DIOCESE OF THE MIDWEST
Orthodox Church in America
Feast Of The Nativity Of Our Lord
December 25th, 2004
To the Reverend Clergy, Venerable Monastics, and All the Faithful of the Diocese:
In the Vespers for the Pro-feast of the Nativity, we find the following words spoken by the Theotokos:
0 Most High God, 0 King unseen, how is it that I look upon You?
This theme of LOOKING upon the newborn Infant in the manger; of GAZING at the sight of the Lord in the cave at Bethlehem; of BEHOLDING the Savior of the world wrapped in swaddling clothes-this theme permeates our hymnography and liturgical celebration of the birth of Christ.
The shepherds, having been visited by the angels, immediately made haste to Bethlehem, to "see this thing which has come to pass". (Luke 2:15), and afterward they made known to all around what they had seen. The Magi saw the star, and followed it in order to behold Him who made the stars. When they arrived at the place where the Child was, they first saw Him with His Mother and fell down and worshipped Him--only then did they offer their gifts. In the icon of the Feast, even the animals are not passive: they look with astonishment at the Babe who is lying in their manger. Numerous hymns in all of the services for the Feast reiterate the importance of this visual experience of the infant Jesus.
The dogmatic significance of all these references to seeing, looking, and beholding is clear. We are celebrating the appearance of the Incarnate Word of God. We rejoice that the Only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, who cannot be contained by the whole universe, is pleased to be sheltered in a cave. The Unapproachable One is held in human hands and is approached by both small and great. He whose presence was veiled by the cloud upon the mount in the wilderness, now invites all of humanity to see Him in the face of His Son who has taken on human flesh.
As we come to this Feast of the Nativity, let us call to mind the Prophet Moses. His great desire was to see the Lord; to see the salvation of the Lord; to see the Promised Land. For forty years he led the people of God in the wilderness There were the attacks and temptations of ungodliness and unfaithfulness, both outside of and within Israel. Moses struggled always to be the faithful servant of God and to do His will in all things. Sometimes he failed in his struggle, but always he returned to the Lord in repentance and received the assurance of God's boundless love. It was a great disappointment and sadness for him that he would not enter the Promised Land; but God took him up onto the mountain where he could look out across the valley and see all the land that would be given to Israel. Having been comforted with this sight, he was ready to leave this life.
We, too-the New Israel-are sojourners in the wilderness of a fallen and sinful world. Wickedness, injustice, and brokenness are all around. In a secular society that seems sometimes to have forgotten God completely, we are bombarded by the evil one with words and images that draw us away from the Lord. Sadly, even within our church life we find divisions, strife, and lack of charity.
But we must never despair! The ways of the fallen world and our own sinfulness never have the final word. God does not abandon us, but takes each of us-not to the top of the mountain like Moses, but to the cave in Bethlehem-to see our salvation in the manger. Let us not take a casual or cursory look at the wonderful sight, but let us humbly and lovingly gaze at the Infant lying there, so that we may know; may understand; may feel in the depths of our hearts the greatness of our God and the power of his love. This is our comfort, our strength, our courage, and our life. As we stand before Christ with the Magi and the Shepherds, we can say with Moses (Deut. 34:29):
Happy are you, 0 Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord...?
Invoking God's Blessing upon you, and with prayerful best wishes for your celebration of our Lord's Holy Nativity, I remain
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Christ Is Born! Glorify Him!