December 24, 2011
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, brothers and sisters, on this pre‑feast of Nativity, we hear so much about the humility and the lowliness of Christ. Many things that are not befitting of a king are happening. He is poor. He is born of a woman that is not even married; this is a scandal to society. He is born in a cave, in a manger, a cold manger because it was winter. And kings come to Him, later on, not on the day of His birth, a little bit later when they were in the house, to worship Him. They worshipped a poor Man in a poor little house. Usually when a king's son is born, it is heralded over the entire country. And only a few shepherds heard.
So many things that are contradictions about the way the world treats its kings, happened to our Lord. I think that's all for our purpose. That is to show us the way to live. Of course, our Lord gave us an example how to live, and He fulfilled that example. That was an essential purpose of the Incarnation. We can't say it was only to forgive sin. It was also, and more importantly, so that we could obliterate sin so that sin could be cast out from us. The way for that to happen is for us to be told the way and shown it, by example, and for us to be given the ability to follow the way. And that is what we celebrate in the Incarnation, in the Nativity of the Lord.
Now, we just read from St. Luke's account about the Nativity that Mary kept all these things conjecturing them in her heart. We should follow that example. That's very, very important.
That is what the services really do. All of our services are this conjecturing in our heart, this thinking about holy things and rephrasing the dogmas of our faith in ways that touch us. If you listen to the services carefully, you will see things or hear things every day that are striking to you, that are amazing to you, that cut you to the core. And you should conjecture on them in your heart.
One cannot think too much about the Incarnation or about the Resurrection or about the humility of our Lord or about the coming of the Holy Spirit or about any dogma or any truth or any teaching that is in all of the Scriptures, whether it be in the Gospel or the epistles or anywhere else.
I know a story of a monk that had left and gone out into the wilderness because he heard the first portion of the first Psalm, and he meditated upon that and tried to live according to that for his entire life. And that's enough if we conjecture even such a small part of a Psalm in our heart.
Now, today in the ninth hour there is this solemn troparion that is sung. It's sung three times in the middle of the church. It is very beautiful, very profound, and you do prostrations afterwards. And its meaning is something that you should conjecture in your heart because it ends in this very solemn and profound way:
"We worship Thy Nativity, O, Christ. We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ. Show us also Thy divine Theophany."
Now, Nativity and Theophany have always been connected historically. There was a time when they were a single feast. Now they are disconnected by twelve days, but they are still connected in our liturgy. They are still connected in our hymnology. So this is certainly a reference to the Theophany about to occur. We have another name for it, Epiphany or the Baptism of Christ. Theophany and Epiphany basically mean about the same thing. They are a manifestation of God to man.
And there have been many Theophanies such as when the holy children saw the Angel of the Lord in the furnace; that is none other than the pre‑incarnate Jesus Christ. Abraham gave hospitality to three Angels; one of them was the Angel of the Lord, the pre‑incarnate Jesus Christ.
Moses was in the mountain and he said, "I want to see Thy face." The Lord says, "You can't see My face. No one can see My face and live." But He said, "I will show you My back parts. I will put you in the cleft of the rock." And when the glory of the Lord passed by, Moses was in the cleft of the rock. That was a Theophany of the pre‑incarnate Lord Jesus Christ.
But now we don't have to have Theophanies of the pre‑incarnate Lord Jesus Christ because He has been born of the woman and He is now a Man, a perfected Man, as we should become.
So when we are singing this, deeply in your heart, you should feel what the purpose of the Incarnation is for. It is so that we could see the divine Theophany. We're not talking about the feast coming up twelve days after Christmas. We're talking about the manifestation of God in the Psalm, because our purpose is to know God and know Him intimately.
So this is why the Lord was born. This is why the Lord taught. This is why the Lord assembled twelve apostles and why He died on the Cross for us and why He resurrected and why He ascended into the Heavens and then sent the Holy Spirit to us. All of these things are for one purpose and one purpose only: So that we would know Him.
We cannot know Him without becoming purified. So when we say, "We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ; show us also Thy divine Theophany," we are begging the Lord for help. We're being aware that the Lord has come so that we could be purified so that we could know Him.
"To the pure all things are pure," the Scripture says. And also, "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God." We cannot see God and know Him without becoming purified. But if you look in your own life, you will see there are a lot of things that are not pure and not good.
The Lord came so that those things would become purified; the darkness would become light, and the coldness would become warmth. And the blindness would become all eye, all seeing, so that we would see the Lord as He is and not be afraid.
This is what we are praying for: That the Lord would indwell in us, cleanse us of all sin, so that we would be in a perfected state; so that we could see Him and know Him as He is ‑‑ not as a pre‑incarnate Angel of the Lord, but as the God‑Man Jesus Christ, the eternal One, the Only Begotten of the Father, the Lord of Heaven and the earth ‑‑ and be in His presence and not be ashamed but be glad.
This is what we are asking for. If you read this hymn or sing it ‑‑ it's better to sing it, of course, if you can, because it's much more beautiful; it's in the sixth tone ‑‑ it begins speaking about the contradictions. And as I said in the beginning, this is important because the things that the Lord did were all for example: The prophecies that were given, those that are His progenitors, their lives: Are examples. Everything about Him is an example about how we should live.
The King of all, the Creator of the universe, humbled Himself to become a poor Man. So we should humble ourselves. It doesn't matter if we are poor in terms of monetary wealth or not, but we must be poor in spirit or else we can't know God.
So here is what this hymn says.
"Today He Who in essence is God intangible and holdeth all creation in His hand is born of the Virgin and wrapped as a mortal in swaddling bands. He lieth in a manger, Who established the Heavens by His Word in the beginning. He is fed at the breast with milk, Who rained down manna upon the people in the wilderness. The Bridegroom of the Church summoneth the magi; the Son of the Virgin receiveth their gifts. We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ. We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ. We worship Thy Nativity, O Christ. Show us also Thy divine Theophany."
So let it be for us. Let us become as the God‑Man. So that we can have His Theophany shown to us, in us. Amen.
Priest Seraphim Holland 2011
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