17 - Forefeast of Christmas, Dec 20, 2009

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

Matthew 1:1-25

Christmas is so much deeper than a religious celebration or holiday. It is the birth in the flesh of the One who is begotten timelessly from the Father, the One in whom the world was brought into existence, the One in whom its existence is sustained and the One in whom the world realizes its natural destiny. It is the revelation of the meaning – the Logos – of all that exists. In this regard, it is most significant that Christmas does not celebrate the disclosure of a mystical teaching but the birth in the flesh of the Person of God the Word from the Most Blessed Lady and Ever-Virgin Mary Theotokos.

The Creator Word of God clothes Himself in our human substance to show Himself to our blinded, sensual eyes, to make His creative and healing Word audible to our deafened, worldly ears. He calls us to come to Him in the stillness of the cave and to behold Him who is the Light of the world illumining the darkness of the cave with the holy brilliance of His uncreated light that the darkness of this world cannot overcome.

Christ Jesus the Lord, our Savior and our God is born of the Most Blessed Panagia Virgin in our own human nature and God becomes Man. He dwells among us not as some fellow who walks alongside us for a few years before death takes Him. He dwells among us eternally because He Himself has become Man and has clothed Himself in the mystery of our own human nature becoming personally one with us in our own nature in an ineffably divine way that transcends and embraces time even as it is in time. Christmas is the mystery of God clothing Himself in our flesh and thereby making Himself immediately accessible to us. The cave of Bethlehem opens onto Eden; and in the mystery of the Incarnation, Christ makes our human nature to open onto another realm, the divine realm of the Heavenly Kingdom.

His coming into the world in the flesh to dwell among us was being prepared for from the time of Adam and Eve. It reached its completion in the Most Blessed Virgin. In her faithfulness and love for the Father and by her expressed will that it be done to her according to God’s will, the enmity that had separated mankind from God was dissolved in her whom the Church calls the “root of our life”. From the “root of our life”, from the most Blessed Virgin Theotokos, God the Word came forth as a most precious rose in the cave, as the flowering of Aaron’s rod, as the blossom that flowers forth from the Theotokos Mary, the rod of Jesse. And in His union with us, the uncreated Fire of His Saving Grace begins to burn in the heart of man, in the “root” of our life. In the Theotokos and in the saints in whom God rests, the fire of God’s Saving Grace burns away the “middle wall of partition,” the wall of enmity that had sprung up in the heart of man to separate the world from God. Through the Blessed Theotokos and in the saints, the Light of God the Word takes up its dwelling in the root, the heart, of human nature. Deep in the root of our life, deep in the cave of our own hearts, then, the Light of God the Word is shining. Through His Incarnation of the Holy Spirit and the Ever-Virgin Mary, God the Word has united Himself to us and the flaming sword that had prevented man from approaching and drawing near the Tree of Life in the Garden now gives way before all who approach in the fear of God with faith and love, and all who approach are granted to partake in faith of the life-giving tree in Eden, to become again gardeners of immortal plants. An Orthodox Christian, then, is a spiritual gardener. His own human nature is the garden. And he is called to cultivate and nurture the Seed of Christ’s Holy Spirit that has been sown in His nature in the mystery of Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation of Christ our Savior.[1]

The Feast of Christmas, then, is the proclamation to the world, to all who have ears to hear, that her Lord and Creator has come from on high to become one with her. In the cave, He has opened the world onto Eden. To celebrate Christmas, we are called to do much, much more than to celebrate it; we are called to much more even than to falling down and worshipping the Christ Child, God the Word become flesh. We are called to step into the cave of Bethlehem and to put on Christ as He put on us; to clothe ourselves with Christ as He has clothed Himself with us; to become one with Christ as He has become one with us; to partake of Christ, to eat and drink His Heavenly Spirit that He gives to us in the mysteries of His Holy Church and so become by grace everything He is by nature as children of God, communicants of life eternal.

As we read in St Paul’s letter to Titus, this hope of eternal life was promised by God even before time began.[2] This is the revelation of the reason God created the world. This purpose was not lost when man sinned and fell away from God and into the darkness of death. God brought the world from non-being into being by His mercy, so we learn from the prayers of the Church in her Divine Liturgy. The deepest, unseen principle of the world is divine mercy; so that it is not in any way contrary to the principle of the world’s existence that God should send in His love and compassion His only begotten-Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, into the world to save sinners, to call us out of the darkness of death and into the uncreated Light of His Heavenly Kingdom. The door that opens onto Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom is the cave of Bethlehem, and the tomb of Pascha. The door that opens onto Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom, in other words, is in the root of our life, in our own heart.

We call the commandments of Our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us in Holy Scripture and taught to us and explained to us in the sacred Tradition of His Holy Church, a light upon the earth. That’s because they are not just words. They are the words of the Word of God made flesh. They are saving words, healing words, Spiritual words that carry the light and life of God. When we begin to walk in the way of Christ’s Holy commandments, when we make our own the words of the prayers given us to pray by Christ’s Holy Church, we are putting on Christ; we are walking in the Light as He is in the Light; we are clothing ourselves in the Life of His Holy Spirit; we are making ourselves to dwell in Christ our God who, having become one with us in the flesh, leads us by His commandments and His teachings on the path that takes us to the root of our life in the cave of our heart that opens onto the divine realm of Christ’s Heavenly Kingdom.

In the joy of Christmas, the Church calls mystically from the cave of Bethlehem, from the root of our life in the cave of our heart. She is proclaiming to each one of you the birth of God the Word who is one with you in the Joy of the Feast. Open your eyes inward. Open your ears inward. Listen to what the Church is saying: Come away from the noisome, blinding darkness of tinsel-town Christmas. Raise your minds on high and come in spirit to the Church as to the cave of Bethlehem and with the eyes of your soul, look on the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the Lord of all.[3] Let this saving Word of the Church sink into your soul; let it penetrate like a sharp, two-edged sword into your heart. Dwell in it, live in it, put it on, clothe yourself in it. With open eyes and ears and with attentive mind, come to the Feast as to the cave of Bethlehem that opens onto Heaven. Enter into the joy of the Feast as into the cave of Bethlehem and step into the living presence of the Savior. In your heart, live in His presence; live in His Word. Put Him on. Clothe yourself in Him by giving your mind over to prayer, your body and soul over to the ascetic discipline of fasting not just with the belly but with all our senses, and give your heart over to love for Christ our God, the greatly Compassionate One, the only Lover of Mankind. May this Feast of Christmas be that moment when we pass over to a new, spiritual manner of living to make our way in the Joy of Christmas from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from the cave to the tomb of Pascha, so that our whole life becomes an approach in the fear of God, with faith and love to the life-giving tree to become partakers in Eden of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal in the joy and the eternal life of the Savior. Amen. The joy of the Feast be with you!

[1] Festal Menaion, p. 207

[2] Titus 1:2

[3] Festal Menaion, p. 201