. Impulsively and without fore thinking, he decreed that all the Jewish infants in the region, two years of age and under be killed.
"Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under according to the time he had determined by the wise men" (Matthew 2:16).
While unfathomable Herod's act was, by the standards of today's human rights, yet the Jewish parents had no alternatives nor could they display open opposition. The Jews were not of the ruling class and they were not among the lineage of the Caesars and rarely, if ever, among the governors. They had no input into the governmental system that presided over the rules and regulations they were bound to obey and follow.
Even so, how could one governor obsessed with rivalry be allowed to claim the life of all the male Jewish infants in search of the life of one only? How did subsequent anger, bitterness, depression, and lashing out not reign over all the land because of that single act of brutality? Why do we not come to know of riots and retaliation to the slaughter of the most likely thousands of male Jewish infants? The Holy Bible does tell us that many were compassionately moved with lamentation, weeping, and great mourning for those slaughtered innocent children, the potential generations to the Jewish race.
Some scholars believe that the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ was a subtle act of warfare. Who is the real Prince of Peace, Caesar in his chariot amongst his armies or our Lord baby Jesus in a manger amongst the Holy Family? This question remained unanswered by the Jews because immersed deeply in their sufferings, they overlooked God's Divine love and were unable to look beyond their plight to insightfully recognize the long anticipated Messiah nor seek the Divine love. To them suffering became a pit of disparity and unhappiness.
Men of God through the ages had longed for the Messiah. Prophets had foretold of His coming and only in the fullness of time were the Old Testament prophecies attained. At the perfectly appointed time and at the peak of need, the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ took place. Without doubt, He came in the form in which man could understand the most and relate to the best.
The Word of God took what is universally and timelessly ours, our Humanity. The Lord Jesus Christ became man while yet remaining the Only Begotten Son of God. It was an act of indisputable love in the form of an infant. This presentation to the world would be historically recorded as a confirmation of the Divine Love of God to seek and save those who were victimized to suffering and could not see beyond it.
The Lord Jesus Christ did not readily come to earth as a preacher or teacher of the Word of God. Rather, He took upon Himself the human nature, and as an infant, He heralded joy and gladness on His Holy Family and those who would come to learn of His Holy Birth. In an era of widespread turmoil and suffering, the Lord Jesus' birth with joy and gladness raised the believers above earthly tribulations.
The Lord Jesus Christ did not grow up in His birthplace of Bethlehem. The Holy Family took urgent flight to Egypt to escape Herod's hundreds of mercenary soldiers dispersed with the single intent to kill their newborn Holy Infant. Though the flight to Egypt was a necessitated path to avoid conflict, it depicted, and delineated the simultaneous coexistence of joy and suffering procured and assigned and designed by natural and supernatural events.
"You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11).
When we contemplate our Lord's Holy Birth, life, ministry and death we find no reference to the concept of "suffering" as such in spite of the hardships and real pain that He, His mother and followers had gone through. To mention a few facts,
- Although capable of the supernatural incarnation, the Son of God was not born in Rome, the most exotic city at the time; but in the small undistinguished town of Bethlehem.
- Although capable of deferring and stopping Herod's envy and rivalry, He accepted to be the target of ruthless assassination attempts by virtue of being born into an enemy occupied territory.
- Although capable of providing accommodation from nowhere and anywhere, yet He allowed His family and Himself to go through the pain of residing for the night in a dusty desert township.
- Although He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He emptied Himself from the Heavens to a squalor hillside cave to be welcomed only by animals.
- Although golden tabernacles and temples are normal residence for a king, yet an animal feeding wooden manger would become His first place of rest thus foretelling of His destination upon the holy wooden Cross.
- While King Solomon recognized as a king and embodiment of wisdom was wrapped in swaddling clothes (Wisdom 7:4-5), (a prophecy about the Lord Jesus Christ), our Lord Jesus Christ was wrapped in the swaddling cloth of simplicity and humbleness.
- Although His feet are normally destined to leave their prints on the golden streets of the heavenly Jerusalem; yet they grew on the rough paths of Galilee and left their prints along the narrow treacherous streets of the earthly City of Jerusalem and eventually all the way to Golgotha.
- Although omniscient and omnipotent, He, out of His love for us, willingly took upon Himself to die on the cross.
In infancy our Lord Jesus Christ was humble, fragile, vulnerable and frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. Born of a teenage girl, our Lord was unassuming. Unpretentious, He had reigned for more than two thousand years, working wonders, liberating martyrs from the human-bounding flesh, and giving eternity to His followers.
During His life on earth, the Lord Jesus Christ avoided conflict whenever He could, endured suffering in His final earthly days yet never becoming a victim to it. Born from a virgin, not of an earthly kingdom but among those who loved and trusted in God the Father, His Holy Birth brought fulfillment to prophecies, a glimpse of hope beyond suffering, and conceded no boundaries to those who would accept His Divine love.
The Incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ was truly wondrous. St Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzen) describes this in...
"The Wonder of the Incarnation:
The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of the beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the perfect likeness, the definition and Word of the Father.
He it is who comes to His own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites Himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like.
He takes to Himself all that is human.
He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; His coming to birth had to be treated with honor, virginity had to receive new honor.
He comes forth as God, in the human nature He has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.
He who makes rich is poor; he takes on poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of His Divinity, He who is full is made empty, He is emptied for a brief space of His Glory, that I may share in His fullness."
Sacrificial Divine love is complex, takes great risks, and goes to extreme lengths. God's love was wiser than men, made humble at infancy and grew to be stronger than the temple veil.
Resurrected from the dead, our victorious Lord rose into the heavens leaving behind an empty, cold, stone tomb. Omnipotent, infinite, everlasting and invulnerable following His Glorious Resurrection, Christ Jesus would be seated by the right side of the Father.
Ready to give more and more abundantly, the Father in Heaven has prepared for us what St. Paul has described as...
"'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'" (I Corinthians 2:9).
Happiness will not be obtained through self-centered desires, mundane pleasures, or a life of wealth. Happiness in its varying degrees depends upon the level of one's spiritual awareness. The Divinity of the Son of God, not born in time but born of time, came to earth to teach us exactly this truth about joy.
For those whose hearts pursue higher and more divine states of happiness, our Father in Heaven provides a continual state of contentment, joy, and praise in the Kingdom of Heaven. Through the Divinity of One Holy Infant, an endless source of love has been conceived; a perpetual love.
Let us, Coptic Christians, thank God for the blessings of the first union of the Holy Incarnation that taught us true and lasting joy and happiness. Let us pray to God that as we seek His second union with us, that His Divine and abiding love may provide us with the strength to fervently continue in His teachings until that appointed time, making the second union exceedingly happier than the first.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever should believe on Him will have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
Happy Feast of the Holy Nativity,
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States