Archpastoral Letter for the Nativity 2006
Prot. N. 180
To the Very Reverend Protopresbyters, the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, and the Beloved Faithful of this God-saved Diocese:
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Christos Raždajetsja! Slavite Jeho!
And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered (Luke 2:6)
Dear Fathers and Faithful:
We greet each other today with the greatest and deepest of words: "Christ is Born!". And we respond with "Glorify Him!". It is the only possible response that wells up from the hearts of those who can hear the glory of the angels and the peace that God has given to earth.
It is meet and right, today, on this bright morning, to be overwhelmed by the light of the Bethlehem Star. That light is the joy of hearing the news that should always surprise, that should always be new and unexpected. We should never grow over-familiar with the Gospel of the Nativity. It should always come as news almost too good to be true. We should always rub our eyes and wonder if it's all a dream when we hear that God has become flesh and has made His dwelling with us on the earth of His Own making.
"And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered". Where were they, this couple Joseph and Mary, and why were they there? Caesar Augustus had issued the order for a census of the civilized world. There was only one capital in this world - Rome. There was only one official language - Latin. There was only one ruler - Caesar. To every governor the order went out: every Roman subject must be registered in his own city. On the edge of the Empire in the village of Nazareth, soldiers nailed on the walls the edict for all citizens to register in the towns of their family origins. Joseph was obliged to register in Bethlehem. It was no matter that his wife was about to give birth. The order had gone out and it had to be obeyed. And so off they went to Bethlehem, the city of Joseph's family. That's where this couple was on the night that time stood still and began again.
Where would Mary deliver her child? Joseph may not have been very concerned because he felt he would have no difficulty in finding lodging, especially because of Mary in her condition. How he must have been stunned when door after door was closed to them, with the words "We have no room". Even the innkeeper at the village inn turned them away. There was no home for the Creator in His Own creation. There was no room for Him Who came to be the Inn of every homeless heart in the world. While others that night slept comfortably, the Son of God came into the world in a cold, windswept stable-cave where Joseph quickly arranged a layette in the stable animals' manger. There was no room in the inn, but there was room in the stable.
Ponder this: God has become flesh, and God is with us! All of the universe and all of time aimed for this moment when the Birth-giver of God in a cave lit by mystical fire delivered her son, the Son of God. "In the fullness of time", St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, "God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (4:4-5).
Ponder this: the great hidden hope of the Prophets, the Kings of Israel and the righteous wise men of the ages was revealed in a Manger. St. Maximos the Confessor writes that "Christ is the great hidden mystery, the blessed goal, the purpose for which everything was created...the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word contains in itself the whole meaning of the riddles and symbols of Scriptures, and the whole reason for the visible and invisible Creation".
Ponder this: there, for the adoration of a humble, young Jewish girl, and for the veneration of a pious, elderly Israelite, was born the Infant God-man, wrapped in swaddling clothes. There God born in the flesh was found and worshipped by unlettered shepherds and academic wise men - the simple and the learned - those who knew that they knew nothing and those who knew that they did not know everything. The One they found was the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son, Only-begotten of the Father, Who assumed the One Human nature in the womb of the Theotokos. He, the Person of the Word, united without confusion the divine and human natures.
Ponder this: in His Person, human nature is brought into contact with the divine nature, and thus humanity is restored. St. Gregory of Nyssa taught that man was separated from God by the fallenness of nature, sin and death. By His Nativity, human nature has now been restored; and now Jesus Christ in the Gospel is set to overcome sin by the Cross, and death by the Resurrection. The Incarnation is thus the meaning, the goal, and the salvation of man.
Ponder this: Without Christmas, there would be no salvation, no Church, no sacraments, no life. The world would have ended if the Virgin Mary would have refused, if the Child would not have come. God and humanity both freely chose to enter into a relationship of love and free will, so that eternity might be filled with joy.
With Christmas, there is much to ponder. The Mother of God thought much about the meaning of the Manger and the Cave, the Angels, the Shepherds and the Wise Men. St. Luke said that "Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
Dear faithful: I suggest to you that in this glad Season of the Nativity, we do the same! Ponder. Consider. Be surprised by joy. Be happy and glad. Be generous with your thanksgiving and gladheartedness. Sing in your heart. Wake up to the unexpected call of God upon your life. He wants to set your heart and your home alight with the Bethlehem Star of the Joyous Night.
Ponder Christ on Christmas Day. Adore Him with your life!
Assuring you of my joyful Archpastoral Blessing this Christmas Season, I remain
Most sincerely yours in the Light of the Star,