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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Consider That When the Word Became Flesh

God was an Embryo

by Lawrence Fox

Good News! St. Luke the evangelist captures an exchange between two women and their unborn children brought together by divine providence. The words shared between them will be known by generations to come as the Good News. For three months, “in the hill country of Judea” (Lk. 1:39) in the house of Zechariah, the joy of motherhood is celebrated in the fulfillment of promises made by the Lord God of Israel to His people.

The two children in the womb also join their mothers’ conversation; they even instigate aspects of it. The one child — John, six months old —  is filled with the Holy Spirit. He leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. The other child — Jesus, both divine and several days old — is the Word of God which sustains all things and for whom all things exist. Their mothers do not hear the exchange between their children, but they do experience it.

The older woman is Elizabeth, which means in Hebrew “my God is an oath.” The origins and existence of her people are the result of many oaths (covenants) and promises made between the Lord God and her ancestors. She knows through the writings of the prophet Jeremiah that the Lord God plans to establish a new covenant with her people,
"'The day is coming,' says the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.'” (Jer. 31:31) Elizabeth is aware her pregnancy is an integral part of that promise.

Elizabeth is a daughter of Aaron, the priest and brother of the prophet Moses — who wanted God to let him see His face. God told Moses,
“'You cannot see My face, for no man can 
see Me and live!' Then the LORD said, 'While My glory is passing by I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.'” (Ex. 33:21) What was once forbidden -- seeing God face to face -- will soon be allowed when man looks at the face of the Child Jesus. 

Elizabeth is married to Zechariah also a descendent of Aaron, who serves in the temple. Zechariah has been unable to speak for six months. He will not utter a word until the day when his son is born and circumcised. On that day, He will give his son the name, John, in obedience to God according to the message of the Angel Gabriel. John will be known by many in Judea as the baptiser. 

Zechariah, who doubted the angel's words, has not been able to speak since that encounter. He can only make signs with his hands. The angel had told him that God remembered his prayers; his wife Elizabeth will conceive and bear a son. Zechariah was afraid. He protested that God waited too long to give such a blessing, “How shall I know this to be true? I am old and my wife is stricken with years.” (Lk. 1:18) God’s ways are not man’s ways. Abraham had to wait for God to give to him a son through his wife Sarah. He too struggled with waiting, giving up and having a child through Hagar, the bondswoman of Sarah.

Still God’s timing is perfect. Elizabeth is not simply one of many possible woman to be the mother of God’s prophet; she and Zechariah were predestined to be the parents of the Baptist,
“I knew you before you were formed in the womb.” For all things which exist do so first in the mind of God. “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” (Ps. 90:4) 

Six months after Elizabeth conceives her son, her cousin Mary also conceives a child under  different and joyful circumstances. Even this short duration of time has meaning and significance. Six is a number of man, the number of man laboring, and the number of the commandment “Thou shall not murder.” Elizabeth in three months will go into labor. Mary's son will identify Himself as the “son of man.” Both sons will be murdered by political authorities in Judea and Jerusalem. 

Elizabeth’s cousin is a young betrothed virgin with child.  Her name is Mary (Mariam) which means in Hebrew “bitter.” Her name harks back to Israel’s past when another woman named Mariam lived. That Mariam was Moses’ sister during a time when the people of Israel were living a bitter life under the whip of the Egyptian Pharaoh. 

The people of Israel now exist under another whip. Caesar Augustus,  Emperor of Rome,  rules over the Holy Land along with his petty kings and governors. With the naming of one’s daughter as Mary (Mariam), the people are asking God to fulfill a promise made through Moses, who foretold, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” (Deut. 18:15) Interestingly, Mary will say these same words to several servants at a wedding feast in Cana, “Do whatever he
"Do whatever He tells you," His mother told the servants.
(my son) tells you.”
(Jn. 2:5 ) Mary speaks like Moses and like God the Father, Who says to the apostles Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him.” (Lk. 9:35)

Elizabeth represents the woman Israel who came out of Egypt and gives birth to genuine prophets — who receive a word from God and not men. This woman closes the pages of the Old Covenant. It is through this woman that God brings forth the final and greatest of prophets; one foretold through the lips of Isaiah “A voice of one calling: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’” (Isaiah 40:3) and through the lips of Malachi. "I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty.”(Mal. 3:1) 

John will be that voice in the desert,  and that  prophet, who comes in the power and spirit of Elijah, preparing the way of the Lord. The pieces are all beginning to fit together within salvation history. There will be no doubt among many in Israel that the messianic age has come upon them. Tragically, the child born of Mary will be the cause of the rise and fall of many in Israel. A sword will pierce the mother's heart so that the thoughts of many will be revealed. Many will openly resist the kingdom of God. A small remnant will persevere in the revelation which is given by Jesus Christ, the Lord’s anointed. 

