Sermon: “The Feast of Divine Incarnation”

Nativity Feast 2018

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On the 25th of December, the Christian world celebrates the Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Gospel reading of Matthew (2:1-23); we also find the Nativity story in the Gospel of Luke (2:1-20). On this day, we do not just celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, but also the Mystery of Divine Incarnation. “The word became flesh and lived among us, we saw His glory as one of the Father filled with grace and truth,” (John 1:14). The apostle Paul calls it the “Mystery of godliness, “God was manifested in the flesh,” (1Timothy 3:16).

The story of the Nativity in the Gospel is a story of love, a love story from God to us humans. The old world lived in eager waiting for the saviour to come, and God sent the prophets who predicted the birth of the Saviour from the Virgin in Bethlehem. “When the fullness of time came, God sent His Son born of a woman, born under the law, who would be the one under the law to receive adoption” (Galatians 4:4). To the ancient philosophers, God was just a spectator watching the world from above, on His throne, indifferent to their pain and suffering, therefore it was the desire of mankind to bring God down from his throne to live among them in the world and feel their pain and misery alongside of them. Isaiah expressed this desire when he shouted: “oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64:1). And that’s exactly what occurred on the day of the Nativity; God split the Heavens apart and came down. The second person of the Holy Trinity was incarnated and came down to save the world. The angels preached to the shepherds who were watchful in the wilderness, saying: “Do not be afraid, I give you good tidings; it will be to all the people. Today the Saviour is born for you; who is the Christ and the Lord,” (Luke 2:10-11).

The great St. Athanasios summarises the intention and purpose of the incarnation of Christ with the following words: “God became man that man might become god.”

We read in the Vespers of the feast: “Today heaven and earth unite with the birth of Christ, today God is on earth, and man ascended to the heavens.”
Through the Nativity and Divine Incarnation, God descended into the deepest trenches of human misery, bearing as a man, all the weight of human suffering and grief, all the way to death; the death of the Cross. During His lifetime as man, He was tested and endured all the despair, pain and suffering that all humans experience; everything except sin. The author the Hebrews says: “For we don’t have a high Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

Jesus referred to himself as the “Son of Man”, depicting His human nature, while His title “The Son of God” refers to His divine nature. Jesus Christ was both a complete God and a complete man. He was one person by two natures, divine and human. He is a perfect God and a perfect man in the same person, according to the Fathers of the fourth Ecumenical Council.

The celebration of the Nativity of Christ means that we acknowledge the fulfillment of all the divine providence of salvation and the completion of prophecies and promises since the Old Testament. Saint Gregory the Theologian explains the meaning of Christmas in our lives: “We celebrate His coming back to us so that we can return back to him, take off the old man and put on the new one’. As we died in Adam we will live in Christ.
On the day of Nativity, Every creature and every element of nature offers its thanks and gifts to Christ in their own way, just like we read in the Feast of vespers that “the Angels offered praise, the Magi gifts, and the shepherds the exclamation, and the land of the cave, and Nature the manger, but for us a Virgin Mother”. Mankind has never seen a greater and more generous and honourable gift, that is the Theotokos and ever-Virgin Mary, the completely pure one, to represent the entire human race.
We are also invited on this day, every one of us, on a personal level, to offer something to the incarnate Lord. Let us give him our hearts as a manger to lay in so that He may illuminate the darkness of our sins and our whims.

The Lord has descended, and Jesus laid in the humble manger, a humble and small cave, but by His presence in this vile place, He lit and sanctified it with His divine light. Our hearts are similarly humble and small and wretched, but let us prepare to receive Him, and reserve for Him a place; and through His presence He will cleanse, enlighten and sanctify it.
Let us also offer the newborn Divine infant the treasures of our good works, in place of gold, frankincense and myrrh, and celebrate in a way that differs from the world, as St. Gregory the Theologian teaches, “Let’s celebrate not in loud festivals, but in a divine way, to celebrate not in a worldly way but in a way that surpasses the world. Not on our own, but with respect to God. Not with what’s causing our illness, but our health and salvation. Not only with regard to the matters of our existence, but also with the result of our renewal.”

Let us this Nativity and with every feast be just like the shepherds who shared their great discovery with the villagers of Bethlehem, and share the incarnation of Christ with our family, our loved ones and our neighbours, and celebrate in a way that differs from the world, with Christ in our hearts.

Amen.

+ Metropolitan Basilios

Christ is born, Glorify Him