“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.” Romans 15: 4-7
The First Sunday of Advent we saw that a particular kind of love, the kind of love that we will call charity, is not merely good will, or even self-sacrifice, though that is in part charity; but charity also includes our desires, our affections, as well as our will, so that words like good will, self-giving, devotion, passion, yearning, pursuit, sweetness, delight, trust, worship, and esteem, to name only a few, may be predicated of the love that the Apostle Paul says results in Christians actualizing the law. And I submit to you that we human beings are made for charity, and though it is natural, though it is appropriate, congruent, and in accord with human nature, indeed though charity is also the fulfillment, the perfection, of our humanity, we cannot achieve charity without the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit. But I also pointed out last week, that our reality is that we already have the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit because we received the Holy Spirit, as well as other gifts, when we were baptized in the Name of the Blessed Trinity.
Baptism in the Name of the Blessed Trinity has such a radical effect on the baptized child that Jesus and his Apostles said it effects a regeneration, a second birth, a heavenly birth, so that the child, at that moment, as by an instrument, becomes an offspring of God the Father, a sibling of God the Son, as well as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. Of course, that does not mean that the baptized child has moved beyond his nature as a human being. Human beings were created to become offsprings of God the Father, siblings of Jesus Christ, and Temples of the Holy Spirit — that is fitting, meet and right, for human nature, but it is achievable only through the supernatural work of God.
The word the Church has used in the past to speak of the grace bestowed in Baptism is the word “infusion.” What does that mean? One common experience of infusion would be the morning cup of coffee that many of us enjoy. What happens to water when it is boiled in some manner with ground coffee beans is that the water is “infused” with the essence of the coffee bean. It is still water, what we call coffee has not ceased to be water, but in accordance with the nature of water it has been transformed into something richer, even so not something contrary to its nature — nevertheless that is an impossibility without infusion.
Now if I were to bring water to a boil and then place ice cubes where the coffee beans go, I would have transfused the boiling water with more water. Nothing has changed except there is more of the same. If you receive a transfusion of blood during an operation you have only received more blood; the intent was not to add anything but volume. But if you receive an IV drip of medicine you have received an infusion that is meant to add something that will change your state of being from being sick to being well. Medicine that benefits us is medicine that is not contrary to our human nature, it is not unnatural in that sense, but it has to be added for us to become healthy human beings again. If the so-called medicine changed our human nature that just means that it destroyed us. Thus when we are baptized we are infused with the Heavenly gifts, specifically the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and that makes it possible for us to existentially fulfill our God-given destiny as children of God. And when we receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, his perfected human nature is being infused into our lives, body, soul, and spirit.
But there is more. The fact of receiving the sacramental body and blood of Christ leads to another word that the Church has used to express another grace received in Holy Baptism and that word is “participation.” In Holy Baptism we are not only infused with the Heavenly Virtues, but we are “engrafted” into Christ so that we now participate in his perfected Human Nature. Because of the virtues we receive in Holy Baptism and because we are now engrafted and participating in the perfected human nature of Jesus the Messiah, the reality of his horizon is an existential gift that enables us to know and to achieve our destiny. In just a few minutes I will show you why our salvation and thus our destiny is entirely dependent upon an Orthodox, Catholic christology. Christology is the study of what the Catholic Church says is true about Jesus the Messiah. But first recall what I have already said about horizons.
As I have said, literally a horizon is the limit of one’s vision from a specific point of reference. What is inside your horizon has meaning for you. On the other hand, what is outside your horizon you could not care less about because you are entirely oblivious to it. Your personal horizon is the limit of your experience, your knowledge, your understanding, your loving, your and your valuing from a specific point of reference, that point of reference being you. It is after all your horizon. Your horizon includes not only what you believe, Whom you worship and how you live, it also includes what you reject as unbelievable, what you discard as wrong worship, behaviors you work to avoid because they are errors in life, as well as behaviors you wish to make habitual because they are virtuous, wholesome and lovely.
Jesus the Messiah has a horizon. Because we have been baptized into Jesus, we have been baptized into his horizon as well — not that we automatically appropriate his horizon, but we begin to share his horizon. We share as much as we can of Jesus’ horizon and that knits all of us together and fosters our growth corporately and individually. We will never out grow his horizon. Why not? This is why: when we speak of Jesus’ horizon we are speaking of God’s horizon because Jesus is both truly God and he is truly man. But the only way that phrase — God’s horizon — makes any sense at all is because of the Incarnation. God has no horizon since there is no limit to his knowledge and understanding, no limit to his loving, his begetting, his self-giving. The phrase “God’s horizon” is simply nonsense. However, because Jesus the Messiah is truly man as well as truly God we may speak of the horizon of Jesus the Son of God. This is the Orthodox christology I just mentioned.
