It is a happy coincidence that the commemoration of St. Ambrose, the fourth century Bishop of Milan, occurs during the Advent season on December 7. I say that because one of the chief contributions of Bishop Ambrose was his defense of Athanasian (orthodox) Christianity against Arianism. Athanasians affirm that the Logos or Word (John 1:1) is fully God in the same sense that the Father is, while Arians affirm that the Logos is a creature, the first being created by the Father. So it is appropriate that his feast day occurs during the season in which we are preparing for the coming of the Messiah because Bishop Ambrose helps us better understand what kind of Messiah we are talking about.
Ambrose may have written the Athanasian Creed (BCP p. 864), the first creed in which the equality of the three persons of the Trinity is explicitly stated. Episcopalians seldom recite it in corporate worship, but it is one of our historical documents and one of our theological foundations. Whether Ambrose wrote it or not, it is consistent with his theology:
And the Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
The Messiah who came as a little child and died on a cross as a man is not just a messenger. He is Emmanuel, God With Us in the flesh. That was as incomprehensible a Mystery in the first and fourth centuries as it is today - the Word that was in the beginning, the Word that was with God, the Word that was God, “became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son; full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The proof of it is a matter of faith. This Word Made Flesh, Jesus, the Messiah, matters so much to us because he is the ultimate expression of God’s eternal love for us.
His entire life demonstrates to us that God’s love does not shrink in the face of tragedy, injustice, exploitation, and alienation. Love Divine embraces everything that happens to human beings from birth to death. God With Us heals brokenness, overcomes oppression, and reconciles estrangement. There is no love in the universe that is tougher or more tender!
A meditation attributed to Bishop Ambrose beautifully expresses what God’s love means to us in these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”
I'll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ronald D. Pogue
St. Andrew’s Cathedral
P.S. Several hymns are attributed to St. Ambrose, including the Advent hymn "Savior of the Nations, Come" (Hymnal 1982 #54).