On Wednesday evening, I was thinking about the idea of being halfway out of the dark and how the days begin to lengthen as the night lessens, how we must decrease like the darkness and Christ must increase like the light. (John 3:30) As I thought, I found myself singing a song to myself. “What no man could hope for now conceived/ earth is raised to heaven on this eve.” This song by the brilliant Ed Conlin (who I am blessed to know at least a bit) was inspired by St. John Chrysostom’s most famous Christmas homily.
Now as an Eastern Christian, I am contractually obligated to love the Golden-Tongued Saint. I aspire to name a son after him and St. Cyril-the one of Sts. Cyril and Methodius. (The other are lovely, but the Non-Mercenary brothers evangelized my people, the Slavs.) But this particular homily is really special to me. It speaks to my heart a unique way. This homily defines Christmas joy and hope for my heart and mind. St. John Chrysostom speaks to me in a way that allows me to taste the beauty of the Incarnation.
All exalt 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 redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.
The Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven…that is a divine and marvelous mystery indeed. A God who departs the heavens who live with his little “mud people” and raises them up to his heavens-that is a mystery. As the Eastern fathers say, God became man so that man might become God. (Apparently, I picked up a little bit from all of those Fr. Hopko talks my dad made me listen to as a kid.) This is something that I love to think about and struggle with. God became man. He descended so that we might ascend. Why? Because he loves us, he loves us at a total risk to himself. He loves people who desert him and ignore him and reject him and deny him and betray him…and he loves us. Regardless of anything we do, he loves us.
This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His.
He is born. He comes into the world. He is born in poverty. He is born in a manger. He who set the stars in motion condescends to be born so that he might raise us up with him and make us to sit in heavenly places. My mind boggles with this. I can accept the basic facts of the Incarnation. God becomes a human infant in the womb of the Theotokos. He is born in Bethlehem. He grows up to adulthood and so forth. I can accept the facts. But to actually think it all through-God becomes a human being while remaining God from before all ages. His incarnation does not change him; it changes us.
And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields.
Let me say that again. The incarnation does not change God; it changes us. God cannot change or be changed; we humans can and must change. I don’t have to understand how this happens. God willed it. Nature yielded to God as all things must. That is enough for me. It is enough for all of us. God became man, and in doing so, he changed our humanity. He raised us up when we were powerless, when we were sinners. He entered into our humanity. He felt our pain, our struggle, our hunger, our need-and he loved us in that. He redeemed us in that.
He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.
He came to bring us back to himself. He would not be satisfied until he had won for us an eternal inheritance, that of salvation. He wanted us to see him, to know him. And so he put on mortal flesh. He became a human being out of love for us. He wanted to raise us up and make us to sit in heavenly places with us. (Ephesians 2:6) The Nativity is a central piece of that act, of that plan. God became man.
Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive.
God is now on earth. Let us rejoice! Let us celebrate the feast of the Incarnation. He who is God from before all ages has taken on human flesh, has become a sharer in our humanity so that he may redeem us. The Lord of Hosts has descended to earth. Let us observe the feast with great joy! All glory be to God.
Christ is born! Glorify him!
Christos Razdajetsja! – Slavite Jeho!
CHRISTOS GENNATAI! DOXASETE!
Your Birth, oh Christ our God, has shed upon the world the light of knowledge. For through it those who worshipped the stars have learned from a star to worship You, the Sun of Justice, and to know You, the Dawn from on high. Glory be to You, o Lord!
-Troparion for the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus