Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Preface Of The Incarnation: Jesus Christ Son Of God And Son Of Mary

Fr. Dale Matson
The biggest mystery in Christianity is the Incarnation. How could God be fully God and fully human? The doctrine of the two natures of Christ in one person is as important as the doctrine of the Trinity. What the Athanasian Creed is to the doctrine of the Trinity, the Council of Chalcedon (451) is to the divine and human natures of Christ.

As I read and reflected on the lectionary readings, the Collect and the Proper Preface for the first Sunday after Christmas, I was struck by the Rite I Preface. (This is similar to the Preface for Christmas Day in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.) The Proper Preface (part of the Great Thanksgiving prayer) for the first Sunday after Christmas reads:

“Because thou didst give Jesus Christ, thine only Son, to be born for us; who, by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, was made very Man of the substance of the Virgin Mary his mother; that we might be delivered from the bondage of sin, and receive power to become thy children.”

This captivated me. God has a way of quickening a particular word or phrase to make them stand out. The word “substance”, in particular really started me thinking. Wasn’t that same word used in a phrase from the Nicene Creed? (p 327 BCP) “Very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. Jesus Christ is not ‘like’ God He is God. Jesus Christ is not ‘like’ humans He is human.

What does it mean that Jesus Christ was fully human? He is the product of a lineage begun with God’s promise to Eve that the redeemer would come from her lineage. That is also the point in the beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel in chapter one verse one where he states, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham."  St. Paul states in Galatians, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, 'And to offspring’s,' referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring', who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16) Jesus Christ, to be fully human meant that He was the product of both God and Mary.

Mary was not simply a container that held the baby Jesus until He was born. Jesus had Mary’s DNA. To be fully human, the genetic material that made up Jesus had to come from Mary also. Mary was chosen by God not just to contain and deliver Jesus into this world, but also to contribute genetically and behaviorally to the man that Jesus would become. Jesus would be the Son of God but He would also be his mother’s Son.

Coming back to the idea that the Father and Son are of the same substance, Jesus said to Philip, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (John 14:9)

And I would add, to know Jesus better, let’s now look at his mother Mary. I believe that God chose her not only because she was a virgin but it would also mean both a miraculous birth and one that was prophesied in the Old Testament. She also had the disposition and characteristics that would help Jesus, as he developed into a man.  Only Mary had the ‘right stuff’ as we would say today. Jesus would be the new Adam. As St. Paul states in 1st Corinthians, “So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” (15:45) Mary would become the new Eve. Eve was the mother of all humans after the flesh but Mary is the spiritual mother of all those who are in Christ. Revelations, states, “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.”

Let’s look at some of Mary’s Characteristics. In Luke, we hear the Angel say to Mary “Hail full of grace the Lord is with you.” (1:28, RSVCE). In John’s Gospel we hear, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (1:14)

Again from Luke, we hear Mary say, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” In this case we see both the fact that she saw herself as a servant of God. It was a submissive obedience and a willingness to trust God. In short, she was a woman of faith. Jesus states, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27) This also reflects the prophesy in Isaiah 53 of the suffering servant.

When Mary states, “Let it be to me according to your word.” There is an acceptance of God’s will. When Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane He stated, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22: 42).

In the Magnificat also called the “Song of Mary”, Mary begins by saying, “My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid.” And in the case of Jesus we hear St. Paul state in Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Mary modeled obedience. Her Son Jesus performed His first public miracle at the wedding feast of Cana by turning the water into wine. His mother asked Him to do it, and in obedience to and out of respect for her, He performed the miracle. He did this reluctantly because He was not yet ready to reveal His true nature. What Mary told the servants, she would tell all Christians. “Do whatever He tells you.”

So with Mary, we have the qualities of humility, grace, faithfulness, trust, obedience, submission and the heart of a servant. Her Son Jesus reflected those qualities that were her genetic and behavioral endowment to Him. I wonder when He listed the beatitudes in His sermon on the mount if He was also reflecting on at least some of these qualities in His own mother. Jesus Christ Son of God and Son of Mary.

Bishop's Note: The Collects - First Sunday of Christmas

Bishop Eric Menees

This Sunday we celebrate the First Sunday of Christmas and open our service with this collect:

Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Merry Christmas!  What beautiful words and what a blessed and holy celebration we had as we began a new Church season on Tuesday evening at the Midnight Mass - the Season of Christmas. This is the shortest season of the Church year at just twelve days, but what beautiful days they are - dedicated not only to the memory of Jesus' birth but the reality of Jesus, the Incarnate Word, in our lives today.
That is the theological principle that Archbishop Cranmer was putting forth in today's collect. I love the imagery used here: God in his glory, pouring down his light in his Son Jesus - the Incarnate Word.  When received, this light will shine like a beacon in the darkness. We, his adopted children, are called to shine forth that light to those who are lost and alone.

