Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas

From Touchstone Magazine's "Daily Reflections":

Saturday, December 24

Hebrews 1:1-14: Today's Gospel from Matthew calls Jesus "Emmanuel," which means "God with us," and in the very last verse of that gospel Jesus promises to be with us all days, even to the end of the world. The mystery of the Incarnation implies that God is permanently with us. The permanence of what God has wrought in Christ is a major thesis of this first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, which stresses the theme in a series of contrasts.

First, the permanence, the ultimacy, the absolute finality of God's revelation in Jesus is contrasted with the previous and partial revelation of God in the ancient prophets. In times past, says the Sacred Text, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways, but in these last of days He has spoken to us by a Son.

Second, the permannence of Jesus is contrasted withose mutable, those come-and-go revelations of God in His angels. In verse 7 the angels are called "winds" and "flames of fire," but the next verse addresses the Son like this: "Your throne, O God, stands forever and ever."

Third, the permanence of Jesus is contrasted with the heavens themselves and the earth on which we stand: "They will perish . . . You will roll them up like a cloak, like a garment they will be changed." But speaking to Christ, the author constrasts such fugacity with the eternal stability of God's Son: "You remain . . . You are the same, and Your years will have no end." Later on, this same epistle will speak of "Jesus Christ, yesterday, today, and forever."

This book, like all the New Testament, was composed during a period of great political stability, but in almost every other way that era was marked by instability and mediocrity. For instance, we may contrast the shallow theater of that age with what had been accomplished centuries before by Sophocles and his friends. We may observe the disparity of the philosophical climate of this period with the robust thought of preceding centuries in which Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle had addressed humanity.

The age in which the New Testament was composed was an age in search of a ground on which to set its feet, and age in quest of constancy and enduring substance. The philosophy of the elite at this time was Stoicism, a sophisticated pursuit of permanence within the structure of the soul itself. But the preachers of the Gospel insisted that the true source of permanence was not the human soul, but God, who made Himself available to man in Jesus Christ.

In our own age of instability and mediocrity this must also be the truth living in the consciousness of the disciples of Jesus. We possess in our hearts, and therefore we proclaim with our lips and in our lives, the true foundation and ground of our existence, that throne which endures forever and ever.

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