Christmas Blogs available as PDF

All of the blogs that were posted during the 2012 Christmas season with themes related to the Nativity Fast or the Feast of the Nativity have been collected into one document and are now available as a PDF:  2012 Christmas Blogs (PDF).

I have also in past years collected the blogs each Nativity Season into a PDF.  You can find links to each year’s collection of Christmas blogs (2009-2011) at 2011 Nativity Blogs as a PDF.

You can find links to all the blogs I posted  during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

Links to all my blog series now available as PDFs can be found at Blog Series PDFs.

The Incarnation and the Resurrection

Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyev writes:

St. Ephrem also deals with the theme of the descent into Hades in his ‘Homily on Our Lord,’ written in metrical prose. Here the author juxtaposes the events of the incarnation of God and his exodus from Sheol:

‘The Only Begotten proceeded from the Being (of the Father) and dwelled in the Virgin, so that through his bodily birth the Only Begotten became a brother of many. And he went forth out of Sheol and settled in the Kingdom so that he could tread a path from Sheol, which deceives everyone, to the Kingdom that rewards everyone. For our Lord made his Resurrection a pledge to the mortal ones, that he could liberate them from Sheol that receives the dead without discernment, (and to lead them) to Kingdom receiving the invited with discernment (between the sinners and the righteous).’

Clearly the Old Testament notion of Sheol as a place where all the dead go regardless of their moral state (‘without discernment’) remained in the Syriac tradition for much longer than in the Greek. Moreover, it is considered to be a peculiarity of the Syriac tradition to parallel (and sometimes to equate) the descent of Christ into Sheol with his descent into the waters of the Jordan at his baptism by John the Forerunner.

‘The Father begat him and through him created the whole Creation. Flesh begat him and through him mortified passions. Baptisms begat him to wash away the stains (of our sin). Sheol begat him so that through him her treasures would be plundered.’”

(Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The Descent into Hades from an Orthodox Perspective, pgs. 72-73)

 

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

The Virginal Birth of Christ

“Why had Christ to be born of a virgin?

Since he came to give us a new life it was fitting that he himself should be born in a new manner. But this newness, as always, is prefigured in the Old Testament, the Lord’s birth of a Virgin being of a fore-ordained plan. The soil was still virgin, neither yet harrowed by the laborer, nor sown by the sower when the Lord formed from it a living soul. Therefore since tradition teaches that the first Adam is of the earth, then the last Adam (novissimus) must, as the Apostle says, be formed from the earth, to be a life-giving spirit.

And further (for we must not let this allusion to Adam slip by), why is Christ called Adam by the Apostle if his human nature has no earthly origin?

But the divine plan shows that God has restored his image and likeness, held captive by the devil, by an inverse operation. The death-bringing word was heard by Eve when she was still a virgin: the Word of God when he came to revive man must be born of a virgin, so that the same sex which brought in death may now introduce life. Eve believed the word of the serpent, Mary the word of Gabriel. In the fourth century the tradition of Tertullian and Irenaeus is carried on by St Ambrose. ‘Adam is born of the virgin earth, Christ is born of a Virgin. The former was made in the image of God, the latter is the image of God. The first was set over irrational animals, the second over all living beings. By a woman came foolishness, and by a Virgin true Wisdom. A tree brought death, life comes from the Cross.’”   (Jean Danielou,  From Shadows to Reality: Studies in the Biblical Typology of the Fathers, pg. 46)

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

Imitating the Magi

“The Magi, divinely warned in a dream, return to their country by another road. They must avoid Herod.

In the spiritual sense, he whom God has led to the crib can certainly go back home, to his own country, to his house; but it will be by another road. That is to say, the motives, the attitudes, the manner of existing, the means used, can no longer be the same.

When one has gone to Bethlehem, a radical change takes place.” 

