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The Nativity of Christ

 

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The time finally came for the promised Saviour of the world to appear on earth. He was born at night, of the Holy Virgin Mary, in the city of Bethlehem, in a cave which was used for sheltering cattle. An angel of the Lord brought the news to shepherds who were tending their cattle that night in a field not far from the cave. Together with the divine messenger there suddenly appeared a host of angels. They glorified God and sang: “Glory to God on high and peace on earth, and goodwill among men.” The shepherds rushed to the cave and knelt before the Infant Christ.

Two thousand years have passed since that blessed night, in which the angel announced the great joy that would come to all people. And in the course of these 2,000 years the Holy Church, while annually reliving the exultation of that night in Bethlehem, tells us over and over again of what happened, and that it was truly a great joy.

But what is the essence of that joy?

 “Glory to God on high and peace on earth, and goodwill among men.”

In the very beginning of mankind’s existence, when Adam and Eve dwelled in the garden of Eden, they lived in such a state of bliss that we, in our current sinful condition, cannot even begin to comprehend. They had the joy of speaking face-to-face, like children with their father, to God Himself, Who put aside His inaccessible majesty and appeared to them very simply, as a Father to His beloved children. But through the malicious envy of the devil, the first-created people sinned and lost that bliss, and were expelled from paradise.

Then the Lord, in His infinite mercy, did not wish to abandon His beloved creation. In order to save man, who had fallen away from God, the Lord Himself came down to earth, to become man and to take on a form in which He would once again be easily accessible to men.

And so today there lies in the manger in Bethlehem the Divine God, Who is also man. As God He is inaccessible and awe-inspiring, and even the angelic host does not dare gaze upon Him; yet at the same time He is a man like us, similar to us in all but sin. Therefore, since the One Who lies in the manger is a man and at the same time the Son of God, - then we, being His brothers by virtue of His humanity, through Him have now also become the sons of God.

Therein lies the deep significance of Christ’s incarnation.

The Apostle Paul tells us that God sent His Son down to earth, in order for Him to redeem us, so that we could once again become His children. We - all of mankind - were foresworn sinners, but He came, took our sins upon Himself, atoned for all of us, and now we once more possess the grace of being the sons of God.

Thus, mentally standing on this great day at the manger of Bethlehem, we realize with joy and awe that we are not only God’s creation, but also His children. And let us remember with immense gratitude that the Lord has mercifully done such a wondrous deed, and that instead of punishing man, who was guilty of sin, He not only took that punishment upon Himself, but more than that - he affiliated man to God the Father.

Let us love the newborn Infant Christ with all the tenderness of our soul, as our Saviour and our Redeemer, and let us bring Him the gift of our pure and loving heart.

Adapted from the sermons of Metropolitan Philaret (Voznesensky).

 

The Nativity of Christ

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Down to earth came the One Who in the beginning had created us out of dust and had filled us with His divine spirit; the One Who with a single word caused all visible and invisible things to appear out of nothing, Whose word brought into existence all the birds, fish, four-legged animals, insects, all the creatures who live under His almighty providence and guardianship; the One Whom the mighty host of angels serves everlastingly with awe and joy. And with what humbleness He came! He was born from a poor Maiden, in a cave, was swaddled with simple cloths and placed in manger! O wealth, celebrity, fame of this world! - bow down, kneel with humility, tender tears and deep gratitude to the Saviour of mankind, share your wealth with the poor and the indigent, and put aside your pride in your ephemeral and quickly-passing celebrity: only virtue possesses true nobility.

 

A Gift to the Lord for the Feast of the Nativity

“And brought Him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11). It was customary in the East to bring gifts to prominent people. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and brought him aromatic oils, much gold, precious stones, etc. That is why the Wise men brought gifts to the Infant Jesus and gave them to His Mother. And in our times, some carry on the tradition of giving presents to each other on the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity. What gift would be the most pleasing to our Lord? Let us look at the treasures which the Wise men brought – can we not imitate their example?

Firstly, they brought gold – the most precious metal. But King David says that God’s Word is more precious and more desirable than precious gold. This means that if we study God’s Word and preserve it in our hearts, we have a gift which to the Lord is more precious than gold. This is His gift – Truth; there is nothing more precious than that.

Secondly, they brought frankincense. This is a kind of fragrant incense which by God’s command was used in the Old Testament tabernacle and in the temple. It has a very pleasant fragrance; rising to the heavens like clouds, it serves as a gift of thanksgiving, pleasing to God. If we bring our gift of thanksgiving to God, as the Psalmsinger says, would it not be more pleasing to God than frankincense? Is not our soul, sending the fragrance of thanksgiving to the heavens, worth more than incense?

Finally, the Wise men brought myrrh.. Like frankincense, it is obtained from trees growing mostly in Arabia. To obtain it, the tree bark is cut and from it comes an aromatic sap that is used as part of the fragrant oil with which kings and high priests were anointed. The word myrrh means bitterness or sorrow. Could not we, too, bring such gifts to the Lord? Do we not sorrow and feel remorse over our sins? Heartfelt sorrow over our sins – this is our myrrh.

