16 - Forefeast of Christmas, Dec 23, 2012

Hebrews 11:9-10,17-23, 32-40

Matthew 1:1-25

The glory and joy of Christmas begins to come to light only as one begins to “see” God; for Christmas is the birth of God in the flesh. Jesus is not some man joined to God in a special relationship. He is the Son of God, of one essence with the Father, Light from Light, true God of true God. He is begotten of the Father; He is not made or created. He is the very radiance that emanates from the glory of the Father. (Heb 1:3) He is the Fountain of Life, the exact Image of the Father, the very character of the Father’s substance (Heb 1:3). He is Himself the Image of God in whom man was created as male and female. This is who Jesus Christ is. This is why the Church sings out at the Christmas Feast: “God is with us!” This is the child born of the most blessed and glorious and ever virgin Mary, so that she is Theotokos, birth-giver of God in the flesh.

When we see Jesus as the Son of God, then do we see the glory and joy of Christmas. God is with us! He is with us more intimately than we ever imagined. He has become one of us. He has clothed Himself in our very humanity, in our flesh and blood. He is without beginning, yet He becomes the child of the Blessed Theotokos and begins to be in the flesh. He is invisible, yet He becomes visible when He clothes Himself in the garments of our humanity that He receives from the Blessed Panagia. He is beyond time, He comprehends the whole of space-time in the hollow of His hand – this metaphor is meant to express the unfathomable incomprehensibility of the mystery of Christ God – yet He becomes comprehensible. He allows Himself to be contained in the womb of the Glorious and ever-Virgin Mary Theotokos and to be enclosed in a cave, laid in a manger surrounded by dumb beasts. He is enclosed in a cave as a man, in our flesh and blood, in our humanity. The uncontainable God is contained within our flesh and becomes one with us not just in some spiritual, immaterial way, but concretely in the flesh.

As we begin to see the glory of Christmas in the divine identity of the Christ Child, then do we begin to see the glory and the joy of man, of us! We were created in the Image and Likeness of God, and in the Most Glorious Theotokos Mary, He clothes Himself in our image and likeness. But the Theotokos is not some goddess of a nature alien to us. She is human like we are. Her nature is our nature; and she has become the Mother of God. It is said in the iconographic Tradition of the Church that Adam looked just like Christ. This reveals the divine glory inherent to our human nature and destiny. We are creatures created by nature in the splendor and majesty, dignity, grace and truth of God Himself! We were made in God and for God. We were made to become one with God; for, were created in His Image, we are profoundly and naturally “kin” to God. Man as male and female in oneness with God is the crown of creation. All of creation is summed up in man, and in man creation is meant to ascend to God; so, it is true that man is the measure of all things, not as man by himself but as man in the Image and Likeness of God, living and moving and having his being in the love of the Father, the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

And now God Himself becomes man. Christ is born of the New Eve and is made manifest as the New Adam, and because of that, we are now akin to God not only in the principle of our nature, but in the flesh. We have, as it were, a blood kinship with God.

I said that God is with us more intimately than we ever imagined. Even the Theotokos was in awe at the mystery of her childbearing. She herself did not understand how she was now Theotokos, the Mother, the birth-giver of God. In the Spirit, the Church enters the mind of the blessed Panagia and reveals to us her inmost thoughts at the moment of the great mystery of Christmas: “The Virgin was amazed,” we read in the liturgical prayers for the Forefeast of Christmas: “as she beheld a conception past telling and a birth past utterance. Rejoicing at once and weeping, she raised her voice and said: ‘Shall I give my breast to Thee who givest nourishment to all the world, or shall I sing Thy praise as my Son and my God? What manner of name shall I find to call Thee, O Lord whom none can name?’ Thou dost bear the form of Adam, yet Thou art all-perfect, being in the form of God. Of Thine own will Thou art held in human hands, Thou who in Thy might upholdest all things with Thine hand. How shall I wrap Thee in swaddling clothes like a child, how shall I nurse Thee who givest nourishment to all the world? How shall I not wonder in amazement at Thy poverty beyond understanding! How shall I, who am Thy handmaiden, call Thee my Son? I sing Thy praises and I bless Thee, who dost grant the world great mercy!” (Festal Menaion 199-200)

Not just the Theotokos, but the angels of heaven are in awe and wonder and joy as they behold the marvel of the power and goodness of God’s love and humility. And, in the Holy Spirit, the Church sees that there is a depth of creation hidden to the eyes even to the highest knowledge of human science; a spiritual depth where creation recognizes the wonder of its Creator becoming flesh and dwelling among us; for, we hear at the Forefeast of Christmas: “When the creation beheld Thee born in a cave, who hast hung the whole earth in the void above the waters, it was seized with amazement and cried: ‘There is none holy save Thee, O Lord.’” (Festal Menaion 205)

Only the pure in heart shall see God says the Lord; and those who believe are granted to see God in His Holy Church. This tells us, does it not, that our faith is the beginning of our hearts’ purification; for the Church that we see and hear and touch with our senses is the very body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all. Her evangelical preaching, her psalmody, her doctrines, her prayers, her liturgical worship, her sacramental mysteries, these are the garments that cover the crucified and risen body of Christ, so that we see in them the precise contours and shape of His body glorified now in His Holy Resurrection and Ascension. So, that when the curtains are drawn and the Beautiful Gates are opened, it is the Church unveiling the glory and joy of Christmas, the ineffable sweetness of Christ Himself enthroned on the altar, the manger of our secret heart, nestled in the sanctuary, in the cave of our “inner man” transfigured from a tomb into a bridal chamber where God has wedded Himself to us.

When, therefore, the Church cries out: “God is with us!” she is not waxing emotional in warm poetic sentimentality. She is proclaiming the glorious Noel, the Good News that “God is with us!” God has become one with us and now He exists, by His own will, out of His love for mankind, in the flesh, the soul, the mind of our own humanity. In the sacred beauty of the most holy Theotokos, our own humanity has become the body, the garment of Him who clothes Himself with light as with a garment.

Christmas proclaims the wonder: our human nature has become illumined by the indwelling of Him who is the radiance of the Father’s eternal glory; and we are “restored to our original beauty”; our own flesh has become God’s flesh. The human nature that we are and in which we exist has been deified, it has been made radiant with the Lord’s divinity. As the flesh of the Theotokos our flesh has given birth to God and become the flesh of God, it has been made victorious over death, it has ascended in glory, and sits at the right hand of the Father as the very body of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Savior!

Such glory that is ours because of Christmas! Who can tell it! If orators skilled in the art of eloquence become mute as fish in the presence of this wonder, what are clumsy orators like us supposed to do? The Church – Christ Himself – tells us: lay aside every excuse and raising your minds on high, come in faith and in joy and in thanksgiving to Bethlehem with the shepherds and the wise men and kneel in body and soul in humble adoration before Our Lord Jesus Christ lying in a manger. Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!