Melkite Greek Catholic Church
 
Nativity Icon from St. George Melkite Church of Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The Feast of the Nativity of Christ

A Collection of Reflections

by Frances Collie

Nativity

About the Icon of the Nativity of Christ

The Nativity Sermon of Saint John Chrysostom

ABOUT THE ICON OF THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST

The Feast of the Nativity of Christ is a celebration of both the Incarnation and re-creation of the world in Christ. The liturgical texts for the feast are reflected and represented in the icon. The icon reproduces in artistic designs and harmony the details of the narratives of the Gospels. We see in the icon what our hearts have already heard and sung.

"Today the Virgin gives birth to Him who is above all being, and the earth offers a cave to Him whom no man can approach 'The whole creation is made rich: let it rejoice and be of good cheer. The Master of all has come to live with His servants, and from the bondage of the enemy. He delivers us who were made subject to corruption (Rom. 8.20,21). In swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, He is manifest a young child, the pre-eternal God.'

The ray of light from heaven shines over the place of the Incarnation and points directly to the Christ-child who lays in the manger. In another text we see that all creation is involved in an act of gratitude and welcome to the Incarnate God:

"What shall we offer Thee, O Christ, who for our sakes has appeared on earth as man? Every creature made by Thee offers Thee thanks. The angels offer Thee a hymn; the heavens a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, its cave; the wilderness, the manger: and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother, O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us.'

The ox and the ass in the icon looking down on the Christ-child represent the fulfillment of Isaiah 1.3 The ox knows its owner and the ass its master's crib - i.e., the animal creation joins in recognition of the Incarnation of the Son of God.

The Virgin Mother lies in the center of the icon, as the second Eve. Just as the first Eve was the ‘mother of all living' (Gen.3.20) so the Virgin Mother of God is the Mother of the new humanity restored and deified through the incarnation of the Eternal Son. She is dressed in royal purple and outstretched in majesty. She is lying down because he is tired, her maternity is real and not an illusion.

The angels praise and glorify God and bring the message to the shepherds, one of whom looks in wonder and the other plays his pipe in celebration. If the shepherds symbolize simple folk and the Jewish people, the Magi symbolize wise and learned people, and the Gentile nations.

Below the Virgin, women deal with the practical consequences of a human birth - the washing of the baby. Their function in the icon is to stress the true humanity of the Incarnate God, against heretical teaching that Christ only appeared to be human. This is to show that Christ is a real human who requires caring for all His human needs.

At the bottom left corner of the icon sits Joseph, the one who is not the father of the child, and who represents those who cannot comprehend the wonder of this event, which is beyond the natural order of things. An old shepherd Thyros, representing the devil, is stirring more doubts in his heart, telling him that something went wrong with the mother because there is no human child ever without a human father. A virgin birth is not possible; it goes against all the laws of nature. The face of the Virgin is turned towards Joseph - a symbol of compassion for those beset by doubts in believing.

The homily details in the icon along with the rich coloring help to convey something of the joy of the feast.

(Baggley,, Windows of Perception, Raya, ,Christmas )

THE NATIVITY SERMON OF SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

I behold a new and wondrous mystery!

My ears resound to the shepherd's song, piping no soft melody, but loudly chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing! The archangels blend their voices in harmony!

The cherubim resound their joyful praise! The seraphim exult His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth and man in heaven. He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy.

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in the place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!

Ask now how this was accomplished, for where God wills the order of nature is overturned. For He willed He has the power. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today, He Who is born. And He Who Is becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man - while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His.

And so the kings have come and they have seen the heavenly King that is come upon the earth, not bring with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominations, nor powers, nor principalities, but treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God.

And behold the kings have come that they might serve the Leader of the Hosts of Heaven;

Women, so that they might adore Him Who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of child birth to joy;

Virgins, to the Son of the Virgin . . .