(Jesus: A Dialogue with the Savior by a Monk of the Eastern Church, pgs. 8-9)

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

Christmas Today

“Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the time of salvation.”  (2 Corinthians 6:2)

Luminous EyeSebastian Brock in THE LUMINOUS EYE: THE SPIRITUAL WORLD VISION OF SAINT EPHREM THE SYRIAN describes an understanding of ‘time’ in Patristic writers which is different from the modern sense that time is always and only linear:

“Ordinary time is linear and each point in time knows a ‘before’ and an ‘after’.  Sacred time, on the other hand, knows no ‘before’ and ‘after’, only the ‘eternal now’: what is important for sacred time is its content, and not a particular place in the sequence of linear time.”

Thus in the hymns of the church we often encounter ‘sacred time’ as in the hymns of Christmas in which the birth of Christ is spoken about as happening “today”.  We are not celebrating past history, but entering into the experience of the birth of Christ.

Today heaven and earth are united, for Christ is born.  

Today God has come to earth, and man ascends to heaven.

Today God, who by nature cannot be seen,

Is seen in the flesh for our sake.

Let us glorify Him, crying: 

Glory to god in the highest, and on earth peace!

Your coming has brought peace to us:  Glory to You, our Savior!

In the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, we are always living in the present, not in the past.  Christmas is not a remembering of or recreation of the past, but making salvation present the current moment of our existence.  Today Christ is born regardless of whether it is 2012, 2013, 2011 or the year 3, 11 or 1012.

“But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law…”  (Galatians 4:4)

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

God Creates Humans to Become Human

Fr. Georges Florovsky, noted 20th Century Orthodox Theologian, made the interesting claim that the very point of creation, and for God of His creating humans, is that God always intended to become human.  The Christmas story of the incarnation of God is what God had been planning from before there was time.

“God creates the world and reveals himself in order to become a man in this world.  Man is created in order that God may become man and it is by this union that man is deified.  Or as St. Irenaeus of Lyons expressed it: ‘The Son of God became the Son of man in order that man would become the Son of God.’  This purpose was realized in the mystery of Christ’s birth…”

“‘If one should ask what are we worshiping and adoring, the answer is ready: we are honoring love.’ (St. Gregory of Nazianzus)  ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…’ (John 3:16)”   (Fr. Georges Florovsky, “The Year of our Lord”, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, 1952)

So while all the Eves and Adams of the world want to become God (gods), God for His part was looking to become human! How disappointed He must have been to find out we didn’t want to be human and always are trying to escape our humanity.

The story of Adam and Eve is the story of each of us – it is not so much a historical story but a prototypical one.  Adam and Eve are us, and we are them – we share the same humanity, the same human nature, the same human desires and faults.  We don’t read Genesis 2-3 to learn ancient history, but rather we read it as our own personal history.  We are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve and so share their desires and their failures and sins.

God, however, sees something in us which delights Him and He wants to become us.  Even if we don’t see what God sees in us and are endlessly trying to escape being human because we see it as limiting us. God however doesn’t see it that way – He doesn’t see humanity or being human as limiting Him!

In the Book of Job (chapters 1 & 2) basically you have Satan telling God that humans are no good.  Satan cannot understand why God delights in these human creatures and he sets out to prove to God that even God’s favorite human is no good.  So perhaps when we look at the world and consider all of the bad news about what humans do and we get depressed about the human race, we are taking on the Satanic point of view.  God for His part loves the world and chooses to fulfill His plan and becomes human so that the humans He loves might be like Him.  Christmas is the feast of God becoming human.

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

Seeking the Newborn Christ

The Church invites us to remember the Christmas story.  Remembrance in this sense is not simply recalling past events, but placing yourself in those events.  We are invited to be the Magi and offer to Christ the gift of our daily deeds.

“The Magi, too, sought Him, and when they found Him in the crib,

Worship instead of investigation they offered Him in silence.

Instead of empty controversies, they gave Him offerings.

You, too, seek the First-born, and if you find Him on high,

Instead of confused searching, open your treasures before Him

And offer Him your deeds.”

