Confessing Sins 

Christ is born!
Glorify Him!

5692052545_c9215ff669_wIn those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; make His paths straight.’” Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. (Matthew 3:1-6)

Confession of sins is not something invented by Christianity. Judaism already knew the practice – one seeks God’s forgiveness and mercy when one is aware that one has sinned against God. John the Baptist called people to repentance knowing that the Lord is God of those who repent. God is a forgiving God to those who come to Him in repentance—this is the witness of the Old Testament.

Do not be ashamed to enter the church (to confess). Be ashamed when you sin but not when you repent.  (St John Chrysostom, WHAT THE CHURCH FATHERS SAY ABOUT… Vol 2, p 58)

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We humble ourselves in repentance and admit our need of God’s grace and mercy. Each of us seeks God’s forgiveness for the specific ways we each have sinned against God. This is not simply a general acknowledgement that we all sin, but a specific enumeration of our faults. We acknowledge we actually need God’s forgiveness, admit our struggles and failures with our passions and temptations. St Innocent of Moscow says:

What is confession? Confession is the oral avowal of the sins which lie heavy laden upon one’s conscience. Confession, however, only empties the soul from sins, but repentance cleanses it and makes it ready to receive the Holy Spirit.  . . .  And even more important, do you want to bring a sacrifice to God such as will be acceptable to him? Naturally all gladly want this and in the measure within our power to bring it. But what can we bring Him really acceptable? –  a contrite heart! ‘A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart‘ (Psalm 50:19). Here is an offering to God more priceless than all offerings and oblations! (WHAT THE CHURCH FATHERS SAY ABOUT… Vol 2, p 59-61)

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Many church fathers advocated Christians to examine their consciences daily, to admit to our sins while they are fresh on our minds so that they don’t sink into our hearts and become a heart condition. It is also a good thing to do as the old year comes to an end. We can examine our lives to see where we have sinned against God and neighbor and make a new beginning in the New Year.

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The Savior’s Birth and Death

Christ is born!  Glorify Him! 

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But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation. Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned… (Romans 5:8-12) 

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The birth of Jesus Christ, God’s own Son incarnate, is God’s response to human sin. Through sin, death spread to all humans. All humans are mortal because of the effect of sin. God sends His Son into the world to destroy the power of sin and death. The Nativity of Christ is our salvation because it is about how God triumphs over death. Orthodox Theologian Theodore Stylianopoulos writes: 

Because the problem was corruption and death, and not merely the offense of transgression, for which divine forgiveness upon repentance would have sufficed, the only solution was the incarnation of the incorruptible and immortal Word. Christ therefore offered his own bodily temple as ‘substitute’ for all (antipsychon, literally ‘life for life’; cf. 4 Maccabees 6:28-29) and so, also being united to human nature, vanquished death and clothed humanity with incorruptible life. Athanasius celebrates with Paul by citing one Corinthians 15:53-55.

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Thus for Athanasius – and here the Alexandrian father seems to follow the line of tradition going back to Irenaeus and to Paul – the supreme goal of Christ’s coming to earth was to overcome the condemnation (katadike) of death by his own death and resurrection, both of which are the ‘trophy’ or ‘monument’ (tropaion) of Christ victory over death. Athanasius seems to do justice to Paul’s concerns about human corruption and death but says nothing about the wrath of God or about justification of the sinner as forensic acquittal, despite the language about debt and substitution, language that apparently was used because of the pull of scripture.  (ENCOURAGED BY THE SCRIPTURES, p 125)

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St Ephrem the Syrian poetically expresses the significance of the Word becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. By appearing as a human, God has made Himself and our salvation visible to us. The fact that we can make an icon of Christ is the visible sign of our salvation and that now we can see God. 

Glory be to that Powerful One  

who painted for himself 

a portrait for His majesty 

and an image for his invisibility. 

In the eye and in the mind, 

in both of them, we have seen Him. 

