Thursday, January 14, 2016

Advent Meditation 2 from On the Incarnation

     St. Athanasius begins by referring the reader back to his first book, Against the Heathen, also addressed to "Macarius." This could be Macarius of Jerusalem, who is thought to have been present at the First Council of Nicea with St. Athanasius. We know that he received warnings against Arianism from St. Athanasius, who also referred to him as one who embodied the "honest and simple style of apostolical men," but we do not know if this is the same person to whom the books are addressed. However, we can be certain that Macarius was a Christian; he is called a "true lover of Christ."
     St Athanasius reminds Macarius that in his first book he had given an apologetic for Christianity, discussing who Christ is, why he came to earth and detailing the meaning of the Cross and the Resurrection, as well as giving a scathing condemnation of idolatry. Christ is the divine Word, who together with the Father, brings all things into being and so it follows that " is through Him that the Father gives order to creation,  by Him that all things are moved, and through Him that they receive their being." The incarnation is linked inexorably with creation, for life and being come from God alone as the Word carries out the Will of the Father, both to make us in in his image in the beginning and to remake us in the image of Christ for all eternity.
     When contemplating the meaning of the incarnation, one finds that it is first and foremost, a mystery. It is not, however, a who-done-it mystery, for it is all the work of God, but it is a spiritual mystery; a work of God so powerful and paradigm-changing that, although we can see the results of it, we can never understand or explain it in sufficient human terms. But because people are always trying to explain or explain away the spiritual mysteries instead of accepting them by faith, St. Athanasius refers to the two most common ways this is done: "That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride..."
     The word "traduce" means to speak ill of something or someone by deliberately telling lies so as to damage a reputation. This is what the Jews, particularly the Pharisees, often did to Christ during his earthly ministry. As controversy swirled around the blind man whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, they intoned, "'This man is not from God, for He doesn't keep the Sabbath.'" They claimed that Christ's miracles were satanic deceptions, and when Christ was raised from the dead they bribed the Roman soldiers to tell the lie that Christ's body had been stolen by the disciples in the dead of night.The apostle Paul said that the Gospel is a "stumbling block"to the Jews, for by desperately trying to explain it away, they hopelessly twist their words and fall into unbelief.
     In the same passage, Paul says that the Gospel is "foolishness" to the Greeks. They see it as crazy talk worthy only of scorn and derision. The Roman soldiers mocked Christ during his trial before Pilate by crowning him with thorns, calling him a sham king. The Greeks who heard Paul speak in Athens ridiculed the message of the resurrection as a joke, and after King Agrippa heard Paul's sermon, he snidely remarked,"Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?"
     St. Athanasius encourages Macarius to study the incarnation because " his Manhood he seems so little worth." Not only do unbelievers lie about Christ and make light of him, but believers may also belittle and ignore the incredible truth that God became man. If we examine the life of Christ, we will see that "he [makes] his Godhead evident." We must study the person of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels over and over again, for the more we look and the longer we consider, we will see his divine worth rising up from his humanity and growing within us into a knowledge that is deeper, wider and ever more real and glorious. So,by not being ashamed to take on human flesh, he has reminded us of the love with which he made us in his perfect image and of our eventual union with him which is our eternal destiny.
     Yet Christ came in the weakness of a tiny baby's body. He felt hunger and thirst, pain and loss, and not only experienced but also bore our sadness and sorrow. "Wiseacres" may point at this and laugh critically, but those who know Christ realize that his power, love, mercy and grace all radiate and explode from this weakness -- "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God's power to us who are being saved," and, "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The cross is the unlikely focal point of the Incarnation.
    St. Athanasius affirms to wiseacres, doubters and to all who are just plain weary of life: "The things which they, as men, rule out as impossible, He plainly shows to be possible..." This world-of-impossibility, that God could care enough to leave Heaven and come to a ruined planet, that he could love the unlovable, and die for sins he never could commit, is all made possible through the power of the Incarnation. "When the time came to completion, God sent His Son, born of a redeem those under the law..." And from the very beginning of his coming, the angel's words to Mary hold true,"For nothing will be impossible with God."

Information on Macarius from Wikipedia
Scripture (HCSB) Jn. 9:16, Mt. 9:34, 28:12-17,27:27-31, Acts 17:32,26:28, 1Cor. 1:18,23