The Paradox of Christmas and Good Friday

“On Great Friday, the paradox is how can God, who is eternal—who has no end—be killed? On Christmas Eve, the paradox is how can God, who is eternal—who has no beginning—be born?”     (Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth, Kindle Loc. 682-83)

Charity and Fasting at Christmas

A brother asked an old man: “There were two brethren, and one of them led a life of silent contemplation in his cell, and used to fast six days at a time, and to devote himself to great labor, and his companion used to minister to the sick; which of them will receive the greater reward for his service?”

The old man said, ” If he who fasted were to raise himself up upon the works which are profitable, he would not find himself equal before God with him that visited the sick.”

(adapted from The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers Vol 2, Kindle Loc 1651-55)

Mary, The Virgin Earth

The Good News of the birth of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed to the world for 2000 years.  That message is as new and refreshing today as it was when first proclaimed.  Tertullian writing in the 2nd Century gives us a look at not only how long ago the Good News was received with joy but also how early in Christian history the depth of the message was recognized, for the Gospel is salvation for the world.  Christmas is not about sentimentality but about divinity and what it means to be human.

First of all, we need to show the reason why the Son of God had to be born of a Virgin. The initiator of a new birth had to be born in a new way, and Isaiah had predicted that the Lord would give a sign of this. What is that sign? ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive in her womb and bear a Son’ (Is. 7:14). Therefore the Virgin conceived and bore Emmanuel, God-with-us.

And this is the new birth: that man is born in God when God is born in man, having assumed the flesh of the old seed, but without using this seed, and to purify the flesh after having eliminated all its ancient stains. But, as it happened, this whole new manner of birth was prefigured in the ancient wise design that depended upon a virgin. When man was created by God’s action, the earth was still virgin, not yet pressed down by man’s toil, not having been sown. We know that, from this virgin earth, God created man as a living soul.

If, then, the first Adam was introduced in this way, all the more reason that the second Adam, as the apostle said, had to come forth from a virgin earth, that is, from a body not yet violated by generation, by God’s action, so that he might become the spirit who gives life. However, lest my introduction of Adam’s name appear meaningless, why did the apostle call Christ ‘Adam’ (cf. 1 Cor. 15:45), if his humanity did not have an earthly origin? But here, too, reason comes to our aid: through a contrary operation, God recovered his image and likeness, which had been stolen by the devil.

For just as the death-creating word of the devil had penetrated Eve, who was still a virgin, analogously the life-building Word of God had to enter into a Virgin, so that he who had fallen into perdition because of a woman might be led back to salvation by means of the same sex. Eve believed the serpent; Mary believed Gabriel. The fault that Eve introduced by believing, Mary, by believing, erased.”  

(quoted in Mary and the Fathers of the Church, p 67)

Christ is born!    Glorify Him!

The Feast of the Circumcision of Christ

In Luke 2:20-21, we learn of the circumcision of the baby Jesus.  The story confirms His humanity, which is essential since we in the Church say Jesus is our Lord, God and Savior!  It is God in the flesh who humbly submits to circumcision.  God became incarnate in order to humble Himself.  Luke reports the event, quite simply:

“At that time, the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.  And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.”


The circumcision of Jesus, would be unremarkable, and routinely Jewish, except for the claim that Jesus is God incarnate.  God does not ask His people to do anything that God is not willing to do Himself.  The Torah commanded circumcision for male children, even God in the flesh endures the ritual for our salvation.  God humbly submits Himself to being human.

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovic comments:

“On the eighth day after His birth, the divine Child was taken to the Temple and duly circumcised according to the Jewish Law that had been observed from the time of Abraham. At this time He was given the name Jesus, the name announced to the most holy Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1:31). The Baptism of the New Covenant was prefigured in the Circumcision of the Old Covenant. The Lord’s Circumcision shows that He took true human flesh upon Himself, not its semblance as heretics later taught of Him. The Lord was truly circumcised, desiring thus to fulfill all the Law, which He Himself had given through our forefathers and the prophets. Fulfilling all the ordinances of the Law, He superseded them by Baptism in His Church, for, as the Apostledeclares: ‘In Christ Jesus neither circumcision avail any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature’ (Gal. 6:15). (The Prologue from Ochrid, p 15)

Put Off the World to Put on Christ

As we continue our sojourn through the Nativity Fast to the celebration of Christmas, the birth in the flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ, we are called upon to think about ourselves in terms of why do we need Christ, and why is His Birth of any importance to our daily lives.  This requires us to think about ourselves as God created us to be, and what we have become as humans interested in our own wills more than in God’s will.