(FAITH ADORING THE MYSTERY, p 26)

Slaughter of the Holy Innocents 

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Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

Though modern people like to read into the scriptural narrative of Christ’s birth a great deal of sentimentality and nostalgia, Matthew’s Gospel presents rather a more dramatic, even traumatic story complete with chase scene, murders and grief. It is a hostile world, a world awash in violence, into which the Savior enters at great risk to Himself. Biblical scholar Dale Allison comments on the parallels between the biblical narratives of Pharoah’s order to kill all male Jewish babies, and Herod’s order to slaughter the male infants around Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth:

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“In chapter 2 [Matthew’s Gospel] Herod’s order to do away with the male infants of Bethlehem (2:16-18) is like Pharaoh’s order to do away with every male Hebrew child (Exodus 1).  And if Herod orders the slaughter of Hebrew infants because he has learned of the birth of Israel’s liberator (2:2-18), in Jewish tradition Pharaoh slaughters the Hebrew children because he has learned the very same thing (Josephus, Antiquities 2.205-9; Targum Ps-Jonathan on Ex 1:15).  Further, whereas Herod hears of the coming liberator from chief priests, scribes, and magi (2:1-12), Josephus (Antiquities 2.205 and 234) has Pharaoh learn of Israel’s deliverer from scribes, while the Jerusalem Targum on Exodus 1:15 says that Pharaoh’s chief magicians (Jannes and Jambres, the sons of Balaam) were the sources of his information.  The quotation of Hos 11:1 in Matt 2:15 further evokes thought of the exodus, for in its original context ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’ concerns Israel.

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And then there is 2:19-22, which borrows the language of Exodus 4:19-20:  just as Moses, after being told to go back to Egypt because all those seeking his life have died, takes his wife and children and returns to the land of his birth, so too with Jesus:  Joseph after being told to go back to Israel because all those seeking the life of his son have died, takes his wife and child and returns to the land of his son’s birth.” (Sermon on the Mount:  Inspiring the Moral Imagination, pgs 17-18)

Christ is born!  Glorify Him! 

Humans Being Grounded

Christ is born!  Glorify Him!

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For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8)

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Church fathers and mothers through the centuries sought God’s message in all the texts of Scripture. They often accepted that the text had a literal (face value) meaning, but also understood there to be a deeper, spiritual meaning to the text. So, the above quote from Hebrews is a wisdom saying which is also an observation of nature. The Patristic writers would then look for the spiritual meaning beyond the literal. They would note with St Paul that God is not focused on nature, but rather on us humans, and so we have to look for the text’s meaning for our lives. [Which is not to say nature in insignificant for it too is God’s creation which God loves (John 3:16), only that God sends His revelations and messages to us humans, not to nature. And, though nature teaches us wisdom and can help us know about God, still, God’s full revelation cannot be known only through nature.] Just consider St Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:9-11 –

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For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of a share in the crop. If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits? 

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St Paul points out that though the Law has a literal meaning (don’t prevent oxen from eating grain when they are turning a millstone – indeed, it warns against abusing animals for the sake of financial greed), the text has a more important meaning for us as all the law is written about us, not about oxen (who aren’t concerned about whether or not the law is kept). The idea to treat one’s domesticated animals properly is a human wisdom that doesn’t require any revelation or law from God. So, when such human wisdom appears in the Scriptures, the Patristic writers saw that it had some more spiritually significant, and perhaps hidden, meaning.

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The above pericope from Hebrews 6 speaks literally about rain falling on the ground and being a blessing when it causes the ground to bear fruit rather than noxious weeds. However, as a wisdom saying, it has a deeper meaning about us humans and our being blessed by God to bear spiritual fruit rather than to commit sins. The unknown 6th Century Syrian monk now called Pseudo-Macarius shows us a meaning for this text in two comments:

1] If the love of God dwells within you, it is necessary that such love bring forth other fruit, such as fraternal love, meekness, sincerity, perseverance and prayer, and zeal and all virtues. But since the treasure is precious, so also great are the laborers necessary to obtain it. Such persons do not strut in show before others, but do all in order to please the Lord, who knows all hidden things, whom we must always be directed toward, and who scrutinizes the interior of the spirit. (THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 264)

