The beginning of St. John's Gospel unfolds the great mystery of the Logos becoming flesh. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God; and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." Or as we say in the Nicene Creed, "for us men and for our salvation he [the Logos]became man." This means that God the Son came down from heaven, and was made man? Both stress that the Son of God has existed since the beginning; there has never been at time when He is not (Arianism contradicts this).
The celebration of Christmas announces that at a point in time God entered history by being born of the Virgin Mary. This meant that His Godhead (His divinity) was joined to His manhood (His humanity), i.e. He has two natures in one person. "God in the fullness of time, sent His Son born of a Woman ." (Gal. 4.4) in order that mankind and indeed all creation could be restored to its former glory.
In order to send His Son, God prepared for His coming, through making the Jews His chosen people who were taught to worship the one and only true God. He raised up prophets who announced the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah, and their messages prepared the way for His coming. Above all God prepared a Jewish maiden to be the vehicle for all this to happen. Of all women she was made worthy by her purity and holiness. She was indeed "highly favoured" by God. By God's grace she was able to live her life in His everlasting presence. As Mary has been so highly exalted by God to bear His Son, she is thus worthy to receive from us greater honour than any other human.
So we always speak of Mary being "blessed". As she herself said, "all generations shall call me blessed" as she is Theotokos (Mother of God) who obeyed the will of God. From her, her son took a human body and mind and soul, and all that makes up our human nature.
Nine months before the birth of Jesus, The archangel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary:
"Hail, thou that art highly favoured; blessed art thou among women. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."
Mary responded: "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" To which the archangel replied: "The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; wherefore also that which is to be born shall be called holy, the Son of God." Mary answered, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (St. Luke 1:30-8). In so doing she illustrated the obedience that each Christian should have towards God. She heard the Word of God and obeyed.
For nine months Jesus lived within the womb of Mary. During this time Mary visited her cousin, Elizabeth, who in her old age was also with child. At their meeting, Elizabeth's child, John Baptist, leaped in the womb to acknowledge the coming of His saviour and Elizabeth uttered, "And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?" And "blessed is the fruit of thy womb." So "blessed are you amongst women." (St. Luke, 1: 42-4). Mary's response is that wonderful hymn of praise and championing of social justices, "My soul doth magnify the Lord." (Lk. 146ff). It of course modelled on Hannah's prayer after the birth of Samuel. Luke has probably put on Mary's lips a very early Christian hymn.
THE NATIVITY AND CHILDHOOD
At the end of nine months Jesus was born in the little town of Bethlehem as the angels announced His birth: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men in whom he is well-pleased" to shepherds watching their flocks by night. (Lk.2.10ff). Now having taken our nature Christ will never lay it aside as He will take it back to heaven when He returns to the Father.
Mary had been betrothed to Joseph when the Holy Spirit overshadowed her. When he knew that Mary was with child, he was moved to divorce her, but a dream told him otherwise. After the birth, he was further directed in a dream to flee from Bethlehem and take Mary and Jesus to Egypt until it was safe to return. (Mat. 2.13ff.) Before he did this, Jesus was taken to the temple by his parents to be circumcised according to the law and to be given the name of Jesus (Lk.2.21.
On the return we find Jesus at 12 accompanying His parents to Jerusalem for the Passover (Lk.2.41) Although he would have been obedient to His parents, His duty to His heavenly Father would always have priority. Hence He stayed behind to listen and argue with the religious leaders of the Temple whilst His parents had left to return to Nazareth. During his adolescent years He probably followed Joseph's trade of carpentry.
At the age of 30 Our Lord began His public ministry. Already His cousin, John Baptist had been exercising his ministry of repentance and water baptism. It was to John that Jesus went to be baptised in the river Jordan although He did not need Baptism as there was no sin in Him. Indeed John had already spoken of Him to his disciples, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." When Christ was baptised by John, it was the first revelation of the Trinitarian God. The Holy Spirit hovered in the form of a dove, and from the Father was heard, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased." (Mk.1.9-11)
After being confirmed as the beloved of God, He was in the Synoptic tradition, immediately tempted by the Devil to succumb to his way to win power. But He resisted. Knowing He had come to do the will of His Father, so clear in the Johannine Gospel, it would eventually lead to the Cross.