We have become sinners, separated from God. God for His part, continues to love us and to invite us come back to Him. To accept God’s loving invitation, we realize though we are created in God’s image and likeness, we have become unlike God – we are sinners beset by passions and temptations which lead us down the steps away from God into death.  And then we realize but then also the steps of the ladder which raise us up to heaven – which God has set before us – Jesus Christ.   St. Gregory Palamas writes:

“If anyone wishes to be . . . delivered from outer darkness, deemed worthy of the unfading light of God’s kingdom and to live for ever at rest with the saints in heaven, let him put off the old man, who is corrupt with deceitful lusts (cf. Eph. 4:22), these being






love of money,                          




and every evil passion.

And through his deeds let him put on the new man renewed in the image of his Creator (cf. Col. 3:10), in which is


                       brotherly love,


        self-control and

every type of virtue.

Through these Christ dwells within us, reconciling us with Himself and one another, to His glory and the glory of His Father without beginning, and of the co-eternal, life-giving Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”  (St. Gregory Palamas: The Homilies p 459)

Nativity Blogs 2012

Here are links to all the blogs I posted during the 2012 Nativity Season which are related to the Nativity Fast, charitable giving, Christmas and the Incarnation.

I will continue to add the links as they are posted.

The Beginning of the Nativity Fast 2012

 St. Nikolai and Thankless Prosperity

Giving Charity to Christ

The Poor are Our Brothers and Sisters

Fasting and Eschatology

The Mystery of the Incarnation

What Prevents us from Living Virtuously?

The Virtuous Christian

Christmas Charity: Giving to God

Fasting Before Christmas

Self Control

Christmas: The Emptying of God

The Struggle for Virtue

Sunday of the Forefathers: Confirming Christ’s Humanity

Christmas: Healing Humanity

The Sin of Greed

Christmas: The Time for Charity

The Advent of Christ

Light and Lamp

Mystery: Beholding a Glorious Wonder

The Incarnation: Science, Mystery, Truth

Joy Clears the Skies

Fasting For Christmas

Imaging the Incarnation in Song

The Nativity of Christ (2012)

The Birth of Christ

Seeking the Newborn Christ

God Creates Humans to Become Human

Christmas Today

Imitating the Magi

The Virginal Birth of Christ

The Incarnation and The Resurrection

2012 Christmas Blogs as a 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.  The Christmas blogs from 2012 are as a PDF at 2012 Christmas Blogs PDF.

Jesus & Augustus, Christ & Caesar (I)

One aspect of the Gospel narratives concerning the nativity of Jesus Christ which historians especially point out is that the Evangelists tell the story to clearly compete with and challenge the claims which the Roman Empire had begun to make concerning their emperors.  While today, the popular portrayal of Christmas in crèche and card emphasizes the humanism of the story – the babe, the traveling/homeless holy family, the manger – the Gospel writers were sounding a challenge to the Roman imperial and religious claims of that day.  Challenging Roman authority in this way was not without its own risks to the Christians – that is part of the story we miss when we only focus on what we like in the story.  For the nativity of Christ also brought suffering – Herod slaughters the innocent children in an effort to kill the Christ child.  All of the claims of Jesus being Lord and King will be brought against Jesus at his trial when his death is demanded because He is portrayed as a threat to Caesar.  For example,

“The following was found chiseled on the ruins of an old government building in Asia Minor, dated 6 BC:

‘The most divine Caesar . . . we should consider equal to the Beginning of all things . . . for when everything was falling (into disorder) and tending toward dissolution, he restored it once more and gave the whole world a new aura;  Caesar . . . the common good Fortune of all . . . The beginning of life and vitality . . . All the cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year . . . Whereas the Providence which has regulated our whole existence . . . has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us (the emperor) Augustus . . .who being sent to us and our descendents as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order;  and (whereas,) having become (god) manifest /PHANEIS/, Caesar has fulfilled all the hopes of earlier times . . . the birthday of the god (Augustus) has been for the whole world the beginning of good news /EVANGELION/ concerning him.’”   (Shane Claiborne, JESUS FOR PRESIDENT, p 70)

Here we read chiseled in stone that from his birth, Caesar Augustus is proclaimed to be divine, Savior, God manifest, and the beginning of the Good News (Evangelion).  These are all titles the Gospel writers apply to Jesus Christ.  The Romans had laid claim to these titles for their Emperor first;  the Christian Gospel writers take these claims and apply them to Jesus.   Thus there is a theological war taking place with opposing claims being made.  Which is true?  Who is Lord, Jesus or Caesar?

