Posts tagged ‘nativity’

December 11, 2016

we are meeting Christ in Bethlehem today

From Words for Our Time: The Spiritual Words of Matthew the Poor (The Nativity of Our Lord, 1974):

God proclaimed something on Christmas Day which neither narrative nor history itself can fully contain. …We can say that Christ’s birth is above time; and so we cannot deal with it as just a record with historical details to be analyzed. No, our intention this evening is to make a living entrance into the story of Christ’s birth.

Again, no matter how long or wide history becomes, it will never be able to encompass the story of the Nativity. The Nativity is eternal life itself that shown forth from Bethlehem and remains shining until the end of the ages. …As we sit here together, I would like us to imagine that our gathering is in Bethlehem. And our imagination is not fantasy, but very truth. Our question now is, what is our position or place in Bethlehem? …Judge for yourselves and understand our place in the Bethlehem stable from this: We are bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh [Eph. 5:30]. Joseph, as I said, is the guardian of the Virgin Birth, and Mary, the pure saint, is Mother; but you and I are His own flesh and bones! We comprise His entire body. Therefore, I say, we are meeting Christ in Bethlehem today, but it is an incredible and marvelous rendezvous; and it requires us to constantly and repeatedly review ourselves as well as the Nativity story. …I am not merely the beneficiary of Christmas—rather, I am flesh of his flesh and bone of His bones. You and I take up a central place in Bethlehem. This One who is born, the wonderful Child, this magnificent gift from heaven, contains me as a vital part.

…For the sake of the One born in Bethlehem, come with me to meet Christ, who awaits you with open arms. Christ was not born to make a short visit on earth and then leave. He was not a passing visitor. He was the Son of God who took flesh, and will never cast it off. He took us, beloved. He took humanity unto Himself and formed a union with it, complete and perfect. All things that belonged to the divinity and humanity respectively are now united. What a wonderful doctrine! …Beloved, in the Spirit we assemble today in Bethlehem, in Adam’s Paradise, the doors of which are opened for us never to close again.

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December 21, 2015

he again becomes a child in the womb of our soul

Jesus the Christ who was born in the flesh once for all of us, desires to be born again in the spirit in those who desire Him. In each of us, he again becomes a child in the womb of our soul and forms himself from the virtues. He reveals as much of Himself as He knows each of us can accept. Let us contemplate the mystery of the incarnation and in simplicity praise Him who became man for us.

Saint Maximus the Confessor (quoted in the Philokalia).

November 30, 2014

he is curtailed who overflowed all skies

Mary’s Song by Luci Shaw:

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest…
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by dove’s voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

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November 30, 2014

we have found joy in secret

Bethlehem has opened Eden: come, and let us see. We have found joy in secret: come, and let us take possession of the paradise that is within the Cave. There the unwatered Root has appeared, from which forgiveness flowers forth: there is found the undug Well, whence David longed to drink of old. There the Virgin has borne a Babe, and made the thirst of Adam and David to cease straightway. Therefore let us hasten to this place where now is born a young Child, the pre-eternal God.

From the Ikos for the Nativity (Orthodox Christian hymn).

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December 30, 2013

doth seek now with tears thy help to worship

So much to ponder in these ancient hymns of the Orthodox Church. I’m particularly struck by the repeated consideration given near the end of this hymn to the danger and difficulty of responding aloud to God’s revelation of Himself with “well-balanced songs of praise.” (Purchase an MP3 recording of this here, and see more ancient nativity hymn lyrics here.)
9th Ode of the 2nd Canon of Christ’s Nativity

Magnify, O my soul, her who is more honorable and more exalted in glory than the heavenly hosts.
I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave a heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, and the manger a noble place in which hath lain Christ the uncontained God. Let us, therefore, praise and magnify Him.

Magnify, O my soul, the God born in flesh from the Virgin.
When the Magi saw a new and strange star appearing suddenly, moving in a wonderful way, and transcending the stars of heaven in brightness, they were guided by it to Christ, the King born on earth in Bethlehem, for our salvation.

Magnify, O my soul, the King born in a cave.
The Magi said, Where is the Child King, the newborn, Whose star hath appeared? For we have verily come to worship Him. And Herod, the contender against God, trembled, and began to roar in folly to kill Christ.