Thus we, too, can bring to our King the same gifts which the Wise men brought to Him: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We can bring Him God’s truth in our hearts, as King David says: “Your word I hid in my heart.” We can sincerely thank Him for coming down to earth to save us. We can confess before Him our sorrow over our sins, for which He had died. If we do so, then we will be as wise as the magi, and we will bring Him real gifts – true gold, incense and myrrh.

 

* * *

 

A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR THE CHRIST-CHILD

One of the church hymns that is sung for the feast of the Nativity of Christ contains the following moving words: “What will we give Thee, O Christ, for having appeared on earth as a man for our sake? Each of Thy creations gives Thee thanks: the angels offer their singing; the heavens give the star; the Magi bring gifts; the shepherds bear witness to the miracle; the earth provides the cave; the desert extends the manger. And we – we give Thee the Virgin Mother.”

In that very year, almost 2,000 years ago, when the Lord Jesus Christ was actually born on earth, mankind gave Him the very best and most precious gift it had – the Pure Virgin Mary, the only One Who could become the Mother of God and Who could help Him achieve His incarnation. Since that time, however, within the Church the Lord continues to be born for us every year, and every year He comes down to earth for our salvation. And thus every year, in gratitude, we must offer Him some gift.

What kind of gift, dear brethren, are we able to give each year to the newborn Babe, our Saviour? The Lord Himself provides the answer in the words of the prophet, by saying: “Give me your heart, my son.” And King David entreats the Lord in one of his psalms: “Create in me a pure heart, O God.”

The Nativity of Christ
The Nativity of Christ

So how are we to obtain this gift for the Lord – a pure heart? A pure heart is acquired by ascending a small kind of ladder. The first step of this ladder is regular church attendance. In church we cleanse our hearts of the wicked influence of the outside world and fill them with the goodness of the word of God.

The second step is the observance of Christmas Lent. But this observance should not be solely in terms of food. The main thing is to keep spiritual lent in terms of the heart, i.e. restrain ourselves from anger, resentment, quarrels, irritation and other passions – from everything that darkens our souls. Through spiritual lent we proceed even further to purify and enlighten our hearts.

The third step is the sacrament of penitence. As we come to confession and repent of our sins before God, we discard this heavy and unnecessary burden, and immediately lighten our hearts.

And then the last and highest step towards acquiring a pure heart is to partake of the Royal Mysteries. In the sacrament of communion we draw into ourselves the Lord God Himself, the Sacred Fire that consumes all of our inner uncleanliness and gives that purity of heart, toward which we are striving. Therefore, it is extremely important in this period of Christmas Lent to come to church and take communion.

In society we have the custom, whenever we go to someone’s birthday party, especially a child’s, to bring nice and valuable gifts. Right now, dear brethren, we are getting ready to participate in the birthday party of the Heavenly Child, the Lord God Himself, the One Who created us to enjoy heavenly bliss, and because of Whom we are able to celebrate our own birthdays. Let us prepare for Him and bring to Him, in the sacred night of His Nativity, the best and most precious gift that we can give – our pure hearts. Amen.

Father Rostislav Sheniloff

A GIFT TO THE LORD FOR THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY

 

“And brought Him gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11). It was customary in the East to bring gifts to prominent people. The Queen of Sheba visited Solomon and brought him aromatic oils, much gold, precious stones, etc. That is why the Wise men brought gifts to the Infant Jesus and gave them to His Mother. And in our times, some carry on the tradition of giving presents to each other on the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity. What gift would be the most pleasing to our Lord? Let us look at the treasures the Wise men brought – can we not imitate their example?

Nativity of Christ

Firstly, they brought gold – the most precious metal. But King David says that God’s Word is more precious and more desirable than precious gold. This means that if we study God’s Word and preserve it in our hearts, we have a gift which to the Lord is more precious than gold. This is His gift – Truth; there is nothing more precious than that.

Secondly,they brought frankincense. This is a kind of fragrant incense which by God’s command was used in the Old Testament tabernacle and in the temple. It has a very pleasant fragrance; rising to the heavens like clouds, it serves as a gift of thanksgiving, pleasing to God. If we bring our gift of thanksgiving to God, as the Psalmsinger says, would it not be more pleasing to God than frankincense? Is not our soul, sending the fragrance of thanksgiving to the heavens, worth more than incense?

Finally, the Wise men brought myrrh. Like frankincense, it is obtained from trees growing mostly in Arabia. To obtain it, the tree bark is cut and from it comes an aromatic sap that is used as part of the fragrant oil with which kings and high priests were anointed. The word myrrh means bitterness or sorrow. Could not we, too, bring such gifts to the Lord? Do we not sorrow and feel remorse over our sins? Heartfelt sorrow over our sins – this is our myrrh.

Thus we, too, can bring to our King the same gifts the Wise men brought to Him: gold, frankincense and myrrh. We can bring Him God’s truth in our hearts, as King David says: “Your word I hid in my heart.” We can sincerely thank Him for coming down to earth to save us. We can confess before Him our sorrow over our sins, for which He had died. If we do so, then we will be as wise as the magi, and we will bring Him real gifts – true gold, incense, and myrrh.

 

 

 


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