The Nativity of Christ
According to Webster, nativity means “the process or circumstances of being born.” For the Orthodox Church the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ does not focus on Jesus as a cute little baby in a manger. The Nativity of Christ is mostly about the incarnation of God. This season is about the union of God and man. “Sharing wholly in our poverty, You have made our clay godlike through Your union and participation in it. Though He was rich, for our sake He became poor that we might become rich.”
For a long time I did not understand why the Gospel on the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ is a genealogy.
The importance of the genealogy, which shows that this Child born of the Virgin has human grandparents and great-grandparents, isn’t just that God has become man, so that He now has a human mother, human grandparents and great grandparents, and a lineage that goes all the way back to Abraham, and Adam. The impact of his human ancestry is in how it shows that God has become man so completely that he is now personally “united” by his human nature, which is our human nature, to the whole human race, to every human person all the way back to the beginning. He shares with us, he has communion with us in our flesh and blood, partaking of our nature for the purpose of sharing in our death, so that through his death, we have the potential to participate in his life.
This is salvation. I used to think that salvation was God overlooking our sins and letting us into heaven anyway through the sacrifice of his Son. In that scenario there is no union of God and man in Christ, only a really good feeling of being let “off the hook” legally speaking. We have become partakers of the divine nature; there is a real union with God.
The union of God and man in Christ is a personal or hypostatic union. The divine and human natures are united without confusion and without division in the Person of God the Word. Christ is not Jesus who has attached himself to the Son of God. Christ is the Son of God who Himself became flesh and dwelt among us whose name is Jesus. And therefore, the Church looks at Mary with love and respect as the Theotokos, the Mother or “Birth-giver” of God.
If we understand the teaching of the Church even a little bit, it will change everything for us, how we view the world ourselves, and how we conduct our lives in this world as Christians.
The incarnation of Christ is indescribable and yet, we are included in every detail. We fall on our face in worship with the shepherds and the wise men before this little baby. We need to let the angels sing their praises, because none of our words or songs will come close to describing the majesty of the Word of God become flesh. He has willingly become flesh so that he can live with us and raise us up to his life. He did this out of his great love for us not because he felt sorry for us. Even if there had been no fall, the incarnation would have happened because God created us with the intention of including us completely in His life.
He has not united himself to us superficially. He has united himself to us at the core of our being. He has united himself to us so deeply that he is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
All of this means that to be saved is much, much more than being forgiven – as profound as that is – or being considered righteous by God even though we still sin. To be saved is to be united to God. And that’s why sin is understood as separation from God. We have become, we are becoming, and we will be members of his body. He becomes our life not mentally but in a concrete reality through our acquisition of the Holy Spirit. (That is why we don’t focus on proof texts in scripture, and that’s why instead we focus on every aspect of our own life, and do our best to live a life of repentance.)
We are united with God in the mysteries of the Church; in the Eucharist, we eat and drink the body and blood of Christ. We receive His Holy Spirit into our bodies, our minds, and our hearts. We become members of His crucified and risen body. Through the sacraments, through prayer and fasting, through self-control and inner attention, and through the observance of Christ’s commandments the Church prepares us to draw near to the altar of Christmas in the fear of God, with faith and with love as the shepherds and wise men drew near to the manger so that we can be saved and become one with God who has already become one with us in the mystery of His Incarnation.
Glory be to the Father…
Photo courtesy of Lawrence OP.