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2] The fruits of sincere prayer are simplicity, love, humility, fortitude, innocence, and other things similar to these. . . .  When we cultivate a vineyard, the whole of our attention and labor is given in the expectation of the harvest. If there is no vintage, all our work is to no purpose. Similarly, if through the activity of the Spirit we do not perceive within ourselves the fruits of love, peace, and the other qualities mentioned by St Paul (Galatians 5:22), then our labor for the sake of virginity, prayer, psalmody, fasting, and vigil is useless. (THE FIFTY SPIRITUAL HOMILIES, p 268)

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Christmas: The Word Becomes Flesh 

Christ is born!  Glorify Him! 

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For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

While in common parlance, “the word of God” is thought to refer to the Bible, the written Scriptures, in traditional Christian theology Christ is the Word of God who became incarnate for our salvation. Thus, the Word of God is a “Who” rather than a “what”. While it is not incorrect to think of the Bible as the Word of God, it is far more correct to think of the Word of God as the God-man Jesus Christ – the Scripture bears witness to Him (John 5:39). St John at the beginning of his Gospel is clear that it is the Word of God who becomes flesh in Jesus Christ (John 1:1-17).

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Thinking about the Word of God as a person was not invented by Christians, for the idea was already present in Judaism. Referring to John 1:1-3, THE JEWISH ANNOTATED NEW TESTAMENT says:

In the beginning, echoing the opening of Genesis. The Word signifies God’s power of creation and redemption; as a means of expression, reason (or truth), and grace it is identified with Jesus (1:9, 14, 17), it suggests Wisdom terminology (Psalm 33:6; Proverbs 8:7-30; Wisdom 9:1, 9; 18: 15; Sirach 24:9; 43:26). For the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo, God’s Logos was the very first fruit of creation… In the wisdom of Ben Sirach, Wisdom is strongly associated and even identified with the divine commandment, that is, the Torah (Sirach 24:22-23). (p 157).

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The same book goes on to explain the idea of the Word of God in ancient Judaism:

In the first centuries of the Christian era, the idea of the Word (Greek Logos) was known in some Greek philosophical circles as a link connecting the transcendent/the divine with humanity/the terrestrial. For Jews, the idea of this link between heaven and earth, whether called by the Greek Logos or Sophia (‘wisdom’) or by the Aramaic Memra (‘word’), permeated first- and second-century thought.

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Philo writes:

whereas the voice of mortals is judged by hearing, the sacred oracles intimate that the words of God (logoi, the plural) are seen as light is seen, for we are told that all of the people saw the Voice (Exodus 20:18), not that they heard it; for what was happening was not an impact of air made by the organs of mouth and tongue, but the radiating splendor of virtue indistinguishable from a fountain of reason. … But the voice of God which is not that of verbs and names yet seen by the eye of the soul, he [Moses] rightly introduces as ‘visible.’

Further, for Philo as for the Gospel of John, the Logos is both a part of God and also a separate being:

To His Word (Logos), his chief messenger (archangelos), highest in the age and honor, the Father (Pater) of all has given the special prerogative, to stand on the border and separate the creature from the Creator.

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… historical investigation suggests that in the first two centuries CE, the Memra [Syriac: Word] was not a mere name, but an actual divine entity functioning as a mediator.  (THE JEWISH ANNOTATED NEW TESTAMENT, pp 546-547)

The idea that the Word of God is a person has its roots in Jewish spiritual thinking. Christ is the fulfillment of this tradition – He isn’t rejecting Jewish tradition but bringing it to completion (Matthew 5:17; also Christ’s words on the cross in John 19:30 – “It is accomplished.”). The Word is identified with God – the Word becoming flesh is fulfillment of Jewish thought found in the Law and the Prophets.

Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:24)

God Becoming Human is Our Salvation 

Christ is born!  Glorify Him! 