Magnify, O my soul, the God worshipped by the Magi.
Herod ascertained from the Magi about the time of the star by whose guidance they were led to Bethlehem to worship with presents Christ Who guided them, and so they returned to their country, disregarding Herod, the evil murderer of babes, mocking him.

Today the Virgin giveth birth to the Lord inside the cave.
Verily it is easier for us to endure silence since there is no dread danger therefrom for us. But because of our strong desire, O Virgin, and Mother of sameness, to indite well-balanced songs of praise, this becometh indeed onerous to us. Wherefore, grant us power to equal our natural inclination.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: Magnify, O my soul, the might of the indivisible and three-personed Godhead.
O pure one, Mother of the Word that appeareth newly from thee, O closed door, verily, as we behold the dark shadowy symbols pass away, we glorify the light of the truth and bless thy womb as is meet.

Both now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. Glorify, O my soul, her who hath delivered us from the curse.
The Christ-pleasing people, O Virgin, having deserved to be granted its desire by the coming of God, doth seek now with tears thy help to worship the glory of His enlivening appearance wherein is the renewal of birth; for it is thou who dost distribute grace, O pure one.

This too:

When it was time for thy presence on earth, the first enrollment of the world took place. Then it was that thou didst decide to enroll the names of men who believe in thy Nativity. Yea, that commandment did issue forth from Caesar, since the everlastingness of thine eternal kingdom hath been renewed. Wherefore, we offer what is better than moneyed tax, namely Orthodox theological sayings; to thee, O God, Savior of our souls.

December 20, 2012

turn your heart into a cow-stall

Popular quotation from Angelius Silesius (1624-1677):

If you could turn your heart into a cow-stall,
Christ would be born again on earth!

And also from his work The Cherubinean Wanderer:

Had Christ a thousand times,
Been born in Bethlehem,
But not in thee, thy sin
Would still thy soul condemn.

December 12, 2012

deep within the clay

A nativity poem by Scott Cairns (about the overshadowing of Mary by the Holy Spirit):

Deep within the clay, and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the ember of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew falls gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. Her human flesh
adorns its Lord, and lo, the wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a King whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

Composed for an event with Gordon College students in Orvieto, Italy. See this page.

December 11, 2012

taught by a Star

This sampling of ancient Christian hymns connected to Mary and the Nativity (and taken from Orthodox service books) represent a remarkable range of theological insights:

From the most common megalynarion (used in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom):

It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos,
ever blessed and most blameless and the Mother of our God:
More honourable than the Cherubim,
and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,
who without corruption gave birth to God the Word,
true Theotokos, we magnify thee.

From the Propers for the Feast of St. Nicholas (Preparation for the Nativity of Christ):

O cave, make ready, for the Ewe Lamb comes, bearing Christ in her womb!
O manger, receive Him Who by a word has released the dwellers of earth from lawlessness!
Shepherds, abiding in the fields, bear witness to the fearful wonder!
You magi from Persia, offer to the King gold, myrrh and frankincense,
for the Lord has appeared from a Virgin Mother!
And she, bending over Him as a handmaiden,
worshiped Him as He lay in her arms, saying to Him:
“How were You sown as seed in me?
How have You grown within me,//
my Deliverer and my God?”

…Unwedded Virgin, from where have you come?
Who has given you birth?
Who is your mother?
How can you carry your Creator in your arms?
How is your womb free from corruption?

Most holy one, we see great and fearful mysteries upon earth fulfilled in you;
we adorn the cave as a house worthy of you;
we ask the heavens to send us a star,
for behold, the Magi proceed from the East to the West,
desiring to see the Salvation of mortal men//
shining in your arms as a Pillar of Flame.

From the Royal Hours of the Nativity:

Troparion (Tone 4)
Mary was of David’s seed, So she went with Joseph to register in Bethlehem. She bore in her womb the fruit not sown by man. The time for the birth was at hand. Since there was no room at the inn, The cave became a beautiful palace for the queen. Christ is born, raising up the image that fell of old.
…Prepare, O Bethlehem, For Eden has been opened to all. Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, For the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the virgin in the cave. Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Fruit Divine; If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ is coming to restore the image which He made in the beginning.