This week I saw a beautiful example of that, when our office assistant, (and soon to be new administrator) Corey McLaughlin, met with a group of homeless people who were making a camp in the bushes at the Cathedral. Corey met with them, offered prayer, respectfully set limits with them, and encouraged them on their way. This was an example of love, respect, and Christian charity. In other words, he shared the light of Christ with them as it shone through his actions.

In the Diocese of San Joaquin, we see this happen in a thousand ways day in and day out - with parishioners, the sick, those who are lost in sin, and those who have lost their way. When members of a congregation reach out to the elderly and the lonely, the weak and the strong, the rich and the poor, we are living out what the collect calls us to do as Christmas people.

Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+   

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Bishop's Note: The Collects - Fourth Sunday of Advent

Bishop Eric Menees

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Advent:

"We beseech thee, Almighty God, to purify our consciences by thy daily visitation, that when thy Son our Lord cometh he may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen." 

This collect calls the church to the difficult and important task of inviting Christ to, "...purify our consciences by thy daily visitation." Archbishop Cranmer knew of our need for that daily purification; that daily examination; that daily conviction of the Holy Spirit. I say this is difficult, because it is difficult for me to not only allow (passive) but to invite (active) God to convict my of sin. This is difficult because I prefer to rationalize and say that all is well. The problem is that all is not well. Unless and until I am willing to accept responsibility for my actions, and to receive God's Grace in purifying me, I cannot move forward in my spiritual growth and development. Give and take - that is the ticket. I give my life to the Lord, my whole life - good and bad - and allow him to have his way with me. In that way, whether I meet the Lord via my death or his second coming, I am prepared to meet him and, equally important, there is room in my heart and life for him both now and in the future!

As we approach Christmas Day, just six days away, the excitement and anticipation is rising. This is true whether you are five or ninety-five: the celebration of the anniversary of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a tremendous event. I recall as a boy those Christmas mornings when I would wait with baited breath to hear my parents stirring, giving me the signal that it was OK to go downstairs to find out what was under the Christmas Tree. 

As a child, it was all about me and what I would receive at Christmas. As I grew older, I discovered the truth of Jesus' words: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." However, to receive the fullest meaning of Jesus words, we should look at that quote in its context. St. Paul is on his third missionary journey, and he's called the elders of Ephesus together to share with them the work he's done as an example for them. As always, St. Paul doesn't use his ministry as the highest example, but rather that of Jesus. Here is the whole quote from Acts 20:35: "In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” We are called to pour out ourselves for Jesus by helping those who are weak and alone, and in doing so we receive such a blessing. 

Years ago I was the chaplain at The Bishop's School in San Diego. A requirement of the school was for students to do a certain number of service hours each semester, and to complete a specific number of hours in order to graduate. Often, kids would grumble and complain, and many seniors still needed a lot of hours in order to fulfill their requirements. To assist them, I would lead a weekend long service project in Tijuana working with orphans and the poor. Kids would moan and groan about working, but then as we were crossing the boarder coming back, I'd take the time to debrief the weekend with them. No student ever said: "Man, I regret helping those orphans or working with people in need." Why? Because it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.

Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+   

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Collects - Third Sunday of Advent

 Bishop Eric Menees

Last week in the Bishop's Note it became obvious that the collects of Archbishop Cranmer can be found in different orders, depending on whether you are using the 1662, 1928, or 1979 editions of the Book of Common Prayer. As such, it seems to make the most sense for me to change course slightly and use the order of Collects found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, since that is the prayer book commonly used in the diocese at the moment.

That being the case, let's examine the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent: Stir up thy power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor, and glory, world without end. Amen.

That first sentence speaks to a theological reality that gives us hope and comfort! Though Jesus was born of Mary 2000 years ago, suffered, was crucified, died, and rose again by his great might and power, he is just as present with us in 2013 as he was with his disciples in the upper room on that first Easter night! He does this by his mighty power and great love, even though we do not deserve his presence or mercy - recognizing that we are indeed, "sorely hindered by our sins."

We are hindered by our sins, continuously failing in the way that St. Paul so eloquently stated in Romans: "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15) During this Advent Season, it is good to remember that we are hindered by our sins...but it is also good to remember that Jesus is the very essence of Grace and Mercy, and is ready to "speedily help and deliver us."

Think of that for a moment: The Lord of the universe - the very being who spoke everything into existence - is always ready to deliver us, with mercy and love, from both our sin and the wrath of God that is justly due to us for our sin. It is Absolutely mind boggling!

 And, of course, it is not just Jesus who comes to our aid, but the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - who are willing and able to come to our aid and assistance. In doing so, God brings honor and glory to himself. How amazing and loving God is, both to us and for us.

