The Wonder of the Incarnation - St. Gregory the Theologian
Archimandrite Irenei (Steenberg) · January 11, 2010
We conclude the first series of A Word From the Holy Fathers with this fiftieth episode, in which Fr. Matthew examines a poignant reflection on "the wonder of the Incarnation" by St. Gregory of Nazianzus. The broadcast concludes with a small announcement about the conclusion of this series, and advance notice of its return with a new series in a month's time.
Brothers and sisters, I would like, this week, to reflect yet further upon the Nativity in the flesh; the Incarnation of our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ. The whole Orthodox world now celebrates and rejoices in this great feast of our redemption, where the Lord is made a small babe, yet the pre-eternal God. We have recently celebrated on both calendars this great feast, and we keep the spirit now, as a new civil civic year also takes its beginning. I would like, in this season of rejoicing, marking also the beginning of a new year, to simply revel in the wonder of the Incarnation, in the wonder of this Divine Nativity, through the words of our father among the saints, Gregory the Theologian. Gregory, writing on this mystery, says the following:
The very Son of God, older than the ages, the Invisible, the Incomprehensible, the Incorporeal, the Beginning of beginning, the Light of light, the Fountain of Life and Immortality, the Image of the Archetype, the immovable Seal, the perfect Likeness, the Definition and Word of the Father: He it is who comes to His own Image and takes our nature, for the good of our nature, and unites Himself to an intelligent soul, for the good of my soul, to purify like by like. He takes to Himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had first been prepared in soul and body, by the Spirit. His coming to birth had to be treated with honor, virginity had to receive new honor. He comes forth as God, in the human nature He has taken. One Being made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave Divinity, and flesh received it. He who makes rich is made poor. He takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty. He is emptied, for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but I failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to my image, immortality to my flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than even the first. Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by the one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant, by force, and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honor of the Father, to whom the Son is obedient in all things. The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it upon the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven. Christ, the Light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the Bridegroom follows the bridegroom’s friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit. We need God to take our flesh, to die, that we might live. We have died with him, so may we be purified. We have risen with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen with him in glory.
Brothers and sisters, I can think of no better text with which to continue, and to draw to a conclusion our reflections on the Nativity of Christ, than this remarkable passage by St. Gregory the Theologian of Nazianzos. He speaks with such clear voice of the mystery of this wondrous Incarnation. The Lord has brought himself to us. He has taken upon his shoulders—the same shoulders which would carry the cross—my nature. I who was lost have found a shepherd.
This is the spirit and the true message of this festive season. Christ has sought us out. We were like a sheep, lost in our sin, wandering far from the flock, from the Father’s care. But however far we walked, however estranged we had become, the Lord traverses every distance, every obstacle, laying down his own life that he may seek us out, find us, bear us upon his shoulders, and return us to his Father’s house. What greater joy, solace, or comfort in life, could there be, than to know that God himself, eternal Son of the Father, shows such love for his creature that he, himself, would take my nature to his own to redeem me through his grace.
St. Gregory gives us this message of hope. May we receive it in humility and love. May the witness of the Incarnation, of the Divine Miracle of Christ’s Nativity in the flesh, infuse our every thoughts, our every action, with love and hope that the Lord of compassion will guide us, seek us out, find us, and redeem us, for he has been born, he has been glorified. Through his death and resurrection, we have been raised with him and we await his glory.
Brothers and sisters, this broadcast also marks the end of our current series of “A Word from the Holy Fathers”, this being our 50th broadcast since we began last December. We’ll be taking a short break in these episodes for the coming month. We shall return in about a month’s time, with new episodes, new reflections, from the writings of our Fathers in the Church. Keep your eyes on AncientFaith.com or Monichos.net for announcements of the new series, when it begins in about one month. Until then, may we all have constant recourse to the writings, the words, and above all, the lives and prayers of our Fathers among the Saints. May they pray for us and bless us, and by their prayers may enter more fully into the kingdom of God. Through prayers of all the saints, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy upon us and save us. Amen.