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For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying: “I will declare Your name to My brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.” And again: “I will put My trust in Him.” And again: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.” Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:11-15) 

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The Word of God became human, born of the Virgin. God comes to identify with His human creatures by becoming one of us! This incarnation is the salvation of humanity, for by taking on Himself all that is human, Christ our heals our fallen humanity by reuniting it to divinity. God shares in all that is human (except for sin), in order to restore humanity to its divine purpose. Christmas is thus the feast of God uniting Himself to us humans for our salvation. St Gregory of Nyssa writes: 

Having in mind to share in our human condition, he had to undergo all that is characteristic of human existence. Human life is bounded at either end. Passing through only one of these boundaries would have left his purpose only partially achieved, for he would not have attained the other boundary. Yet it is possible that a person well-schooled in our faith might claim, on better grounds, that his birth was not a cause of his dying but rather that he accepted birth in order to experience death. The possessor of an unending life could not have accepted bodily birth out of need for life, but to summon us from death to life. No part of our humanity was without need of being delivered from death. For this reason, as one would lay a hand upon someone who was asleep, he stooped down to our lifeless body.

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So close did he come to death that he was touched by it himself and through his own body provided human nature with the principle of the resurrection, by his power raising the whole of humanity together with him. From no source other than the lump of our humanity did there derive the flesh that was to receive God and that was exalted together with the divine through the resurrection. Look to our own bodies: the activity of one of our senses is perceived throughout the whole body that is united to it. In the same way, in as much as our human nature constitutes a sort of unitary living body, the resurrection of one single part passes into the hole. The continuity and unity of our nature permits the part to communicate with the whole. What aspect of our religious doctrine is outside the realm of probability if he who stands upright stoops down to raise up the fallen or the slumbering?  (BEGINNING TO READ THE FATHERS, pp 84-85)

The Birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ 

Christ is born!

Glorify Him!

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But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.  (Galatians 4:4-7)

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St Paul tells us that we have been adopted as God’s children through and because of the incarnation – God’s becoming human so that we might share in the divine life. By becoming God’s children, by being deified by God in Christ, we become fully human – human as God intended us to be from the beginning. The birth of Christ is thus the new birth of humanity: redeemed, renewed and restored. In this way, Christmas is personal for us for it means each of us being made human again. The Word of God becomes flesh – becomes human – so that we each might have our humanity restored to us. In Christ’s birth, humanity is also born again, so at Christmas we are also celebrating our rebirth. St Nikolai Velimirovich comments:

The God-man has demonstrated and proved this most convincingly: man is only a true man when he is completely united with God, and in everything in every way completely lives in God, thinks in God, feels in God, acts in God, is virtuous in God, is immortal in God, the eternal in God. Only and solely in God is man a man, a true man, a perfect man, a man in whom all the fullness of the Godhead lives. We can analyze this fundamental, evangelic, Divine-human truth about man.

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The soul of man? – Only and solely as the Divine soul in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect eternal.

The mind of man? – Only and solely as the Divine mind in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect eternal.

The heart of man? – Only and solely as the Divine heart in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect eternal.

The conscience of man? – Only and solely as the Divine conscience in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect eternal.

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The will of man? – Only and solely as the divine will in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect eternal.

The body of man? – Only and solely as the Divine body in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect eternal.

The life of man? – Only and solely as the divine life in the God-man does it become and forever remain sinless, immortal, God-like, holy, perfect eternal. (THE STRUGGLE FOR FAITH, p 104)

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Christ becomes human to make us all human again – as God created us in God’s image and likeness. As we sing for the Feast of the Nativity:

BEHOLDING HIM WHO WAS IN GOD’S IMAGE AND LIKENESS FALLEN THROUGH TRANSGRESSION, JESUS BOWED THE HEAVENS AND CAME DOWN, WITHOUT CHANGE TAKING UP HIS DWELLING IN A VIRGIN WOMB: THAT HE MIGHT REFASHION ADAM FALLEN IN CORRUPTION, AND CRYING OUT: GLORY TO YOUR EPIPHANY, MY SAVIOR AND MY GOD! 

