Now then I pray you accept His Conception, and leap before Him; if not like John from the womb, yet like David, because of the resting of the Ark. Revere the enrolment on account of which thou wast written in heaven, and adore the Birth by which thou wast loosed from the chains of thy birth, and honour little Bethlehem, which hath led thee back to Paradise; and worship the manger through which thou, being without sense, wast fed by the Word. Know as Isaiah bids thee, thine Owner, like the ox, and like the ass thy Master’s crib; if thou be one of those who are pure and lawful food, and who chew the cud of the word and are fit for sacrifice. Or if thou art one of those who are as yet unclean and uneatable and unfit for sacrifice, and of the gentile portion, run with the Star, and bear thy Gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense and myrrh as to a King, and to God, and to One Who is dead for thee. With Shepherds glorify Him with Angels join in chorus; with Archangels sing hymns. Let this Festival be common to the powers in heaven and to the powers upon earth. For I am persuaded that the Heavenly Hosts join in our exultation and keep high Festival with us to-day … because they love men, and they love God just like those whom David introduces after the Passion ascending with Christ and coming to meet Him, and bidding one another to lift up the gates.
“On the Theophany, or Birthday of Christ” by St. Gregory Nazianzen
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I invites “each of us to spiritual uplifting and encounter with the Ancient of Days, who became an infant for us” in his 2008 Christmas encyclical:
The event of incarnation of God’s Word grants us the opportunity to reach the extreme limits of our nature, which are identified neither with the “good and beautiful” of the ancient Greeks and the “justice” of the philosophers, nor with the tranquility of Buddhist “nirvana” and the transcendental “fate” or so-called “karma” by means of the reputedly continuous changes in the form of life, nor again with any “harmony” of supposedly contradictory elements of some imaginary “living force” and anything else like these. Rather, it is the ontological transcendence of corruption and death through Christ, our integration into His divine life and glory, and our union by grace through Him with the Father in the Holy Spirit. These are our ultimate limits: personal union with the Trinitarian God! And Christ’s nativity does not promise any vague blessedness or abstract eternity; it places “in our hands” the potential of personal participation in God’s sacred life and love in an endless progression. It grants us the possibility not only “of receiving adoption” (Gal. 4.5) but also of becoming “partakers of divine nature.” (2 Peter 1.4).
Metropolitan Jonah, in his archpastoral message, reminds us that the Nativity calls us all “to life.”
Let us give thanks to God for the gift of salvation, which He has given us so generously by the incarnation of His Son. Let us also empty ourselves of self, so that by embracing His poverty, we might be filled with His life. Let us open our minds and hearts to Him in the persons of the poor and lonely, the destitute and afflicted, and thereby liken ourselves to Him. Let us accept the gift of grace, the deifying gift of the Holy Spirit, and thus being likened to Him by Him, our lives may be fulfilled in that radiant communion of love, which is nothing other than the Kingdom of God.
Visit the Nativity Season page on the Web site of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese for more resources. The page also has gathered together some Nativity programs currently available on Ancient Faith Radio.
A blessed Nativity and Grace filled New Year to all from the American Orthodox Institute.