Mary epitomizes the woman Israel who the prophet Isaiah identified as being clothed with the garments of salvation over whom the Lord God of Israel rejoices. (Isaiah 61:10) The garments of salvation are the flesh and blood of the Incarnate Word of God. The archangel

Gabriel gave to Mary this greeting: “Rejoice Mary, for you have found favor with God.” (Lk. 1:30) Israel in the person of Mary becomes a bride in the fullest sense for she is a virgin overshadowed by the glory cloud of God. She conceives in her heart and her womb the living Word of God. St. Luke writes, “In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. She ponders in humility God’s spoken word and seeks to understand it. She is the embodiment of faith seeking understanding. She will tell her cousin, “For He who is mighty as done great things to me and Holy is His Name.” (Lk. 1:49)

The angel says to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” This is a prophecy of wonder and sorrow. For in the background looms another revelation spoken to King David centuries before, “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” (2 Sam. 12:10) Mary will be reminded of this fact when prophet Simeon tells her, “And a sword shall pierce your heart.” (Lk. 2:35)

With great faith and trust, Mary gives the fiat (yes) to God’s Word — which was in the beginning with God and was God. Now God’s Word no longer will be comprehended solely within sacred scrolls nor hidden within an ark made of acacia wood, nor unapproachable within a temple made of stone — but at the moment of her yes, the Word was tabernacled amongst men.

Elizabeth’s unborn child is the fruit of her and her husband’s seed through a miracle of healing. Mary is a virgin who conceives in her heart and womb the eternal Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. Her child is the fruit of God and Mary’s seed (St. Ignatius of Antioch). Mary makes haste to visit her cousin.

St. Luke writes that Mary makes haste to visit her cousin traveling from Nazareth in Galilee to the hill country of Judea. She enters the house of Zechariah. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, she is filled with the Holy Spirit and the infant John leaps within the womb of Elizabeth. (Lk. 1:41) 

There is a cause and effect that Luke wants his readers to see -- that Mary’s words are anointed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. She speaks prophetically. She is a living temple as described in Peter’s Letter, “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pt. 2:5)

Mary brings the Child Jesus to Elizabeth and John. The movement of John in Elizabeth’s womb is evidence of both natural and supernatural life; John is reborn from above. It should be noted that the archangel Gabriel told Zechariah that his son would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb. (Lk. 1:15) St. Ambrose explains that the prophecy of the angel is literally fulfilled when Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice. Through the love of Mary and Elizabeth, the unborn Jesus meets the unborn John.

The Holy Spirit inspires Elizabeth to say to Mary that through her faith, the Lord is in the midst of His people Israel.“How is it the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Elizabeth asks Mary. Mary again is no more than several

days pregnant. St. Luke the doctor captures in the Gospel, that human nature — composed of body, soul, and will — begins at conception. With Mary’s yes, the hypostatic union exists. Jesus is one divine person, with two natures (human and divine). Jesus to be truly God and truly man must be united to human flesh, spirit (soul), and will.

With the conception of man, a complete human person exists. In essence, Jesus becomes an embryo in His mother’s womb to redeem the human embryo. Jesus becomes an unborn child to redeem the human unborn child. Jesus becomes a baby, a child, a teenager, and an adult so as redeem every aspect of human life.

Again Elizabeth says to Mary, “How is it the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

Elizabeth’s spirituality is passed onto her son John who will one day say to Jesus, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt.3:14) Mothers — so it is said — do pass something more of themselves to their sons; fathers to their daughters. The Catholic Faith teaches that God the Father gave to Mary a pure conception. Mary in turn gave to Jesus a pure human body. What is love but the giving of oneself to another? The Son dwelling in the womb of Mary sanctifies the son dwelling in the womb of Elizabeth. John in return will baptize Jesus who will be anointed with the Holy Spirit by God the Father. John will give his life to Jesus and Jesus will give his life for John and all humanity. Mary under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will proclaim how much her whole being magnifies the Lord. 

St. Luke writes that Mary stayed for three months in the house of Zechariah. After three months the baby John is born and named. Zechariah speaks and it is well worth the wait.  Mary returns home to Nazareth and even this is by divine providence.


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