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First Sunday of Subara

The First Sunday of Advent

Basilica Hymn
Hear, O Shepherd of Israel (Ps 80:1)
I will praise the word of God (Ps 56:4)
He who was before the ages (?)
He indeed took it not from angels, but from the seed of Abraham (Heb 2:16)
God the Word, who is from the Father, did not assume the likeness of a servant from the angels, but rather from the seed of Abraham, and came in our humanity, by his grace, to save our race from error.

Silence

Silence is the beginning of spirituality. In order to become deep and to know God intimately, man must dig beneath the surface of sight and sound around him, and search for the Spirit of God who dwells in his depths. This is not to say that God is not about him, and only within, but in order to notice the Hidden One, the mind must focus, meaning it must exclude exterior, empty, shallow things and allow itself to notice only what God would point out. In other words, in order to hear God the Word speak to us, we must put all else aside and listen to him.

The first Basilica Hymn of the year begins with exactly this phrase: “God the Word, who is from the Father.” The Father expresses himself perfectly in his one Word, and if we are to know him it is through Christ, the Word made flesh. The rest of the hymn is dramatically simple:

God the Word, who is from the Father, did not assume the likeness of a servant from the angels, but rather from the seed of Abraham, and came in our humanity, by his grace, to save our race from error.

This hymn is the fruit of a long and silent meditation on the reality of the Incarnation. This is clear because of its form: there is no addressee, no petition, no “let us” conclusion to spur us on to activity. It is a simple statement of fact, and the author knows that it is enough, in this case, to simply state this fact. This is not the desperate prayer of one begging for God’s aid and mercy; nor is it even spoken to God; nor is it an exhortation given to an earthly soul. The group addressed is universal, since it speaks of “our humanity.” This hymn is therefore the spark, the light of insight given to a meditative mind after hours of silent listening, of the sensitive observance of the history of salvation.

Son of Man

What is the meaning of this common title given to the Lord Jesus Christ? Certainly it echoes many of the prophecies of the Old Testament, especially those of Ezekiel and Daniel, but is there something more primordial in this title? Our hymn refers to the Word incarnate in humanity as a contrast with other possibilities: “…did not assume the likeness of a servant from the angels, but rather from the seed of Abraham…” It was possible for the Creator to take any form he wanted, such as that of an angel; even in doing so he would have still taken the “likeness of a servant,” for angels serve at his throne as well. But he chose instead to become a son of Abraham, a man of a particular race chosen by God.

What does it mean to be man? What is this “humanity” assumed by the Son of God? The definitions abound, though the most widely accepted in philosophy is “rational animal.” But this definition is so limited in its scope, and so incomplete. Scripture gives a deeper one: man is the image of God. This concept breaks away the boundaries we use to make our mind comfortable, and shows that we are well beyond our own comprehension, for if God is a mystery to us, our own nature shares in that mystery. An anonymous poet expresses this idea in the following way:

Yet you have made him little less than God,
This fleshy vehicle for sin and thought,
For mind and lust. Now vicious (he would nod
To sleep in minutes in that Heaven bought
For him in Blood) and now a saint portrayed,
And still his value known by increment:
In sinfulness, at least in Likeness made;
In saintliness, at most an instrument.
In neither way his value undermined:
No matter scope of sin, he cannot drag
His dignity beneath his noble mind,
But yet if good, unable still to brag.
In any case, the lion and the lamb;
In any case, the seed of Abraham.

Intimacy

Finally, the Incarnation is a mystery that, despite being beyond our slightest comprehension, is a reality that touches the depths of our being. It was not any conceptual humanity that was assumed by the Son of God, but a real, particular, flesh-and-blood humanqnoma, one like us in all things but sin. The liturgy of the Church of the East is therefore fond of calling it “our humanity,” showing the depth of the union between God and man in Jesus Christ, who brings God to earth and man to heaven.