Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Met Saba (Esber): The Fullness of Time

Arabic original here.

The Fullness of Time

The Epistle for the feast says, "When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). What is the fullness of time? It is the most appropriate time for the coming of the Savior. Why? Is the Savior in need of an appropriate time? Of course He is not in need, but those for whose sake He has come are in need. They are not prepared, not capable of seeing and accepting Him at just any time without preparation.

The coming of the Savior means that the act of salvation has started to be realized. Salvation is for us to become children of God, "that we might receive adoption." Is this adoption (that is, salvation) realized for people who reject it or who do not know it? Is it realized in those souls who do not await it or do not desire it? Is it realized in souls that are busy with other things to the point that they forget their salvation? The fullness of time is the time in which Christ became incarnate. It was the time in which Christ was truly born, within a specific human being. It is the time in which man became aware of God's presence within him, the activity of His grace in his life, and so he is born again in a true, spiritual birth.

Historically speaking, this expression means the time in which God was able to become incarnate among people and to live with them. This is what God did, with incredible divine longsuffering. The Holy Bible informs us that God began, in practice, first by offering Himself to Abraham, then Isaac his son, then Jacob, Isaac's son. This was the beginning of divine disclosure, which continued for eighteen or so centuries, until it was completed in the incarnation of the second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, Christ. At that time, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14).

Divine disclosure was gradual because humankind has always been in need of spiritual progression in order to become capable of truly understanding God and of responding to the requirements of His presence in them and among them. Inner hardheartedness prevents man from knowing God. Satisfaction with earthly and bodily things blinds inner sight from the light of God. Knowledge of god needs a refined, spiritual person who realizes the importance of love and forgiveness, a person liberated from earthly things, who longs for spiritual things. The lustful person dies in his lust if he does not transform it into desire for eternal life. The man of dust remains dust and does not see the beauty of heaven.

Those who are to be saved must have a sense of the need for salvation. If not, then what are they saved from? Thus God caused humankind to progress by degrees, and gradually progressed with them in His self-revelation, step by step. To the degree that they became spiritually elevated, He showed them Himself with greater truth. Pagan polytheism, which humans invented out of longing for the source of their life, which they did not know, impeded their knowledge of the true God. This may be hard for some to understand because we live in a culture that has been monotheistic for centuries, but it was very hard for people to realize this before Christ.

The prophets struggled for centuries with the people of the Old Covenant in order to make them realize God's oneness and His presence in every place and time. Despite what God did for them and His saving them from slavery in Egypt-- which was a symbol and an image of spiritual slavery-- no sooner had they settled in Canaan then they hurried to engage in worshiping Baal. They understood, according to the mentality of the time, that their God who had accompanied them and saved them in the desert was a god of desert, war and hardships and that agriculture was not his specialty. The people discovered, after entering into the settled world, their need for agriculture, so they learned it from the Canaanites, who were vastly more advanced than they were. So they took up Baal as a god alongside their God (that is, the Lord), without sensing any duality between the two because each had his "specialization"!

God worked slowly and patiently to change peoples' minds, hearts and morals so that it would be possible for them to know Him as He is, not as they imagined Him or desired Him to be. This is also what He has done with each of us, since He permits us to go through various experiences so that we are purified, come to discover Him present with us, and seek our salvation.

Does this mean that God only worked among the people of the Old Covenant? The earliest fathers of the Church teach us that He used this people to be a leaven of salvific faith for the rest of the peoples. That is to say that He-- to Him be glory-- revealed Himself to humankind through this people, whom He charged with it as a responsibility and not a privilege. But He cared for other people in ways appropriate to their cultures and civilizations.

Pagan Greek philosophy, as well as Egyptian religion (the religion of Akhenaten), for example, were fields for God's hidden work, which we have come to learn about because of the abundance of relics that have come down to us. Greek philosophy arrived at belief in one God. The altar mentioned in the Book of Acts (Chapter 17) dedicated to the unknown god that the Apostle Paul saw on the streets of Athens, on the basis of which he started evangelizing the people of the city was nothing other than an image according to that philosophy's degree of advancement, on the path of seeking the truth. For this reason some churches in the West place images of the great Greek philosophers on the walls of their outer entrances, on account of the fact that their philosophy played a role in preparing the way for Christ.

As for the similarity between Christ's birth from a virgin and the births of other important people in ancient religions, such as Syrian and Egyptian religions and Buddhism, even if these are legends that have attached themselves to some religions and are not officially recognized, this affirms that the enduring human dream of a savior who comes not from earthly lust continues to be a human dream. God speaks to us from our actual situation. He comes to us from our loftiest aspirations and speaks to us in our human language, through our truest hopes and longings. He is not a God who is arrogant with us, but just the opposite, a loving and humble God. As we came to know Him in Christ, He is a God who constantly condescends in order to make Himself known to us. Is not Christ's entire biography a condescension? He condescended to our bodiliness, to a manger, to a poor and simple life... He was only elevated once in His life and this elevation upon the wood of the cross was the apex of His condescension, or what we call in theology His self-emptying, a word taken from the Apostle Paul: "He emptied Himself and took the form of a servant, coming in the likeness of men,
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him" (Philippians 2:7-8). And at the lowest point of His condescension, He reached the resurrection, by whose power He saved all humankind.
This meditation during His nativity leads us to contemplate ourselves. How may we receive Him today? How should we prepare ourselves, our hearts, and our inner realities so that we may see His salvific light? How should we prepare ourselves and open ourselves to Him so that His grace may be active in us? Let us replace hardheartedness with love, selfishness with sacrifice, hatred with forgiveness, miserliness with generosity, isolation with cooperation... He has given us all the ways we need to truly and effectively receive Him, so shall we ignore Him and be content with Christmas festivities invented by humans, which have become for many the entirety of Christmas?!

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