Another inscription, The Priene calendar inscription (9BCE), also from about the time of Christ’s birth but written decades before the Gospels were recorded reads:

“… since Providence, which has ordered all things and is deeply interested in our life, has set in most perfect order by giving us Augustus, whom she filled with virtue that he might benefit humankind, sending him as a savior (soter), both for us and for our descendants, that he might end war and arrange all things, and since he, Caesar, by his appearance (epiphanein) … since the birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the good news for the world that came by reason of him…”  (Stanley Porter, HEARING THE OLD TESTAMENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, p 93)

The Romans were beginning to deify their emperors, proclaiming each to be an epiphany and a savior, a king of peace.  Augustus declared his father a god, making himself of course the son of God.   It was against these imperial claims that the Gospel writers recorded the story of God proclaiming Christ His Son, not the human son trying to make his father into a god.

In the 4th Century the Christians continued to challenge Roman imperial claims as well as the claims of Roman religions.   For example, the exact birthday of Jesus is not known, which would seem to fit the claims of the story  – he is born into poverty and peasantry, so who would have recorded the date?   As the Christians increasingly understand the implications of the claims that Jesus is the Messiah and Son of God, they began to challenge the pagan claims about the universe.  And so the Christians intentionally took on the claims of the birth of the Invincible Sun (held on December 25.  Some also claim this was the birthday of Mithras, a deity whose worship was extremely popular among Roman soldiers) and declared that the real birth that mattered was that of Jesus Christ not of the sun.  Thus the Christians boldly put forth that the Creator of the Universe should be worshipped, not things of creation, like the sun which is a star not a god.  In this sense Christians defied  pagan superstitions about the universe, and really advocated for scientific truth as a subtopic under the truth about God.    Unfortunately today, some Christians who limit their thinking by biblical literalism fear those who deny December 25 as Christ’s birthday and rather claim it was merely a pagan feast hijacked by the Christians.  Indeed the Christians intentionally took the date of the pagan feast, but did it because they believed in the truth of the Gospels and wanted to transform the superstitious ideas of the pagans into a search for the truth about God.   But certainly the Christians were not interested in replacing one set of mythology with another, rather they were aiming to move away completely from mythological claims about the nature of the universe, away from pantheism, to a clear understanding of the difference between creation and Creator.   This was not an effort to design creation science, but rather to help everyone see all truth about creation and the spirit world as pointing to the One Creator.

Next:  Jesus & Augustus, Christ & Caesar (II)

Twelve Quotes for Christmas (7)

Dayton Art Institute Creches

“He lay in a manger, a child newly born: tiny in body, abject in poverty.  But in this Child something great lay hidden, of which these, the first-fruits of the Gentiles, had learned, not from earthly rumor, but from heavenly revelation.  Hence we have: We have seen His Star in the East.  They announce, yet they ask; they believe, and yet they seek to know: as though prefiguring those who walk by faith, yet still desire to see.” 

(St. Augustine)

See Quote 6

Next Quote 8

The Ancestors of Christ: Pointing the Way to Christ

 The Sunday of THE ANCESTORS OF CHRIST        Gospel:   Matthew 1:1-25

For Orthodox, then, the Old Testament doesn’t function as a history book or as a science text. We believe it is a book that exists to point to Christ, to give understanding about who Christ was and what he achieved through his life-giving death. The New Testament, for its part, wasn’t written as a cold recitation of uninterpreted events. Merely recording the “historic fact,” to the extent that it’s possible, wouldn’t have been enough to convey the gospel for all to see. The Apostles saw everything Jesus did and still didn’t understand and internalize the meaning of it all until after he was crucified, when their minds were opened to who he is and how the Scriptures spoke of him. They then recounted the events in the Gospels in such a way that reveals Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture, his significance for us and for our salvation. The Gospels simultaneously recount and interpret the events of Jesus Christ’s life.                 (Peter Bouteneff, Sweeter than Honey)