Orthodox Homily for the Great Feast of the Nativity of Christ

On this glorious day where heaven and earth meet, we celebrate God’s Incarnation in-the-flesh.  In so doing, we do more than commemorate the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Through our worship, we call into the present all those glorious and life-saving events surrounding Christ’s miraculous birth.  This is the day on which God has fashioned all things new and given hope to all mankind to be renewed in the image and likeness of our Creator.  

This is the day on which the whole universe is filled with light and all creation with joy. Through the Divine Services of the Feast we have become witnesses of the communion between those in heaven and those on earth, the angels and shepherds who glorify Him in heaven and on earth join together with one voice, celebrating the greatest of God’s gifts: the gift of Himself, His humble condescension to us sinners, God with us!  In His great love and mercy, the Creator of all, the Giver of Life, becomes one of His own creation to enter into our human nature and make it new!

Dwell for a moment on this awesome mystery revealed: As we hear in the Royal Hours of the Feast, “Today, He who holds the whole creation in His hand is born of the Virgin.” God, whom the universe cannot contain, has become a tiny babe to inaugurate the new race of Adam.   On this day, we sing with the angels in heaven, who rejoice with the shepherds, who, in turn, worship with the magi.   On this day, those in heaven and those on earth are joined in one chorus. In Vigil we sang, “today, heaven and earth are united.”  “Today, God has come to earth and man ascends to heaven” (Litya of the Feast). 

God has destined us for glory, for communion with Him for all eternity. We’re co-heirs with Christ, the Father’s adopted children through the new birth of baptism and Christ in the center of our lives.  As St. Athanasius (4thcentury) declares, “God became man, that we may become divine.”  This is God’s loving desire for us—no matter who you are or what your past. Christ’s Incarnation fills all of humanity with this potential: to find healing from sin-sickness through repentance, to conquer sin and death through His victory over sin and death, to be made anew, in the likeness of Christ, the new Adam, for, “as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive,” (I Cor. 15:22).  Christ’s Nativity is then an invitation to new life, to renewal of life.  Christ has become incarnate to give us new identity and self-worth as adopted children, His peace which surpasses all comprehension—the fruit of communion with God the Father in Christ by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling.  This is the good news,evangelion, announced to the shepherds and, indeed, today, for a world suffering under so much sin, disobedience, and violence.

St. Gregory Palamas says of the Mystery revealed: “He who defines all things and is limited by none is contained in a small, makeshift manger.  He who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of His hand, is wrapped in narrow, swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes” (St. Gregory Palamas, Homily Fifty-Eight, “On the Saving Nativity of Christ”).

He who is the King of Kings is worshiped by the Persian kings and receives their gifts.  The Only-Begotten One has become incarnate for our sake and reversed and renewed that human nature fallen into sin, despair, and death.  “The Word has become flesh without leaving His Father,” as we sing in the Vespers (Apostika) of the Feast.  The one who anoints is now the anointed. The one who offers is now the one who is offered.  

Gold, a fitting gift for a king, is given to the King of Kings.  Frankincense, the gift befitting God, is given to Christ who is God Incarnate.  Myrrh is prophetically offered by the Magi in preparation for His life-saving death, when He will defeat sin and death for all.  The One who could, by His own words, call down a thousand angels to destroy the wicked, instead submits Himself in His love and humility to the vulnerability of a new-born babe to call the those who do evil, all of us, to new life, to holiness.   The One who loved us into being, now accepts love from his Virgin Mother and adopted father.   “He who rained manna on His people in the wilderness is fed on milk from His Mother’s breast” (Royal Hours).  

The uncircumscribable God has become circumscribed in His humanity while simultaneously remaining God.  And so, for us, humility now has a face; humility and love are known.  The Wisdom and Word of God, Logos, who originally brought all things into being, has enlightened the whole universe by virtue of His incarnation.  Humility becomes the means of our renewal, in imitation of our Savior born this day in a manger, in a cave, among dumb beasts.  

He whose throne the six-winged Seraphim surround in worship, Whose face they cannot bear to see, now appears to us in human flesh and the angels themselves are filled with awe.  Because of this life-saving day, every eye may now gaze on that face even as we see Him now through the holy icons, faithfully and timelessly proclaiming the truth of His life-saving incarnation in-the-flesh and His calling to each of us to embrace the new life in Him.  

This is our God!  See His unsurpassed love and mercy for us. Rejoice with the angels!  Be stirred by it, take it to heart for your renewal and salvation.  At Vespers for the Feast we sing, “The angels offer Thee a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, a manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother.”

Now we who celebrate the Feast ask the question of ourselves: What do I offer Christ this day?  

The service of the Royal Hours suggests this: Let us offer Christ clean minds and a pure heart through repentance.  “Let us offer Him a life of virtue instead of Myrrh.” 

Let us also consider offering our faith and love as we celebrate with joy His holy Nativity.  Let us receive Him inside ourselves in the Eucharist as the cave did of old, preparing Him room. As Christ God did not reject the humble cave for His birth, neither will He reject the room of a humble soul. In His love and humility, Christ comes to us too, He receives us, indwells and heals us, unites us with Him and all the faithful who have come before us or who will come after us. Emmanuelis here (God with us).  Like the angels, shepherds, and magi, we share this good news with all whom we meet because the world cannot contain our joy in this life-changing event.  Thou, O Christ, has this day filled all things with joy!  Together, joining our voices with the angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we proclaim this day: Christ is born!  Glorify Him!  Hristos se naste!  Slaviti-L!  Kristos rozhdaetsya! Slav’te ego!  

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Sunday, December 25, 2018

Feast of the Holy Nativity—Craciun

Epistle:            Galatians 4:4-7

Gospel:            Matthew 2:1-12