His first act was like John to call people to repentance; "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matt.3.2). The Greek word here, metanoia, means to change one's mind. This kingdom would endure forever and was open to all who repented and believed in the Messiah. But unlike earthly kingdoms nobody would be forced into this kingdom. God would woo, but not enslave. It is a kingdom built on love not fear. Our Lord came to change the way people think, what is metanoia.
To learn what this kingdom of the Father and the Son is about one has to be child-like in faith and be open to love and trust in the Lord, and above all be contrite for our sins. "Come unto me all that labour and are heavily laden and I will give you rest." Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Mat.11.28-30). How simple it is.
To be part of this kingdom also means surrendering our wills in obedience to that of the Father, just as Christ did. To all who do, is promised the kingdom of everlasting life.
How we are to live in that kingdom Christ makes clear in the Sermon on the Mount (Mat.chs.5-7).
THE PROMISED MESSIAH
When John Baptist was imprisoned he began to have doubts whether Christ was the Messiah which had been promised. Christ's reply to John's messengers was "Go, and show John the things which ye do hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached unto them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in me.' (Mat.11. 1-6).
These works of Christ are known as miracles as He manifested God in His dealings with others. As well as healing the body, restoring the physical death, the most divine act was to heal spiritual diseases and forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins, "Thy sins are forgiven He said to the palsied man (Mk.2.4).
Other miracles also included calming the storm on the lake, and walking on the water (Mk.4.37ff.).
CHRIST'S DEATH, RESURRECTION AND ASCENSION
"He came unto His own but His own received Him not" St. John tells us in his prologue (1.11). So it is not surprising that one of His own chosen disciples betrayed Him. God sent His Son into the world to redeem mankind to his former glory. This tells us the extent of God's love for us.
A large section of the Gospels is taken up with the Passion narrative, or what we know as the events of Holy Week. The forces of evil are seen at their worst in the arrest and trial of Jesus. It is indeed truth versus evil. And it would seem that evil wins when our Lord is condemned to death. But it is that death that brings victory. Christ triumphs over sin, evil and death itself. We enter into Christ's death by our Baptism. As St. Paul says to the Galatians "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live; and yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me."(2.20).
Christ's death cannot be separated from His resurrection. If He had stayed in the tomb, then we all would have died in our sins. However Christ burst the tyranny of death by His resurrection. That first Easter morn changed history and the condition of all creation. We now live in the new creation.
Between His burial and resurrection Christ preached to the soul in Hades where He preached to the dead (1Pet3.19) and rescued Adam and all his descendants. Without the Resurrection there is no basis for the Christian faith. But that it happened is evident from the preaching of Peter and others after Pentecost.
Is it significant that the Risen Lord first appeared to a woman, Mary Magdalen, and made her the first missionary of the Church, "the Apostle to the Apostles"? (Jn. 20.16ff). Apart from the Beloved Disciple the others took some convincing, especially Thomas. But he did give with those wonderful words of faith, "my Lord and my God." (Jn. 20.25ff).
The Son of God's work was not completed until He returned to His heavenly Father, which was achieved by His Ascension. He took our manhood back with Him, and there in the heavenly realm He is our Priest, Prophet and King.
The Lucan Gospel continues the life of the first followers after Pentecost. This has often been called the birthday of the Church for after receiving the Holy Spirit the Apostles immediately commenced Our Lord's command, "to go out in the world", and teach all to be my disciples and baptise them in the name of the Trinity as St. Matthew's gospel finishes.
THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY THAT LED TO THE CHURCH
It is important to understand that Christ did not give any organised instructions. He did not have too. There was already an established ministry and priesthood and ekklesia. During Christ's ministry He had had built up a following who had been taught by Him about the kingdom of God based on love, humility and service.
After His Ascension and Pentecost, those who came to believe in Christ were baptised after repenting of their sins and receiving the Spirit. Those early followers saw that baptism brought them into a community. From the beginning Christians have belonged with each other and supported one another. Gradually the various communities began to be more structured and before too long a structure developed, not unlike the Jewish system before the fall of the Temple, a system that our Lord was always at odds. Within a few centuries it was forgotten, "Whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister, and whosoever would be first among you shall be servant of all. For verily the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." (Mk.10.43-5) Remember, "If I, the Lord and the Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you." (Jon. 8.14-5).
For centuries now we have been taught that the Church is Christ's body in the world. If so, it is not a power house but one of service, healing and peace as Christ did. He showed us the way to the Father in a life of love.