A Voice From The Isles:
At this holy feast the Church rejoices with one voice:
“Christ is born; Glorify Him.”
Note that … “Christ IS born … ” present tense.
The Nativity is a present reality for us Orthodox Christians. It’s not just that we celebrate a past event now; there’s more to it than that. Christ is eternally born for all generations in the same way that he is both referred to in the Scriptures as “slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8] and also eternally risen and alive in the Cosmos. He is slain so that we might know that he dies for us. He is risen so that we might taste the fruit of his victory over death. But, how is he born for us, for such is our confession on the feast of his Nativity?
St. Gregory of Nazianzen, one of the 4th century Cappadocian fathers and my patron wrote a letter to a certain priest Cledonius. In that letter we read these crucial words concerning the Incarnation …
“For that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.”
And there we have it. He is born for us because our humanity … ALL our humanity must be saved, restored, healed. God took upon himself our WHOLE humanity, entire and complete from the Ever-Virgin Mary, the Theotokos in order to return it back to us WHOLE, in one piece, restored to its primal beauty … and more, glorified in the resurrection.
This means that there is NOTHING in our humanity (excepting sin) that we cannot find in God; ALL is there, all our faculties of body, mind and spirit … all our relationships, all our fears, hopes, joys and dreads … ALL are present in the Christ and especially in this feast in our childhood, that most precious gift that should endure in our adulthood even until our death, if we are to live fully and enter the Kingdom of God … as a child.
It is not necessary; indeed it is entirely wrong and dangerous, for us to lay aside anything of our humanity in receiving Christ, yet there are heresies that demand precisely that. These hold that we must lay aside pleasure or art or laughter or sexuality or questionings or all manner of normal natural things to be “spiritual.” Such joyless, depressing, damaging ideas take flight at Christmas time for now we affirm that God indeed has come in the flesh and made holy all that is human.
The question of what is not holy gets re-defined. It is a life lived unmindful of God, ungrateful and hateful … in short a denial of our very humanity. This then is our call to repentance… not in the denial of our humanity (God forbid!) but in us putting to death within us of all that is contrary to God’s creative purpose and divine will. Such repentance comes with the peace message of the gospel. We repent because we have confidence in God and a radical honesty concerning ourselves. We have confidence in God because we know that in His great love for us God reunited Himself to us in Christ, bringing forgiveness of our sins and death destroying life.
That is why the Incarnation is good news because we hear the liberating message that God is intimately concerned with our human condition and potential. This confidence we have in God urges us towards a greater and deeper honesty concerning ourselves, stripping away all the masks and subterfuges that we have used to confuse and conceal the truth from others, ourselves and God Himself… who of course is neither deceived nor mocked. When the mercy of God and the repentance of man meet there is a new birth by the Spirit not the flesh to which St. John the Theologian attests in the Incarnation Prologue to his gospel:
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
With this new birth our humanity is restored and indeed in relation to its original state surpassed in dignity and glory. But the first step is the new birth which is the fruit of repentance. Without that the Christmas story is a narrative that has not been allowed to transform its hearers. In the words of a 17th century Christian mystic, Angelus Silesius, not himself Orthodox but expressing himself in a very Orthodox manner:
“Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, But not within thyself, thy soul shall be forlorn.”