A HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY

 

About the Meaning of the Incarnation

 

        Brothers and sisters!

 

        I congratulate all of you on the great feast of the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Saviour Jesus Christ!  Today we celebrate the appearance in the world of the Son of God -- an astounding, unique event, which has changed the entire situation of mankind and has the greatest significance for our whole race, especially for those of us who believe in it and choose to benefit from it.  Last night and today we assembled in church to pray and to hear the festal hymns and readings, and if we have understood them and entered into their meaning even to the slightest degree, then our hearts have doubtless been deeply stirred and our minds filled with the most profound reflections. 

        “The Lord Jesus Christ”…  Many of us who make the effort to say the Prayer of Jesus repeat these words perhaps hundreds of times each day.  But what do they mean?  “Lord” signifies a master, someone of high rank, and it especially refers to the Lord God.  “Jesus” -- this is a proper name, meaning “Saviour,” and in the Old Testament several righteous men were called Jesus (the Greek rendering) or Yeshua (the original Hebrew version, usually anglicized as Joshua).  Most prominent among them was Joshua, the son of Nun or Navi, Moses’ successor as leader of Israel, who brought the Hebrew people into the Promised Land.  “Christ” means “the Anointed One,” and chiefly refers to the promised Messiah.  The Jews, however, also called their prophets, high priests, and kings “christs” because in their service to Israel, they in one way or another foreshadowed the Messiah.  But Jesus, being Himself the Messiah, the Saviour, merits the name or, more properly, the title, infinitely more than the rest.  As no one else, Jesus was anointed by the grace of God.  Earthly princes are physically anointed with fragrant holy oil as a means of sanctification and as a symbol of their elevation to the rank of rulers of worldly kingdoms.  But the humanity of the Saviour is anointed unto the Kingdom of God by His own divinity.  Being from all eternity the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, in the Incarnation the Son of God takes on a human nature from the Ever-virgin Mary and unites it to His eternal divine nature in a single hypostasis.  His humanity and divinity are not merged, but are joined indivisibly, miraculously, supernaturally, and in a manner inconceivable to our minds.  This union would seem utterly impossible, but the things which are impossible with men are possible with God.[1]  We Orthodox Christians confess that never before has there been such a union, and never again shall there be.  Even more than unbelievers, we are astonished by the idea of this; but, nevertheless, we believe in it with all our heart.  Now and for all time, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity has united a human nature to His divine hypostasis.  Now and for all time, the Son of God has become the Son of Man:  He has become truly incarnate, without ceasing to be God.  As the Holy Fathers say, the human nature of Christ has become “enhypostatized,” meaning, it has become included in the divine hypostasis or subsistence of the Son of God.  Christ’s humanity has never had an independent hypostasis or subsistence, but in the Incarnation acquired its subsistence in His own eternal, divine hypostasis.  Therefore it is completely, utterly divinized or anointed with divinity by “the exchange of properties,” meaning here the imparting of all the power of divinity to Christ’s humanity by virtue of the hypostatic union, without any diminution of the humanity.  To put it in more everyday, if less exact language, Christ’s humanity does not have its own human individuality or personhood.  It received its personal identity from the pre-eternal Word of God, and with it, the absolute fullness of divinization.  Also, not having human individuality, Christ’s humanity embraces the whole of human nature; therefore, through His incarnate dispensation, the whole of humanity is recapitulated or summed up in Christ.  It is thus rectified, redeemed, and deified in Christ as the God-man, to the degree, of course, that we possess faith in Him.  Consequently, the earthly life of Christ -- and especially His suffering, death on the Cross, and Resurrection -- extends to the whole of human nature.  By assuming our humanity and divinizing it in Himself, the God-man takes our nature, marred by the Fall and sin, and heals and deifies it.  He anoints it with His anointing unto the Kingdom of God, thereby delivering it from both moral corruption and the chief consequence of sin, death.

        These things, brothers and sisters -- the mystery of the Incarnation and our redemption -- took place in time long ago, two thousand years now.  Nevertheless, for those of us who have living faith, the Nativity of Christ is as real, as actual, as utterly vital as if we were eyewitnesses.  In place of the vision of physical eyes, God has given us inner eyes, spiritual eyes, and with these we can see, not the outward incidentals of the Nativity, but the Incarnation’s inner reality, its spiritual reality:  we can perceive something of its inmost mystery.  As a result, on this day we feel as though we were alive on that day two thousand years ago, and were present at the cave in Bethlehem; and we directly participate in its momentous consequences.

        All of us, even little children, know that on the feast of the Nativity we celebrate the birthday of Christ.  But the matter goes far beyond that.  In that wondrous poem which so perfectly unites profound devotion with lofty theology, the Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, we chant, “New was the Creation which the Creator showed to us His creatures, when He sprang from the seedless womb.”  That supremely beautiful “new Creation” was nothing other than Christ’s own humanity, enhypostatized in His pre-eternal, divine Person:  a new humanity anointed by all the might and grace of the Godhead, a new humanity which it is His good pleasure to share with us and in us who have clothed ourselves in Him and are called by His holy name.

        Oh, the boundless love of the Son of God, and of His unoriginate Father, and His co-eternal Spirit, Who deigned this to come to pass!  Oh, the wonder of His providence!  What gift, what love could be greater than this?  In return for the supreme, unmatchable Gift come down from on high, let us return to Christ what gifts we can:  the gold of our pure Orthodox faith in the truth of these things, the frankincense of unflagging hope that Christ will become all in all in us, and the myrrh of ardent love for our loving Benefactor.

        Brothers and sisters, I wish for all of you on this bright day an abundance of divine peace, love, joy, and grace in your hearts, and a deep perception of these truths -- the earnest of our re-creation and deification in Christ.  Amen.

 

[1] Luke 18:27