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Jesus is God With Us 

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But as Joseph considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:20-23) 

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Because Jesus is both God and human, He is appropriately called “God with us” (Emmanuel). Christ’s own works reveal Him to be God in the flesh. It is His being both human and God which means He is our salvation by reuniting earth to heaven, divinity to humanity, Creator to creation. St Irenaeus wrote: 

For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and he who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God. For by no other means could we have attained to incorruptibility and immortality, unless we had been united to incorruptibility and immortality. But how else could we be joined to incorruptibility and immortality, unless first incorruptibility and immortality had become that which we also are, so that the corruptible might be swallowed up by incorruptibility, and the mortal by immortality, that we might receive the adoption of sons? (Against Heresies 3.19.1)  (HEARING THE SCRIPTURES, p 174) 

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So we rejoice in the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, singing: 

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, THE CHERUBIM WITHDRAW FROM THE TREE OF LIFE, AND I PARTAKE OF THE DELIGHT OF PARADISE FROM WHICH I WAS CAST OUT THROUGH DISOBEDIENCE. 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. 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. UNTO HIM, LET US CRY ALOUD: O GOD BORN OF A VIRGIN, HAVE MERCY ON US! 

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Christ is born!

Glorify Him! 

The Nativity: You are There 

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MAKE READY, BETHLEHEM, FOR EDEN IS OPENED; PREPARE, EPHRATHA, FOR ADAM AND EVE ARE RENEWED. SALVATION ENTERS THE WORLD AND THE CURSE IS DESTROYED; MAKE READY, HEARTS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN: INSTEAD OF MYRRH, BRING HYMNS AS AN OFFERING OF WISDOM: RECEIVE SALVATION AND IMMORTALITY OF YOUR SOULS AND BODIES. BEHOLD, THE MASTER LYING IN THE MANGER URGES US TO COMPLETE OUR SPIRITUAL SONGS. LET US CRY OUT TO HIM UNCEASINGLY, O LORD, GLORY TO YOU! (Apostika of the Forefeast)

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One common feature in the hymns of the forefeast of the Nativity is an invitation to all of us to participate in the Feast- not just celebrate it but to put yourself into the events being commemorated. However, our participation is not just in the current liturgical services but rather has us participating in the events themselves which are our salvation. The above hymn tells us to be like the Magi and bring a gift to Christ – not myrrh but hymns. We are to see the Savior lying in the manger as if we are actually there. We are to receive salvation and immortality from, through and in the events and our celebration of the events. Not only is heaven opened to us, but the liturgical hymns have it that we are right where the events of our salvation occurred – we are in them;  we enter into those events and in so doing enter into our salvation.  [The difference being suggested is that we can set up a creche at home to remind us of the birth of Jesus. The hymns are suggesting much more – that spiritually we move ourselves into the event and thus participate in the Nativity of our Savior. Our participation in the event is our participating in our salvation – the event becomes ours and we become part of what God accomplished in the divine deed. This is the profound meaning of keeping Christ in Christmas and keeping Christmas in Christ.]

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St Gregory Palamas phrases things such that it is us who were cast out of the garden of Eden through sin – not just Adam and Eve thousands of years ago, but we too have been cast out of Paradise by our sins. And, as we participated in the Fall, so too we participate in our salvation. The Bible is not just present ancient history, it is our personal history. The biblical stories are not just about ancient saints and sinners, for their story is our story. When we see in the bible what the biblical characters did or failed to do, we are to understand them as revealing ourselves and our lives to us. We are part of the Fall and we are part of the salvation of the world.

When we were cast out of the garden of divine bliss and rightly excluded from God’s paradise, we sank to these depths and were condemned to spend our lives in the company of irrational animals, with no hope of returning to paradise by our own efforts. Then He who had justly passed judgment on us or, more accurately speaking, had rightly allowed it to befall us, mercifully came down to us for our sake in His all-surpassing love and goodness. He became men like us, though without sin (cf.  Hebrews 4:15), in order to instruct and rescue like by like, and inaugurated the saving counsel and commandment of repentance by saying to us, ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matthew 4:17). Before the Incarnation of the Word of God, the Kingdom of heaven was as far away from us as the heavens are from the earth. But when the heavenly King visited us and graciously willed to be united with us, the heavenly kingdom drew near to us all. (THE HOMILIES, p 245c)