Troparion (Tone 8)
Make ready, O Bethlehem. Let the manger be prepared. Let the cave show its welcome. The truth comes and the shadow flees. God is born of a virgin and revealed to men. He is clothed in our flesh, and makes it divine. Therefore Adam is renewed, and cries with Eve, Thy favor has appeared on earth, O Lord, For the salvation of the human race.

From the Great Compline and Matins of the Nativity:

Nativity Troparion (Tone 4)
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shown to the world the light of wisdom. For by it, those who worshiped the stars, were taught by a Star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee!

The Litiya
Let heaven and earth as was foretold rejoice today. Angels and man let us keep the spiritual feast.
…Heaven and earth are united today for Christ is born. Today has God come to earth, and man gone up to heaven.

Aposticha
A great and marvelous wonder has come to pass this day: a Virgin bears a child, and her womb suffers no corruption. The Word is made flesh, yet ceases not to dwell with the Father.
…Today the Virgin gives birth to the Maker of all! Eden offers a cave. To those in darkness a star reveals Christ, the Sun! Wise men are enlightened by faith and worship with gifts.
…Sing, O Jerusalem! Make merry, all who love Zion! Today Adam’s ancient bonds are broken! Paradise is opened to us! The serpent is cast down! Long ago our first mother was deceived by him. Now he sees a woman become Mother of the Creator. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Through Eve, woman became a tool of sin, bringing death to all flesh; but through Mary she becomes the first-fruits of salvation for all the world. For God, the All-Perfect is born of Her. By His birth He seals Her Virginity. He is bound in swaddling cloths to loose the bonds of sin! Through His birth, the pains of Eve are healed! Let all creation sing and dance for joy, for Christ has come to restore and to save our souls.

Fire is a symbol of God (“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire,” Deuteronomy 4:24), and the burning bush, which was not consumed by fire, is considered a symbol of Mary, who carried the fire of the Divinity in her womb and was not consumed by it. References to Mary’s womb containing God “without corruption” refer to the miraculous fact that her womb was not destroyed by God’s presence. Also, language about the Christ child “shining in your arms as a Pillar of Flame” recognize that Mary continued to handle the Divine fire in intimate ways even after Christ’s birth. Because Mary caries this fire and light, she is therefore also called the “Golden Lampstand” and “Golden Censor.” Mary’s identity as the “Unburnt Bush” is depicted here in a painting by Nicholas Froment called “The Burning Bush” (1476, Wood, 410 x 305 cm, Cathedrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence):

Nicholas Froment The Burning Bush 1476 Wood 410 x 305 cm Cathedrale Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence

This unburnt bush image also brings to mind the tree of life imagery used of Mary in the Nativity hymns above. Below are three examples of the traditional Orthodox “Unburnt Bush” icon. They depict Mary within a green or brown star (representing the bush) and superimposed over a red star (representing the fire). They are also filled with many other Old Testament symbols connected to Mary, Divine fire, and epiphany:

neopalimaya_kupina_2

Russian_-_Presentation_of_the_Virgin_in_the_Temple_and_the_Virgin_of_the_Burning_Bush_-_Walters_372664_-_Back

unburnt bush icons

December 6, 2012

you that love the feasts

Glorious Nicholas, the holy preacher of Christ,
you are the great and fervent protector of those in danger,
those on land and sea, far off or near;
for you are a most compassionate and mighty intercessor.
Therefore, as we assemble, we cry aloud://
“Pray to the Lord that we may be delivered from all danger!”

…What crowns of praise shall we weave the Bishop?
Although he lived in Myra,
he reaches out in spirit to all who sincerely love him.
He is the consolation of all in affliction, the refuge of all in danger,
the tower of godliness, the champion of the faithful,//
for whose sake the greatly merciful Christ has laid low the arrogance of
the Enemy.

…You that love the feasts,
let us gather and sing the praises of the fair ornament of bishops,
the glory of the Fathers, the fount of wonders and the great protector of the faithful.
Let us say: “Rejoice, guardian of the people of Myra,
their chief and honored counselor and the pillar that cannot be moved!
Rejoice, light filled with brightness!
You make the ends of the world shine with wonders.
Rejoice, divine delight of the afflicted,
the fervent advocate of those who suffer from injustice!
And now, all-blessed Nicholas, never cease praying to Christ our God//
for those who honor the high feast of your memorial with faith and love!”

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

From the “Propers for the Feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia” (Orthodox Church of America).

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