In this third week of Advent, we are reminded of both the Law and God's Grace! The Law is transgressed by our sin, and God's Grace transforms us from blind and bewildered sinners into instruments of His Honor and Glory!

Note: The "Notes to the church" articles are written by Bishop Menees for the Diocese of San Joaquin. I have posted them on Soundings with his permission for a wider audience. This is also the case for his "Why I am an Anglican" series. Dale+

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pope Francis: Who Is This Man?

Fr. Dale Matson

Pope Francis has been portrayed in the liberal media as a man they can do business with. He will return the spirit of Vatican II (whatever that means). They have ‘cherry picked’ some of his remarks in interviews like, “Who am I to judge?” regarding homosexual behavior. Some Conservative Roman Catholics have expressed concern that Pope Francis has downgraded the importance of church doctrine and dogma. Actually, he spoke at length in his document on the importance of catechesis and descipling. 

Pope Francis is a visionary but he is a visionary guided by Tradition and Scripture. Much of what he said was quotes from his predecessors like Pope Paul VI. I believe Pope Paul VI is the man (besides St. Francis) that he included as his model. If you understand Pope Paul VI, you will better understand Pope Francis. He also liberally quoted Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the synod of bishops, Augustine, Aquinas and John Henry Newman. He is not building a new church. He is putting a fresh coat of paint on the front door. It is the new wine of the Gospel, which is both eternal and eternally new. His exhortation is addressed to his entire church and is thus very much in the ‘vernacular’.
Like Luther, it is the priesthood of all believers when it comes to Evangelism. All have this duty because evangelism is the greatest way to love our neighbor.
Perhaps the best way to get to know the man charged with leading the largest Christian denomination on earth into the future is to go to a source document.

“EVANGELII GAUDIUM” or “The Joy of the Gospel” in English, is not simply an ‘exhortation’. It is a book length document, 224 pages in length. In it, I believe he is resetting the priorities of the Roman Catholic Church. As an Anglican Priest, I have learned to pay attention, for in God’s Kingdom, all Christians are one in Christ. I prefer writing which is generally more precise and linear like the style of Popes John Paul II and Benedict.  Pope Francis can be precise and immediately restates the great commission in contemporary language (Matthew 28:16-20).
            “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew. In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come.”
            I liked reading this and it immediately gave me a fresh sense of my own salvation and the freedom this salvation has given me. I have a sense that like me, Pope Francis believes that converted hearts lead to converted minds. That is why he may seem to be backing away at times from controversy. This is not completely so.
            Our redemption has a social dimension because 'God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men'” (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace)
            “[taking from Scripture]Here, 'the creation' refers to every aspect of human life; consequently, the mission of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ has a universal destination. Its mandate of char­ity encompasses all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all areas of community life, and all peoples. Nothing human can be alien to it” (181).
           I agree with him that the Gospel connects us to others not just spiritually but morally and socially. The church has the right and duty to speak against social injustice. We are not just Sunday Christians. He quoted Pope Benedict XVI here, “If indeed 'the just ordering of society and of the state is a central responsibility of politics'; the Church 'cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice'”.
He has much to say about the poor, the mistreated and the vulnerable that need the help of the church. This also includes unborn humans. How we treat the unborn keeps us oriented and consistent about all human rights issues. He also speaks about the contemporary emphasis on the rights of individuals that undermines the common good.

“'You yourselves give them something to eat!' (Mk 6:37): it means working to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor, as well as small daily acts of solidarity in meeting the real needs which we encounter. (188)” I have some reservations about how Pope Francis understands this verse from Matthew and his understanding of how capitalism works. Are we called to equally distribute all that we have? Is private property inherently evil?
“Any Church community, if it thinks it can comfortably go its own way without creative concern and effective cooperation in helping the poor to live with dignity and reaching out to everyone, will also risk breaking down, however much it may talk about social issues or criticize governments. It will easily drift into a spiritual worldliness camouflaged by religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty talk.” Amen to that Pope Francis!
As a retired plumber and professor, I appreciate his appeal to reality. “There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principal comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical­ systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.” This is a 'dirt under your fingernails', blue collar Pope!
He also places a great deal of emphasis on preparation and preaching of the Gospel. I hope ministers and priests read this section carefully.
His emphasis (like Pope Paul VI) on the ecumenical dialogue including Judaism (244) is important, welcomed by many and necessary for the good of the universal church.
At the end of his document he returns to evangelism. It must be Spirit Filled. I know what that term means to me. What does this mean to you?
Finally, I hope I have given him a fair hearing. It spoke to me as a priest. I trust it will speak to his entire intended audience. I am comforted by his ideas. He is a visionary speaking in the context of Tradition and Scripture. God Bless you Pope Francis.