The Feast of Nativity of Christ

Leo, Sermon XXI, On the Feast of the Nativity:

Our Saviour, dearly-beloved, was born today: let us be glad. For there is no proper place for sadness, when we keep the birthday of the Life, which destroys the fear of mortality and brings to us the joy of promised eternity. No one is kept from sharing in this happiness. There is for all one common measure of joy, because as our Lord the destroyer of sin and death finds none free from charge, so is He come to free us all. Let the saint exult in that he draws near to victory. Let the sinner be glad in that he is invited to pardon. Let the gentile take courage in that he is called to life. For the Son of God in the fulness of time which the inscrutable depth of the Divine counsel has determined, has taken on him the nature of man, thereby to reconcile it to its Author: in order that the inventor of death, the devil, might be conquered through that (nature) which he had conquered. And in this conflict undertaken for us, the fight was fought on great and wondrous principles of fairness; for the Almighty Lord enters the lists with His savage foe not in His own majesty but in our humility, opposing him with the same form and the same nature, which shares indeed our mortality, though it is free from all sin.

Archbishop Demetrios, Encyclical for the Feast of the Nativity of Christ:

The holy birth in Bethlehem of our Savior occurred at a specific time, but His Incarnation and its significance for our redemption are timeless. The Son of God, the Lord of Glory and King of kings who upholds the universe by His word of power, became man so that we human beings might be redeemed, renewed, united with Him, and become fellow citizens with the Saints and members of God’s household.

The magnitude and the depth of the event of the Nativity of Christ are impossible to grasp, but yet its message is clear and true. It is a message of grace, hope, and salvation to all humanity and all of the created order…

As the shepherds and wise men received the invitation to “come and see” the superb miracle of the Incarnation of God, so too we are invited on this great feast to come and encounter Christ, and to see the great and marvelous work He has done for us and our salvation. On this day we come and see the brilliant light of truth and life shining through the darkness and despair of our world. We hear a message of hope and grace that causes us to cease all other thoughts and activities and direct our hearts and minds to the One who has come to bring us peace and assurance. We come to Christ and see justice, holiness, and love and realize the necessity of these for true and abundant life.

Ephrem the Syrian, First Hymn on the Nativity:

In this night of reconcilement let no man be wroth or gloomy! in this night that stills all, none that threatens or disturbs! This night belongs to the sweet One; bitter or harsh be in it none! In this night that is the meek One’s, high or haughty be in it none! In this day of pardoning let us not exact trespasses! In this day of gladnesses let us not spread sadnesses! In this day so sweet, let us not be harsh! In this day of peaceful rest, let us not be wrathful in it! In this day when God came to sinners, let not the righteous be in his mind uplifted over sinner! In this day in which there came the Lord of all unto the servants, let masters too condescend to their servants lovingly! In this day in which the Rich became poor for our sakes, let the rich man make the poor man share with him at his table. On this day to us came forth the Gift, although we asked it not! Let us therefore bestow alms on them that cry and beg of us. This is the day that opened for us a gate on high to our prayers. Let us open also gates to supplicants that have transgressed, and of us have asked [forgiveness.] To-day the Lord of nature was against His nature changed; let it not to us be irksome to turn our evil wills. Fixed in nature is the body; great or less it cannot become: but the will has such dominion, it can grow to any measure. To-day Godhead sealed itself upon Manhood, that so with the Godhead’s stamp Manhood might be adorned.

Pope Benedict XVI, Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord:

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch – they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His “self” is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God.

Leo, Sermon XXVI, On the Feast of the Nativity:

Although, therefore, that infancy, which the majesty of God’s Son did not disdain, reached mature manhood by the growth of years and, when the triumph of His passion and resurrection was completed, all the actions of humility which were undertaken for us ceased, yet to-day’s festival renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary: and in adoring the birth of our Saviour, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life. For the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body. Although every individual that is called has his own order, and all the sons of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time, yet as the entire body of the faithful being born in the font of baptism is crucified with Christ in His passion, raised again in His resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in His ascension, so with Him are they born in this nativity.

Archbishop Rowan Williams, Christmas Sermon (2009):

Relationship is the new thing at Christmas, the new possibility of being related to God as Jesus was and is. But here’s the catch and the challenge. To come into this glorious future is to learn how to be dependent on God. And that word tends to have a chilly feel for us, especially us who are proudly independent moderns…we think of dependency as something passive and less than free.