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God.”
Romans 15: 4-7
Jesus’ horizon is made graphically available to us in his life story and his life story is given to us in the Scriptures and specifically we are told that the Scriptures grow the virtue of hope, but the Bible also leads to patience, consolation, the mind of Christ and unity of love with other Christians and all that leads to the glory of God. Through the grace and gifts given in baptism and the loving care and teaching of the Church we have entered quite literally into Jesus’ life story. And what makes that possible and what make our salvation and our destiny a reality is our participation in the humanity of Jesus which is to say our participation in God’s human nature. If Jesus is not truly God and truly man then we are not saved and our destiny is to shuttle off into oblivion. It all depends on who the baby is that was born on December 25 some two thousand years ago.
There were heresies in the early years of the Church and each heresy, if it were true, would mean that all existence would end in oblivion. For example, there was a group in the lettuce years of the Church called Ebionites. Ebionites was a group of Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, but he was entirely human and not truly God. Not at all. The Ebionites celebrated the Holy Communion only with water because wine was generally taken to be representative of the divine nature and water the human nature. If one is baptized into an ebionite Jesus there is no infusion of grace because there is no divine nature to provide the Heavenly virtues. Even if the ebionite Jesus were absolutely perfected human nature there is nothing to be infused into our life, only more, albeit, better human nature. As we have seen that would be transfusion not infusion. That is simply more of the same — no new birth, no real grace, no destiny as offspring of God — nothing beyond the gravitational pull of this empirical world. There would be no consolation or hope to be drawn from the Scriptures.
On the other hand there was another group called the Apollinarians or Monophysites and they believed that Jesus was not truly, fully human because the Divine nature of God would have simply swallowed it up, overwhelmed, and eliminated anything like the full humanity of our Lord and all that was essentially left of his human nature was his human body of flesh. Thus the Godhead was merely clothed in flesh, but his was not a full human nature. The problem with being baptized into an apollinarian Christ is that there is no humanity for us to enter into and share with Jesus and thus there is no infusion of grace because real participation is impossible.
But we require the virtues of Divinity to achieve our destiny as children of God, and we have to have a way in, a real way into God’s life and our way in is through the humanity of Jesus. The Church Fathers had a saying: “That which is not assumed is not saved.” You see how both the Ebionites and the Apollinarians fail in understanding Jesus true nature and thus fail in understanding our destiny. If the Apollinarians were right that there is no true humanity in Jesus and only his human body is raised, then only our bodies can be saved and the rest of our existence, our minds, our wills, our emotional life for example, will fall into oblivion. But that is not true: we participate in the Person of Jesus the Messiah naturally because he is flesh of our flesh, and he has a human mind as well as true human emotions and a true human will. Our participation in Jesus’ full humanity means that we safely, naturally participate in his Divine life as well because Jesus cannot be divided.
“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13: 8
It is fair for you to ask, “What does all this have to do with the Scripture for today and especially in light of the fact that the Second Sunday of Advent is frequently called ‘Bible Sunday?’” What we need in order to grasp the truth and to appropriate the Scriptures is the assistance of the Divine Author, the Holy Spirit. If all we have is a transfusion of more human nature, even perfect human nature, from the ebionite Christ we can certain, “read, mark, and learn,” the holy Scriptures, but it will require something other than just more of what we have, to “inwardly digest them.” St. Paul wrote:
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
I Corinthians 2:14
More and more of the natural will not eventually end up as the spiritual.
As I have said before the life story of Jesus the Messiah enfolds the life story of single human being who has ever existed or every will exist and that inclusion in Jesus’ life story bestows ultimate meaning upon each person, as well as bestowing ultimate meaning to whole of humanity. But Baptism not only enfolds our live together into Jesus’ life story — baptism bestows the necessary grace to appropriate his life story so that we may existentially make his story our story. Like it or not it is completely impossible to disentangle one’s life story from the life story of Jesus Christ. The Catholic rejoices in our entanglement with Jesus because the Catholic has been grafted into Jesus’ perfected human nature and infused with Virtues from Heaven — he has been regenerated as the very offspring of God the Father. Your narrative has become part of God’s narrative. Your autobiography has been assumed into Jesus’ autobiography and you are responsible and equipped to appropriate his virtues and to transform our many stories into one great love story that we offer up to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it all depends upon the true identity of a very real baby born on December 25 in Bethlehem some two-thousand years ago.