In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
In our parish we encounter the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ on many levels and in various ways. During the liturgical services, we hear proclaimed several Gospel lessons from SS Matthew and Luke giving us the ancient narrative of the events. Our church school performs a nativity play in which they tell in narrative and song the story of the birth of Christ, and they act out the details of the story for us to consider the simplicity of God entering the world He created.
Our choir does a presentation of scripture lessons and carols offering us a retelling of the Nativity in poetry and music, both liturgical and folk. We have icons of Christ, the Theotokos and the Feast to contemplate. And there are the liturgical hymns which proclaim the Feast and reveal its theological depth to us. One of the hymns from the Vespers of the Nativity reminds us why we needed a Savior in the first place, and how the incarnation of God the Word brings to an end so many of the obstacles which separated us humans from God. Human sin had created such barriers between us and our Creator causing an enmity between us. God in His love for us worked to break through that separation in order to reunite us, our humanity, with God. The hymn begins:
COME, LET US GREATLY REJOICE IN THE LORD
AS WE TELL OF THIS PRESENT MYSTERY!
THE DIVIDING WALL HAS BEEN DESTROYED;
THE FLAMING SWORD TURNS BACK,
Genesis 3 gives us the theological narrative in which as a consequence of human sin, humanity finds itself in an unexpected hostile relationship with God and the world. The Christmas hymn describes how with the incarnation of God in Christ the results of human sin – the formation of a dividing wall between human creatures and their Creator, the expulsion and exile from Paradise and the angelic host being tasked with keeping humans out of Paradise – are themselves done away with.
THE CHERUBIM WITHDRAW FROM THE TREE OF LIFE,
AND I PARTAKE OF THE DELIGHT OF PARADISE
FROM WHICH I WAS CAST OUT THROUGH DISOBEDIENCE.
The hymn moves from the general negative effects of sin on humanity, to the personal experience of salvation and “my” restoration to Paradise. Note in the hymn it is not Adam’s sin, some “original sin”, which is the problem. I have disobeyed God and it is my personal disobedience which has caused my alienation from God. Thus I am in need of salvation, not just because I am human or because I belong to the human race, but because I have sinned. I need to take personal responsibility for my separation from God. This is the beginning of repentance, of the fear of God, of love for God. This is the beginning of my participating in my salvation, of cooperating with God, of divine-human synergy.
FOR THE EXPRESS IMAGE OF THE FATHER, THE IMPRINT OF HIS ETERNITY,
TAKES THE FORM OF A SERVANT,
AND WITHOUT UNDERGOING CHANGE HE COMES FORTH FROM AN UNWEDDED MOTHER.
Jesus is “the express image of the Father.” In Genesis 1, when God creates us humans in His image and likeness, we are made in the image of the Son of God. The “image of God” that we bear is not some abstraction but personal; we are created in the image of the person of the Son of God. The very person in whose image we each are created reveals that image when He becomes incarnate as Jesus Christ. Christ is the icon, the image, the pattern or type, for each of us human beings. At Christmas, in the birth of our Savior, in the person of Jesus, we come to see God’s image in which we each are created.
FOR WHAT HE WAS, HE HAS REMAINED: TRUE GOD,
AND WHAT HE WAS NOT, HE HAS TAKEN UPON HIMSELF,
BECOMING MAN THROUGH LOVE FOR MANKIND.
The Word of God, in whose image we are each created, become Himself human. The mystery of Christmas is how Christ, now a human being, remains God. All separation and alienation between God and humans caused by sin is destroyed. Humanity is raised on high with divinity. And so we proclaim our salvation in the birth of Christ our Lord.
UNTO HIM, LET US CRY ALOUD://
O GOD BORN OF A VIRGIN, HAVE MERCY ON US!