But let’s turn this round for a moment. If we think of being dependent on the air we breathe, or the food we eat, things look different. Even more if we remind ourselves that we depend on our parents for learning how to speak and act and above all how to love. There is a dependence that is about simply receiving what we need to live; there is a dependence that is about how we learn and grow. And part of our human problem is that we mix up this entirely appropriate and lifegiving dependency with the passivity that can enslave us. In seeking (quite rightly) trying to avoid passivity we can get trapped in the fantasy that we don’t need to receive and to learn.

Which is why it matters that our reading portrays the Son in the way it does – radiant, creative, overflowing with life and intelligence. The Son is all these things because he is dependent, because he receives his life from the Father. And when we finally grow up in to the fullness of his life, we shall, like him, be gladly and unashamedly dependent – open to receiving all God has to give, open to learn all he has to teach.

Ephrem the Syrian, Second Hymn on the Nativity:

Blessed be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem to-day! Blessed be the Babe Who made manhood young again to-day! Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our famished state! Blessed be the Good One, Who suddenly enriched our necessitousness and supplied our needs! Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!

Praise to the Fountain that was sent for our propitiation. Praise be to Him Who made void the Sabbath by fulfilling it! Praise too to Him Who rebuked the leprosy and it remained not, Whom the fever saw and fled! Praise to the Merciful, Who bore our toil! Glory to Thy coming, which quickened the sons of men!

Glory to Him, Who came to us by His first-born! Glory to the Silence, that spake by His Voice. Glory to the One on high, Who was seen by His Day-spring! Glory to the Spiritual, Who was pleased to have a Body, that in it His virtue might be felt, and He might by that Body show mercy on His household’s bodies!

Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest! Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die! Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small! Glory to the Power Who did straiten His greatness by a form, His unseen nature by a shape! With eye and mind we have beheld Him, yea with both of them.

Glory to that Hidden One, Who even with the mind cannot be felt at all by them that pry into Him; but by His graciousness was felt by the hand of man!

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encyclical for the Nativity of Christ:

The unshakeable belief of Christians is that God does not simply or indifferently observe from above the journey of humanity, which He has personally created according to His image and likeness…the divine condescension of Christmas is not restricted to things related to eternity. It also includes things related to our earthly journey. Christ came into the world in order to spread the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven and to initiate us into this Kingdom. Yet, He also came in order to help and heal human weakness. He miraculously and repeatedly fed the multitudes who listened to His word; He cleansed lepers; He supported paralytics; He granted light to the blind, hearing to the deaf and speech to the dumb; He delivered the demonized of impure spirits, resurrected the dead, supported the rights of the oppressed and abandoned; He condemned illegal wealth, heartlessness to the poor, hypocrisy and “hubris” in human relations; He offered Himself as an example of voluntary self-emptying sacrifice for the sake of others!

Perhaps this dimension of the message of divine incarnation should be particularly emphasized this year. Many of our friends and colleagues are experiencing terrible trials from the current crisis. There are countless numbers of unemployed, nouveau poor, homeless, young people with “cropped” dreams…Now is the time for a practical application of the Gospel message with a dignified sense of responsibility! Now is the time for a clear and exact implementation of the words of the Apostle: “Show me your faith with works!” (James 2.18) Now is the time and the opportunity for us “to raise our minds to things divine” to the height of the royal virtue of Love, which brings us closer to God.

Leo, Sermon XXI, On the Feast of the Nativity:

Let us then, dearly beloved, give thanks to God the Father, through His Son, in the Holy Spirit, Who “for His great mercy, wherewith He has loved us,” has had pity on us: and “when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together in Christ,” that we might be in Him a new creation and a new production. Let us put off then the old man with his deeds: and having obtained a share in the birth of Christ let us renounce the works of the flesh. Christian, acknowledge thy dignity, and becoming a partner in the Divine nature, refuse to return to the old baseness by degenerate conduct. Remember the Head and the Body of which thou art a member. Recollect that thou wert rescued from the power of darkness and brought out into God’s light and kingdom. By the mystery of Baptism thou wert made the temple of the Holy Ghost: do not put such a denizen to flight from thee by base acts, and subject thyself once more to the devil’s thraldom: because thy purchase money is the blood of Christ, because He shall judge thee in truth Who ransomed thee in mercy, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

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