Infants that they might adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise;

Children, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod;

Men to Him Who became man hat He might heal the miseries of His servants;

Shepherds to the Good Shepherd Who has laid down His life for His sheep;

Priests, to Him Who has become a High Priest according to the order of Melchisidech;

Servants to Him Who took upon Himself the form of a servant that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom;

Fishermen to the Fisher of humanity;

Publicans, to Him Who from among them named a chosen evangelist;

Sinful women to Him Who exposed His feel to the tears of the repentant woman;

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they might look upon the lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world!

Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp, nor with music of the pipes nor holding the torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation! This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels sing: "Glory to God in the Highest," and with the shepherds: "and on earth peace to men of good will."

NATIVITY: BIRTH OF OUR LORD GOD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST

The Feast of the Nativity of Christ is a celebration of the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, the Son of God and the fact that through this incarnation the world is transfigured and restored. With the appearance of God the world enters upon a new beginning and takes on a new direction. In incarnation, God became real man to identify with His creation, to save His creation and to divinize humanity and the universe.

St. Irenaeus, a Father of the Church in the 3rd century, speaks of the Incarnation as "the necessary means to bring about salvation that we human beings would never have attained by our own power. The Word of God became human in order that we might become God though God's graceful, divine life. He comes to restore the likeness of God in us." He comes to show us the way to the Father and to restore humanity born bankrupt in a "bank world". Humanity started in Paradise - now, with the coming of Christ, Paradise is in humanity. When we accept the person of Jesus Christ and His self-revelation, the whole wealth and beauty of God becomes ours. We have the potential to rise high above our own limitations to the light and life of God.

When we wonder in awe at this event beyond our wildest imaginings, we must marvel at the Divine pedagogy of God, to condescend out of love for our salvation to choose to send His only begotten Son to take on human flesh as the psychological means to educate humanity. .Beyond all the seasonal exhortations of loving, giving, and forgiveness, etc., the Nativity of the Son of God means that man can now have a relationship with God. We cannot have a relationship with an abstract entity. When God decided to show us His face, so that we could see Him in person and not be bewildered by perceiving the impossible to perceive, He covered His glory with an appearance we can approach and understand: He became man. St. Paul calls this generous attitude kenosis (emptiness) also "condescension". St. John Chrysostom says,"The condescension of God is when God does not appear as He really is, but according to the capacity of the one who seeks to contemplate Him."

In a relationship we can experience the otherness of the person we are relating to. So, we know God only by being united to Jesus Christ, by seeing His face, by experiencing Him in our whole being, person-to-person.

We communicate with and experience others when they reveal themselves to us and in turn we reciprocate with the revelation of ourselves. Experience is cumulative. We know God only by being united to Jesus Christ. The glory of God was revealed and made manifest in a face that invites and reveals. Divinity and humanity were united in the Incarnation, and now they appear without separation in the face of the One Divine Person of Jesus Christ. " Life was made visible. . . and we saw it."(1Jn1:1-2) Heaven and earth are now partners in a unique drama of a sublime movement of relationship. When our humanity meets the humanity of Jesus Christ, the God-made-man, we touch and meet God, Father-Son-Spirit. When His revelation of Himself is so accepted, the receiver becomes richer with all the riches of the Person revealed. God's revelation is regulated with patient love and by the measure of our own spiritual development.

The church invites us and all humanity to rejoice. The liturgy overflows with joyous praise designed to make us aware of the coming of God, who at the moment of His birth radiates goodness and love. All of creation, even mountains and valleys are equally invited "to share in the joy of the feast" because it is a celebration of God's love and care for his creation. We should feel ourselves transformed and alive with new life which we and the whole of creation share.

We, upon hearing these exhortations should be filled with joy and peace because we can "see", "hear", and "touch" the reality and truth of our divinization. We should realize that we are a product of an infinite divine love, that we are immersed in divinity in our present life, that we can experience God through Jesus Christ, and that our final destiny is God Himself.

   

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