Thursday, January 12, 2006

Our Spiritual Story, Pt. 2: The Creator Among Us

Near the dawn of the first century, when Emperor Octavian, also known as Caesar Augustus, reigned over the expansive Roman Empire, a young Jewish girl name Mary lived in the land of Israel. One day the Creator of all things sent His messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, to visit Mary and announce to her astonishing news, that while remaining a virgin she would give birth to a child unlike any other: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Highest will overshadow you, so the holy child born of you shall be called the Son of God.”

In the town of Bethlehem, near Jerusalem, the Virgin Mary gave birth to her Son, the Christ, whom she named Jesus. The Holy Gospel According to St. John reveals the mysterious identity of Jesus Christ, the son of Mary and Son of God:

In the beginning the Word existed, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. Everything was made through Him and nothing that has been made was made without Him. In Him was life and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not understand it. He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not know Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, those who believe in His name, He gave the power to become the sons of God, not born of blood or the will of the flesh or the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, the Son through whom everything was created, came down from heaven and became one of us, a human person on earth. He united His divinity with our humanity so that we might regain the divine image and likeness we once possessed in Paradise. He came to heal us from death, physical and spiritual, and restore harmony within the creation.

As Christ traveled throughout the land of Israel during His ministry on earth, He proclaimed the Truth, embraced the poor, forgave the sins of the repentant, and healed the sick. Many believed in Him and became His disciples. Others did not. At the urging of the Jewish religious leaders, His fellow Israelites, the Romans crucified Him among criminals on a rough wooden cross. As generations of His disciples would later sing in remembrance of His death, “Today is suspended upon the Tree, He who suspended the land upon the waters. A crown of thorns crowned Him, who is the King of Angles. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery, who wrapped the heavens with clouds.”

While Jesus hung on the cross, a dying criminal crucified nearby made a last request of Christ: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus replied to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” In His death, Christ reveals His love for all of us and His desire for us to be united together with Him. He revealed to us the divine way back to Paradise: “How could He have called us if He had not been crucified, for it is only on the cross that a man dies with arms outstretched? Here, again, we see the fitness of His death and of those outstretched arms: it was that He might draw His ancient people [the Israelites] with the one and the Gentiles [all the other people in the world] with the other, and join both together in Himself” (St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, pp.55-56. St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.)

Even though Christ died, death could not contain Him, the King of All. He had promised His enemies, speaking about His body, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” After three days, according to His word, the Immortal One arose from the dead, inaugurating a new age and assuring His disciples of immortality. Over a period of several days He appeared to His Twelve Apostles and other disciples before ascending into heaven to reign forever with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

On the day of Pentecost, not many days after Jesus was received into heaven, the disciples were gathered together when the Holy Spirit descended from heaven like a rushing wind upon the Church, the community of disciples. Before His ascension, Jesus gave His disciples this promise: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, who will abide in you forever – the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see or know Him, but you know Him for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not abandon you as orphans, but I will come to you. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” As the divine presence, or glory, of God once dwelled on earth in the form of a cloud among the Israelites both in the Tabernacle and in the Temple, our Creator took on human flesh, having been born of a woman, to walk among us and bring us all back into His presence. Finally, after Christ ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit descended to the earth to indwell, guide, and empower the Church, the new Israel chosen by God and the new Temple of God on earth. As the Church, we “are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, properly framed together, grows into a Holy Temple in the Lord.” We have been built as a holy dwelling place for God, the living “body of Christ” indwelled and motivated by His Spirit (Eph. 2.20-22, 1 Cor. 12.27).

When the Holy Spirit descended upon the Church, the Apostles received the spiritual power to carry throughout the world the Gospel (“good news”) about who Jesus Christ is, what He has done for us, and who we can become through Him. On the very day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came, many unbelievers who witnessed the divine event believed the message the Apostle Peter proclaimed to them. They asked the Apostles, “What shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children, and to all who are far away – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” On this day alone, about three thousand people were baptized into Christ and received into His Church.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. Based on “The Spiritual Story of Our Human Race,” The Mystery of You: A Collection of Writings, Vol. 1, Copyright © 2004 by Dana S. Kees. Photo copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees.