The birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning of some things new that will lead to all things new. His birth gave us a new birth, a New Covenant, a new sacrifice, a New Testament, a new commandment, and a new peace. All these will lead us to a new earth, a New Jerusalem, and a new heaven. The Lord’s entrance into the world transformed it in preparation of our salvation and for future generations of believers toward eternal life. The transformation continues. Christ’s humble entry into the world was the fulfilment of all God’s promises. “‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:9).
We were given a new birth through the Holy Mystery of Baptism. Prior to this incomparable rebirth, all mankind was banished to Hades. The righteous awaited the Lord’s long anticipated coming which began when the Lord ousted Adam and Eve from the garden and cursed the serpent (Genesis 3). When we chant in the Friday Theotokia, using the words of Saint Cyril of Alexandria, “He took what is ours and gave what is His,” it is because God took our flesh with all its burdens except for the desire to sin, so that He could clothe us in Christ, His beloved Son, who is sinless, obedient, and paid our debt to restore us back to Him.
Through the Holy Mysteries, the New Covenant replaced the former, because the former could not save any—neither the sinner nor the righteous. The Mosaic Law was insufficient to save souls, but could only provide boundaries and a map for righteousness. The prophet Moses longed for this New Covenant—through the birth of Christ. For forty years, this archprophet struggled with a stiff-necked people, though miracles had bemused them and God’s mighty arm avenged them of their indigence, yet their hearts remained like stone.
Moses foretold of the new circumcision of the heart to restore mankind to that better image and likeness of God. “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Many prophets predicted the nativity of the Lord Jesus, who would enter a New Covenant with us that He had promised. The Forerunner, Saint John the Baptist, identified Christ as the Lamb of God, who through Him whose blood was shed for us, the New Covenant would be accomplished (John 1:29).
According to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament is the conclusion of the narrative, which started in the beginning of creation, unto the formation of the Old Covenant, entrance into the New Covenant, and forecast of the coming age. The New Testament reveals the fulfillment of all the prophecies regarding the nativity of Christ, from Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Micah. The New Testament gave birth to the new Church and the believers became the dwelling of the Holy Spirit. However, the Church has been embattled from the beginning, and continues, even until now. Thus, the Church was built upon two critical seeds: love and the blood of the martyrs for Christ. It is no surprise that news circulating in the world today still parade the martyrdom of Christians, who through their love for Christ, are never dissuaded to pay the ultimate price for bearing His name. To the believer, the cost of this tumultuous life is irrelevant for to gain Christ is priceless.
Martyrdom for the sake of Christ began from the time of His birth (cf. Matthew 2). The commandment to love one another has not changed and will not change no matter how many are slaughtered. No conditions have been added, nor taken away, nor has it been altered in any way. Love is the spirit by which we should keep the Ten Commandments. Love is a criterion for Christians in the New Testament and conditional for the New Covenant. Love your family. Love your neighbours. Love your enemies. Love those who curse you. Love those who kill you. The Lord described love as a new commandment because He gave it a new dimension, which is, “as I have loved you” (John 13:34).
We can love because we have the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of truth, love, and peace. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (1 Timothy 1:7). This is God’s peace, not from a fallible human treaty or broken promises. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27). Angels proclaimed the beginning of an era that received the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ with resounding joy and a message of peace, though Christianity would be subjected to years of martyrdom. Life for Christians remains bracketed between godly love and godly peace, from the beginning until the end. Therefore, let us joyfully proclaim with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14).
God bless you.
His Grace Bishop Youssef is Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States (www.suscopts.org)
7 January 2017