Sunday, December 25, 2011

On the Feast of the Nativity

Today is the Feast of the Nativity, when every year Christians gather around a cedar of Lebanon to remember that touching tale of joy coming into the world. We recall that there was no room at the inn for Santa and Mrs. Claus, and so they had to give birth to Jesus in a stable, surrounded by cows and donkeys and sheep and flying reindeer. We remember the three wise men who followed the festive lights display to Bethlehem so that they could worship the new king with iPads, fruitcakes, and Tickle-Me-Elmos. We offer hymns about the shepherds in the field who looked up and saw heaven unfurled before them, ten thousands cheery elves singing "Eight maids-a-milking, seven swans-a-swimming, six something something, FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!" We hear about how the Savior was spirited away from his manger as his parents fled to the North Pole to escape secular humanism's War on Christmas. It is there that he remains, until this day, coming out once a year to distribute blessings in a works-based system of righteousness provided, of course, you have been thoughtful enough to leave him a chocolate chip offering, like meat on a pagan altar.

Just in case, however, that isn't how you observe the Feast of the Nativity, here is a selection from Gregory the Theologian's oration for the Feast. Much like his oration for Easter, Gregory's focus is less on remembering (or misremembering) and more on reexperiencing the Nativity. We are not observers of the worshiping angels or the adoring magi but participants with them. We seize on their joy and make it our own, because the manifestation of God among men is an eternal reality with never ending consequences, a perpetual outpouring of blessing on God's people. Watch how seamlessly Gregory moves from the birth into the rest of the Gospel narrative, because we know that the Nativity is nothing without the ministry, the ministry nothing without the Passion, the Passion nothing without the resurrection. That is where our joy comes from; the moment's of Christ's birth is the moment of our eternal hopes breaking open into the world. The fullness of the great climactic act of our salvation is inaugurated in this moment, relived every year in our observation of it.

Christ is born, glorify ye Him. Christ from heaven, go ye out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be ye exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope…Who doth not worship Him That is from the beginning? Who doth not glorify Him That is the Last?

Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar. The people that sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the Great Light of full knowledge. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new…O clap your hands together all ye people, because unto us a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, Whose Government is upon His shoulder (for with the Cross it is raised up), and His Name is called The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Let John cry, Prepare ye the way of the Lord: I too will cry the power of this Day. He Who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the Same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever. Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride; let heretics talk till their tongues ache. Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge.

Of these on a future occasion…This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating to-day, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or3rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God—that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded Grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more doth the Passion of Christ justify us?

Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation. And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches, nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, nor prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin; let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness, nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of colour, belying the beauty of nature, and invented to do despite unto the image of God; Not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled, I know well, chambering and wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil; or rather the harvests of worthless seeds are worthless. Let us not set up high beds of leaves, making tabernacles for the belly of what belongs to debauchery. Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the kickshaws of cooks, the great expense of unguents. Let not sea and land bring us as a gift their precious dung, for it is thus that I have learnt to estimate luxury; and let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance (for to my mind every superfluity is intemperance, and all which is beyond absolute need),—and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner.

Let us leave all these to the Greeks and to the pomps and festivals of the Greeks, who call by the name of gods beings who rejoice in the reek of sacrifices, and who consistently worship with their belly; evil inventors and worshippers of evil demons. But we, the Object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories; especially such as are the origin of this Feast; that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Who hath called us together.

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