The Readings for the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin
23rd Thursday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.Romans 8:28 (NABRE)
THERE ARE THREE people in the Western Christian Tradition whose birth is commemorated: John the Baptist, Mary, and Jesus. In the Eastern or Byzantine tradition, all three also have their conceptions on the Church calendar (in the West the Conception of the Baptist – on 23 September – is not commemorated). If you look at the stories told about these three births and conceptions, you realize God plans in the long range. Generations go by, millennia, before even a small part of a plan comes to fruition and, even then, it can take further millennia before the full scope is realized.
The fullest realization of God’s plan has not yet unfolded. Yet it has, already, done so: “Already/Not Yet” is a thing for us. That unfolding is completed and in Messiah.
Back in February I wrote of the passing of a friend, a Seminary Professor in Biblical Languages. When I first met her, she drew a diagram on a chalkboard.
That weekend she spoke about something that has stuck with me all this time. For me, the meaning has changed, evolving now into something that’s more orthodox and Catholic, but it began there with Minka drawing a chart on the wall. I remember it still. Beginning on the left with “Genesis” and across from left to right a list of a bunch of other books to “Revelation” she pointed out that we think of Biblical history like this. But, in fact, different books were written at different times and not always in chronological order. Here she moved the Gospels to after the Epistles to underscore that Paul was writing first…
Then she drew a horizontal line across the board and bisected the line with a Cross and she wrote, “If anyone is in Christ they are a New Creation”. And, without ever mentioning Patristics or what I’ve come to understand as “recapitulation,” she explained how Christ was the beginning of something new.
That chart still describes my understanding of the Bible and of all history. Last weekend (Saturday 3 September 2022), nearly 40 years later, the same chart was drawn on a board by another professor, this time a Dominican Friar teaching Homiletics. All of history leads up to the Cross and all of history points back to the cross. All of time, BC and AD, is nothing but the shockwave of the incarnation echoing through time and space, giving a cruciform pattern to all of creation.
This is what we mean when we say that the Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Not that minute details of his life were predicted and he. made them true, like someone living out the predictions of an old gypsy woman in an episode of Archer. Rather we mean that at its deepest enfolding all of history comes to a point at the Cross. The deepest meaning in anything in the Torah, the Prophets, or the Writings, the Gospels, the Epistles, or the Apocalypse; the fullest understanding of anything God ever said to his people before or after the Time of Jesus, is found in Jesus. This is why his name means wholeness: all things find their fulfillment, their fullness, their wholeness in him.
This is what we mean when we say all things work for the good of those who love the Lord. The Only Good is salvation in Jesus and all things point to Jesus. All things point to Salvation, all things (if we but let them, even those seemingly the most horrendous) move us to the Only Good that is: Jesus.
Today is the Birthday of the Mother of God. Here is what St Andrew of Crete says (as read in today’s office of readings):
The fulfillment of the law is Christ himself, who does not so much lead us away from the letter as lift us up to its spirit. For the law’s consummation was this, that the very lawgiver accomplished his work and changed letter into spirit, summing everything up in himself and, though subject to the law, living by grace. He subordinated the law, yet harmoniously united grace with it, not confusing the distinctive characteristics of the one with the other, but effecting the transition in a way most fitting for God. He changed whatever was burdensome, servile and oppressive to what is light and liberating, so that we should be enslaved no longer under the elemental spirits of the world, as the Apostle says, nor held fast as bondservants under the letter of the law.
This is the highest, all-embracing benefit that Christ has bestowed on us. This is the revelation of the mystery, this is the emptying out of the divine nature, the union of God and man, and the deification of the manhood that was assumed. This radiant and manifest coming of God to men most certainly needed a joyful prelude to introduce the great gift of salvation to us. The present festival, the birth of the Mother of God, is the prelude, while the final act is the fore-ordained union of the Word with flesh. Today the Virgin is born, tended and formed and prepared for her role as Mother of God, who is the universal King of the ages.
Justly, then, do we celebrate this mystery since it signifies for us a double grace. We are led toward the truth, and we are led away from our condition of slavery to the letter of the law. How can this be? Darkness yields before the coming of the light, and grace exchanges legalism for freedom. But midway between the two stands today’s mystery, at the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new. Therefore, let all creation sing and dance and unite to make worthy contribution to the celebration of this day. Let there be one common festival for saints in heaven and men on earth. Let everything, mundane things and those above, join in festive celebration. Today this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.
Mary is “the frontier where types and symbols give way to reality, and the old is replaced by the new.” In Orthodox Hymnody she is referred to as she whose “womb is more spacious than the heavens” for she contained therein the infinite God who cannot be contained. Today is born the new and everlasting temple and “this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things.
In Mary is our antitype, and let us all, by her prayers, be “newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”
All Good things pass through this Gate, and let us welcome them!
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