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When we think about the events in the Scriptures or events in the various Feasts of the Church, we are not learning about ancient history, we are learning the human story, which is our personal story. The people in those stories are us and we are them. We participate in what they did, and we experience what they experienced.  Heaven is no longer some distant, obscure thing, but rather we enter into it in and through the Feasts, the liturgical celebrations, the iconography and the hymns. The ancients have no advantage over us – it is not as if they experienced the events of salvation and all we can do is learn about history or be reminded of the past. We participate in salvation just as they did. The Feasts aren’t there just to inform us, they are there to form us and reform us. “Remembering” a Feast is to participate in its saving events by making it part of our lives and making our lives part of the saving events. We experience our salvation in, through and by the Feasts.

The Forefeast of the Nativity: Being Born with Christ 

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It is common for the preparatory hymns of the Feast of the Nativity in the days before Christmas, to issue an invitation to us to participate personally in the Feast. For example, one of the hymns from Vespers for today says:

THE NEVER-SETTING SUN PRESSES FORWARD TO RISE, ENLIGHTENING ALL THINGS UNDER HEAVEN. LET US HASTEN WITH CLEAN HANDS AND PURE DEEDS TO MEET HIM; LET US PREPARE TO BE BORNE ON HIGH WITH HIM IN SPIRIT. LET US BESEECH HIM IN HIS COMPASSION, THAT AS HE COMES IN HIS GOOD PLEASURE TO HIS OWN STRANGE BIRTH, HE MAY LEAD US WHO HAVE BECOME STRANGERS TO THE PATH OF LIFE IN EDEN, INTO BETHLEHEM WHERE HE COMES TO BE BORN.

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Many Patristic authors saw the birth of the Savior as a light dawning upon humankind. This imagery is common in Orthodox hymns as well. When Christ entered Mary’s womb, this is portrayed as the sun disappearing for a short while. Then the Theotokos gives birth which is the dawn of God’s Son upon humanity. Christ is born on earth, which enables us to be born again in the spiritual life. We humans are lifted up in the Spirit with Christ to heaven. Humanity was exiled from Paradise because of our sin, but now though we are estranged from the heavenly life, Christ comes to welcome us back, not as strangers but as God’s children.  Afterall God created Paradise to be the residence for us humans.

THE WORD OF GOD, UPBORNE ON THE SHOULDERS OF THE CHERUBIM GOES TO DWELL IN A WOMB WITHOUT BLEMISH. THE PASSIONLESS ONE IS BOUND FAST TO THE FLESH; HE COMES ON EARTH AS A MAN, BORN OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH. A CAVE BECOMES THE PALACE OF THE KING OF ALL; A MANGER TAKES THE PLACE OF THE THRONE OF FIRE, WHERE THE VIRGIN MARY LAYS HIM AS A BABE, FOR HE COMES TO RESTORE THE FIRST-CREATED MAN, AS HE IS WELL PLEASED SO TO DO. 

Christ restores humanity to its proper relationship with God.

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The incarnation of Christ transformed anthropology. When the Divine Logos of God assumed human nature and entered his own creation as a vulnerable human infant, he embraced all aspects of our frailty as human beings, except for sin. By this supreme act of condescension, God has united his very nature to the human condition. He has made common cause with us in our distress. It is from this ineffably gracious act that any human dignity or rights flow. It is because he suffered that we can appeal to a right of all those who bear his image also to receive relief of their suffering. However, whereas the focus in the secular western mind is on human autonomy and individual rights, in Christian anthropology the focus shifts from self to the other. The other, the second person—the ‘you’ or more intimate ‘thou’, not the autonomous, omnipotent ‘I’ – ultimately becomes for Christians the One who said, ‘As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40). (Daniel Hinshaw, SUFFERING AND THE NATURE OF HEALING, p 154)

Christ is not only restoring the relationship of each of us to God, but also restoring humanity itself and the relationship each of us is to have with each other. We are to love one another because Christ unites us to divinity and really to our humanity.  It is God’s love for us and in us which brings to an end all human alienation, separation and division.