(St. Ephrem the Syrian – d. can 373AD – quoted in the St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly Volume 56 Number 1, pg. 19)

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

The Birth of Christ

“Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that  I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope. Christ of a Virgin; O you Matrons live as Virgins, that you may be Mothers of Christ. Who does not worship Him That is from the beginning? Who does not glorify Him That is the Last?” (St. Gregory Nazianzus’ sermon, “On the Birthday of Christ”, O Logos Publications)

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

The Nativity of Christ (2012)

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.”  (Luke 2:1, KJV)

Mary and Joseph being enrolled at the order of Caesar Augustus

The context for the birth of Christ in Luke’s Gospel is the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. A census done to determine what taxes needed to be paid to the imperial government. St. Luke places the birth of Christ in the context of setting tax rates for the government!  (Sounds like Christmas 2012 in the USA)   The Gospel writers place the narration of the birth of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ within the news of that time.  That is also how we hear the story today: within the context of our current history.

Taxes belong to this earth which is passing away. They are not eternal values. The taxes of the mighty Roman Empire and the great Caesar Augustus, which we are reminded of each year at Christmas, have no effect on those living outside the Empire – either in space or time.  (The icon is from the Chora Church in Istanbul showing the Holy Virgin and Joseph before the census-takers).  Even the Holy Family acknowledged the Roman government and rendered to Caesar.   While the Roman census and taxes are long forgotten, the birth of an impoverished Palestinian Jewish baby, which few paid attention to at the time, has had global and timeless impact on us all.

This year we also hear the story of the birth of Christ within the context of a massacre of children which took place 2 weeks ago in Connecticut. A massacre of the Holy Innocent children after the birth of Christ is part of the Gospel story of Christmas even if it is not part of the Christmas story we Americans tend to herald in our cards and decorations. But the birth of Christ has everything to do with the reality of a violent and sinful world. Christmas in that sense is not a Children’s story, but it is Goodnews for all children in a world which has evil and violence.

We are citizens of the Kingdom of God: an eternal Kingdom whose decrees are always timely and global. Yet we live in a world which continues to have taxes and massacres of innocent children. Despite these evil events, God so loved the world that He gave His own dear son that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life. Let us never doubt God’s love despite the evil we encounter.

The Kingdom of God isn’t something that will come in the mail, appear on TV, be found under the tree, or that will be on sale December 26. But it is a Kingdom that is always in us.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.

Imaging the Incarnation in Song

Some hymns in the Orthodox tradition give us intriguing images of the incarnation which allow us to see salvation not just as systematic theology but as expressions of beauty.  We can see a few examples from the Matins Canon of the Sunday before the Nativity:

Stem of the root of Jesse,

The Virgin has blossomed forth as an unfading flower the Creator of all!

The One who as God has adorned all the earth with flowers,

Which raises the cry: Glory to Your power, O Lord!

The image of an unfading flower is in contrast to the biblical use of flowers which are usually portrayed as a fading beauty which is passing away (Job 14:2, Psalm 103:15, Isaiah 28:1-4, Isaiah 40:6-8; James 1:10-11; 1Peter 1:24).  Christ is the flower that does not fade.

She who is the holy vine

which causes the all-pure

cluster of grapes to ripen,

Draws near and comes

to bear the Wine of Gladness,

Which overflows and

pours forth drink 

to us who cry to Him:

Blessed are You, God of our Fathers.

The Lord who says His Blood is drink indeed (John 6:55) offers us this wine of gladness in the chalice.  Wine pressed from the grape cluster which the Virgin bore. All wonderful images of the incarnation.

She who is the holy chest of sweet ointment

bearing within the fragrant perfume,

Comes to pour it forth in the cave in Bethlehem,

To fill with mystical fragrance those who sing:

Blessed are You, God of our Fathers!

The Virgin bearing the incarnate God is thus portrayed poetically as the flowering stem of the root of Jesse (with Christ being the flower), the holy grape vine (with Christ the cluster of grapes who gives his blood as the wine of gladness) and as the container of sweetly fragrant perfume.  Her Son is beauty revealed to us, but also fire.

She who is the tongs

which Isaiah the prophet

beheld of of old

has come bearing in her womb

Christ the divine coal.

He burns up all the causes of sin,

And illumines the souls of the faithful.

The Nativity of Christ offers us the most profound theology in the guise of narrative: God the Word becomes flesh in order to unite humanity to God and thus to bring an end to the reign of death.

You can find links to all the blogs I have or will post during this year’s Christmas season at 2012 Nativity Blogs.