Let Earth and Heaven Combine

The First Day of Christmas

Luke 22,1ff

The Christmas day reflection on this site spoke of the strange mixture of earth and heaven that overshadows Christ’s birth. That mixture continues through the whole of lifetime of Jesus. Think about the image of the child of Bethlehem in swaddling clothes looking like an “Egyptian mummified body”, which of course is true – for as “He came into the world and the world received him not”, the birth foretells the death, Jesus continually reveals the mystery of the divine life that came into the world through both his life and his dying.

Guido Da Siena: Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Public Domain)

That same mixture is present in this week’s Gospel reading, when the Holy family fulfil the requirements of Hebrew law and take their firstborn son to the Temple in Jerusalem, consecrating him who is Son of God in heaven but as an ordinary Jewish boy, to God the Father in his life on earth. This same mixture comes again at the beginning of Christ’s adult life when He submits himself to the Baptism of John in the river Jordan. St. Paul reflects on this submission present in the life of Jesus the one who is a mixture of heaven and earth. “When the fullness of time had come God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law”, [Gal.4,4] In this we are going beyond asking, is it all true that God became a man, but why it needed to happen?

To answer this, St. Paul takes us way back to Adam, who first revealed that fatal human flaw, “disobedience to divine order”, and how the coming of Jesus Christ, makes it possible to escape this yoke. This must be the reason that St. Luke in his third chapter will trace the ancestry of Jesus all the way back to Adam. [Luke 3,23-38] Of course Luke was a travel companion of St. Paul, and no doubt frequently they contemplated this connection between Jesus and Adam. “In Adam all die but in Christ all shall be made alive” is the way Paul explains the legacy of Adam and why he believes Jesus to be the New Adam, the Contra Adam who overturns that terrible legacy of fear, disobedience, violence and death that weave their way like a stain through human history. “As through one man’s disobedience many became sinners, so also by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous”. [Rom 5,19] So Christ submits to things human including the Hebrew law.

In the simple passage of the trip by the Holy family to the Temple we have the same mixture of heaven and earth theme that foreshadows the season ahead. Each Sunday will be a step by step constant reflection on the person and work of Jesus as it is revealed in the gospel narratives. Each step will be a manifestation of the mixture of the earthly and heavenly. Indeed this is the single theme that will play out Sunday by Sunday until Ascension Day, summed up in Charles Wesley’s hymn “Let earth and Heaven combine, angels and men agree, to praise in songs divine the incarnate Deity”:

Let earth and Heaven combine,
Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine
The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span,
Incomprehensibly made man.
Unsearchable the love
That hath the Savior brought;
The grace is far above
Of men or angels’ thought:
Suffice for us that God, we know,
Our God, is manifest below.

He laid His glory by,
He wrapped Him in our clay;
Unmarked by human eye,
The latent Godhead lay;
Infant of days He here became,
And bore the mild Immanuel’s name.
He deigns in flesh to appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine:
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.

See in that infant’s face
The depths of deity,
And labor while ye gaze
To sound the mystery
In vain; ye angels gaze no more,
But fall, and silently adore.
Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

In our personal preparation, approaching the events of the Lord’s trial and final days and his submission to the cross, the Christian must cast off the secular mind of Adam, which for the most part looks upon religious faith as providing for our personal emotional needs. Remembering the work of Jesus is not a therapy for mental needs, but bringing order to the intrinsic disorder that abounds in human life. The work of the Contra Adam is therefore about letting the divine will of heaven into our own earthly world, through obedience and submission.

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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