Christmas Reflection 2011
Dearly beloved in the Lord,
I rejoice with all my hear that God has seen fit to bring us together in such a holy and glorious hour, so that we may celebrate together for the first time the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ. For some, this may be merely a historical commemoration, the remembrance of the birth at a particular time and in a particular place of a particularly important person. But to people of faith, to right-believing Christians, it is so much more than that. It is an event that dazzles the mind, fills the heart with joy and the spirit with wonder. We come to celebrate an event of cosmic significance, an event that changed once and for all not merely the course of human history but the destiny of the entire created order.
The Son of God, as the Holy Orthodox Church sings in hymn after hymn, becomes the Son of the Virgin, and all of creation is made new! The One beyond being begins to be. The One before time comes to us at a particular moment; the One beyond space meets us in a particular place. The Unapproachable is held in a Virgin's motherly embrace. The Invisible is seen by simple shepherds. The Unknowable makes himself known to seekers from afar. The earth provides a shelter filled with earthly creatures; a heavenly light points the way to it; and the bodily powers rejoice!
We come together to celebrate a cosmic event, one that redresses another event of cosmic significance and reverses its consequences. The first-created human being, as the Orthodox Church teaches us, was created by God for a purpose: he was made in God's image so that he could attain God's likeness. he was created to live with God and in God, to become like God through obedience to God's will. But he failed in his mission. He succumbed to the temptation of the deceiver, and chose for himself a path opposed to God's will for him, thereby breaking communion with his Creator, leading himself and the created order, of which he was the crowning element, into a way of being that is inauthentic, rebellious, self-serving, ungodly, a way of being centered on the satisfying of creaturly desires at whatever cost, in ways that can never truly satisfy.
But the One who created all things out of love and for love could not endure to see His creation living lovelessly. Because He is love, he poured Himself out for us in love, "emptying" himself, in St Paul's mysterious word, in order to fill all things with Himself. It is this that we celebrate on the Feast of His Nativity: this great and inexhaustible mystery of God's self-emptying love for His creation.
In the person of Jesus Christ, history begins again. In Jesus, God the Son takes on human limitations to accomplish, as a human being, what the first human failed to accomplish: a life of unbroken communion with the Creator, a life lived entirely in conformity to the will of God the Father. Although we see this most dramatically, in the days leading up to and culminating in Jesus' submission to death by crucifixion, the saving events of the Lord's last days are already evident in His first earthly hours. The icon of the Feast makes this especially clear: in it we see the Newbord Christ in a tomb-like cave, wrapped in swaddling cloths that call to mind a burial shroud, resting in a manger, a feeding trough, as though on a sacrificial altar.
Jesus' entire life from infancy to maturity was a seamless robe, a constant demonstration of the awful truth that a life lived for God in a world that has turned away from God can only end in rejection by that world. But more importantly, in Christ we see revealed that the world as we know it, the world misshapen by the first man's rejection of God, does not have the final word. Through His Resurrection from the dead and Ascension into heaven, Jesus revealed to us that, by living for God regardless of the worldly consequences, the world opposed to God is ultimately conquered, and a new world comes into being. Christ was not born to die, but to conquer death by dying. By living a life in unbroken communion with God, He demonstrated that true life, life in God, is without end. What we celebrate on the Feast of the Lord's Nativity, then, is a prelude to Pascha. To the eyes of faith, with enlightened hearts and minds, the glorious end is already apparent in the humble beginning. We see in the Christ Child the Lamb destined from the foundation of the world to take away the sin of the world. We rejoice in the knowledge revealed to us, that Christ came to give us life, and more abundantly.
Let us celebrate this great Feast of Our Lord's Nativity in as full a sense as possible. Let us take to heart its most profound meaning, that it is a cosmic event of reconciliation between the Creator and creation. Let us accent the challenge of participating in that reconciliation by identifying with the Reconciler, with the self-emptying Son of God, by surrenduring as He did to God's holy will for us, by conforming our lives fully to His, by allowing His Holy Spirit to form him within us, by living lives of selfless love and service, by loving and serving the creation as he loved and served it, by recognizing in His glorious humanity what is truly human.
May the grace and peace and joy and love Christ Jesus came into the world to bestow upon all creation be with us today and all the days of our lives. Amen.
Paternally yours in the Newborn Christ,
Metropolitan of Pittsburgh
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