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  • Fr. Athanasius Oweis

Why Does the Church celebrate Nativity?

LUKE 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men! When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

both now and ever and unto ages of ages, Amen.

In this blessed evening, and while all the worldly festivities are extravagant around us. And as we come here to run away from the noise and celebrate in peace the Nativity of our Lord. We can ask ourselves a what-seems-trivial but rather an important and vital question:

Why does the Church celebrate the Nativity of Christ every year? And why does the Church celebrate the cycle of Christ’s life on earth every year?

To answer this important question, we cannot but start from Genesis. This was the first birth of Adam, from God without father nor mother. Adam was created to be in full communion with God. Everything was his, as long as he stayed with God. He had been given dominion over all animals, all birds, all trees, all the land. He had been given what we call today: “The Power”. You think of real power, it was with Adam. Not because he deserved it, but because he had full communion with the Creator. This communion with God gave him also full communion with his beloved wife, Eve. All this perfect communion was encompassed in one word: Agape. Divine Love. Love that cannot be explained, , love that originates from the Trinity, hence love that cannot end, and consequently, doth not fail, and doth not judge, but patient in everything. This was nature. This was the purpose of creation. This is what God defines as: Natural. Natural means love unfeigned between man and the Trinity who created man.

Then, Adam listened to a strange voice, a voice that was different than what he had been listening to all his life. A voice that was not normal. A voice that sounded sweet, but filled with poison. A voice that lacked love. Yet surprisingly, Adam and Eve listened, their nature was poisoned, and became un-natural. Life was not the same again. The Trinitarian God did not change, Adam and eve changed. Their poisoned nature now is able to obey voices that lack love, and think that this is “Natural” while in fact was away from anything that is truly natural. Their poisoned nature needed healing. Healing can only come from one. A patient can never heal himself, especially in the worst sickness of all, the sickness of sin. The poison of sin resulted in death. Only one person was able to heal them. The giver of Life Himself. The creator.

What is amazing about this story is that God was never surprised by Adam and Eve’s choice. He knew that they would do this before even He created them. He had a plan for their salvation before they came to life. He knew that He had to suffer death to release them from death. So why did he create them if He knew all of this beforehand? One reason. Agape. Infinite love. If you love, you cannot but express your love. God not only expressed His love by giving them stuff. He gave them Himself. This is the power of God. He is able to change the darkest of moments into the brightest one.

Hence throughout the long ages before the Nativity, the calm and loving voice of God was overshadowed by the loud noise of the world. God still did not change. He never did, and never will. He told the people through the prophets. The prophets were persecuted and killed. The noise of the world was too loud but was week. God’s message was always calm, quiet, serene, yet powerful.

Then God Himself came, to offer Himself to us, to offer His life, to offer His example of life. He came in the quietness of the night. He did not come in the day. He came in the middle of the night. While everyone was asleep. The Shepherds were only people who were awake. The Church always reminds us to be awake. The shepherds were the poorest. They were part of the lowest ‘bracket’ of society. He came to them. The virtue of them being poor does not mean anything in and of itself, it is the virtue of their humility. The angels appeared to them not because they were poor, but because they were poor in spirit. The angels that the Shephereds would immediately run and look for Christ. They were humble.

God appeared in the Theotokos’ womb. She was and is the epitome of virginity. She is the true example of humility. She did not know anything that would happen to her after giving birth to Christ. She did not need to know. She had enough experience with God to say. I do not need to know. He knows. This is the person who God chooses to dwell in.

The Magi came from the land of pagan worship: worship of the stars and planets. They know that stars do not move, they knew that if they did then it was part of a yearly cycle. The star that appeared to them was a new star. It was the first star that moves. They had the humility to follow this star that they could not understand, not only that. They brought gifts with them. To whom, they did not know. They journeyed for about six months, where to? They did not know. Were they journeying in the mountains of alps? No. They were in the desert of Iraq and Iran, till when? They did not know. Their extreme humility paid off. They were the first pagans to see Christ, and worship Him. Herod was rights there, He was close, he asked the priests, they told him the Messaiah would be born in Bethlehem. He could’ve easily be the first King in history to adore Christ. His pride drove him mad. The Humility of the pagans led them to where Christ is.

This is why the Church celebrates Nativity. To remind us that God is here. God came to you. God loves you. God loves you beyond measure. And also to put before our eyes the humility of the Theotokos who obeyed Him blindly. To help us dwell on the wandering of the Maggi in the desert before arriving to Him who changes all lives. And to remind us that we should follow our guardian angel who leads us to Christ.

So how do we, Orthodox Christians celebrates Nativity? All people are gathering now around the tree. We, the Church, gather around Christ. By coming to Church and worship the God who became Child for us. By listening and praying the words of the Saints who acquired Christ. These hymns nurture. These hymns heal. These hymns help us leave our pride, and acquire humility. We don’t’ have to know everything. In fact, we don’t have to know anything. Even though this is against the spirit of this age where knowledge is accessible. However, the only knowledge that we really need to know is our sins to repent from them. Christ is able to change the darkness of our sins to the brightness of the resurrection. Say: I worship Christ. Christ knows. I know only one thing, that I worship Christ who had a plan to save me from myself before He even created my greatest grandfather. We celebrate Nativity by prayer, and prayer only. All what is outside in the world is noise, what we truly need is the silence of the night, so we can pray and look at Him who was born for our sake to save us from death, and return to our true Natural nature. This nature that is able to see people as Christ, and gift them with love, not with stuff. People do not need stuff. They need Love. We should give ourselves to others. As Christ gave Himself to us. This is un-natural to the world, but remember, that the world itself is “Un-Natural”.

May the Lord our God give us the humility of the Shepherds, the Magi, and above all the Mother of God so we can sing with the angels: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, and good will amongst men. Amen

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