Posts tagged ‘nativity’

January 1, 2018

the Magi worship

Stichera from the Vespers of the Nativity (Translated by Fr. Seraphim Dedes):

What shall we offer you, O Christ, because You have appeared on earth as a man for our sakes? For each of the creatures made by You offers You its thanks: the Angels, their hymn; the heavens, the Star; the Shepherds, their wonder; the Magi, their gifts; the earth, the Cave; the desert the Manger; and we, a Virgin Mother. God before the ages, have mercy on us.

Lines from Orthros hymns on the Leavetaking of the Nativity (Antiochian Orthodox):

They that worshipped the stars did learn there from to worship You.

Come, you faithful, let us see where Christ the Saviour has been born; let us follow with the kings, even the Magi from the East, unto the place where the star directs their journey. For there, the Angels’ hosts sing praises ceaselessly.
In that you did bear the Giver of Life, O Virgin, you did redeem Adam from sin, and did give to Eve joy in the place of sadness.

I behold a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave a heaven, the Virgin a cherubic throne, and the manger a noble place in which has lain Christ the uncontained God.

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 guiding by it to Christ.

The star declares, the Magi worship, the shepherds wonder, and creation rejoices.

Rejoice, O Living temple of God the King, in whom Christ having dwelt worked salvation. Wherefore, we with Gabriel do praise you.

 

Saint John Chrysostom and Saint Theophylactus, commenting on Saint Matthew’s Gospel, say that the star followed by the Magi was no ordinary star. Rather, it was “a divine and angelic power that appeared in the form of a star.”

Several lines in this selection of Nativity hymns represent the large body of very early Christian hymnography that is focused on the Magi. These foreign sages are the highest examples of human worship within the Nativity story. (Mary is the greatest example of co-operation with God; Joseph of faithful discernment and care; the shepherds of humble wonder and adoration; and the angles of the eternal and heavenly worship in which humans should participate.) As the ideal examples of human worship, the Persian Magi stand in for the conspicuous absence of the religious leaders among God’s people. The priests and scholars of Jerusalem have every opportunity to seek the Christ child and to worship him. However, they hang back and whisper in passive collaboration with the insane jealousies of King Herod. The religious leaders with their critical insider knowledge become complicit in the slaughter of the innocent children of Bethlehem while the more uninformed pagans (who worshipped stars) brought the divine gifts that were due to this little baby. (As many scholars have noted, these gifts of the Magi are kingly and they also suggest care for the little child’s eventual death. However, the gifts are most importantly priestly and are connected to the Old Testament worship of God alone within the Holy of Holies.)

These two images below are from the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome which date back to the 1st or 2nd century (and which have long been believed to contain graves of Christian martyrs who had the Apostle Peter as their Pastor). One is a faded picture of the Magi worshiping the Christ Child as He is held by Mary. The other is a very early image of Mary and the Child Jesus (next to them is a prophet, possibly Daniel, holding a scroll and pointing to the Bethlehem star that heralded the birth of the King of Kings).

magi

maria and child

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December 23, 2017

Advent Reading of George MacDonald’s Lilith

George MacDonald’s Lilith is almost entirely populated by mothers and children. Therefore, it was natural to think often of Mary and her child while washing dishes and listening to Lilith during this Advent season. (I used an audio recording made by Pete Williams for LibriVox supplemented by occasional references to a free text download from Project Gutenberg.) Lilith: A Romance was George MacDonald’s last fantasy work (1895), and it strongly resembles Phantastes: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women which was his first (1858). Both novellas involve a young man coming of age during the course of a journey through the world of myth and faerie (including encounters with child-like innocents as well as several women who run the gamut from mysterious and majestic to macabre and monstrous).

In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis describes his first reading of Phantastes at age sixteen: “That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me[,] not unnaturally, took longer. I had not the faintest notion what I had let myself in for by buying Phantastes.” All of his life, Lewis was outspoken about his debt to George MacDonald (publishing an anthology of his writings in 1947). In another tribute to MacDonald’s fantasy works, Lewis says in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) that Jadis (the White Witch) was descended from Adam’s first wife Lilith:

But she’s no Daughter of Eve. She comes of your father Adam’s … first wife, her they called Lilith. And she was one of the Jinn. That’s what she comes from on one side. And on the other she comes of the giants. No, no, there isn’t a drop of real Human blood in the Witch. (8.35)

In his story Lilith, George MacDonald is drawing deep on mystical traditions and apocryphal stories from the Jewish exile period as well as medieval Christianity. These stories depict a host of characters around Adam, including his first wife Lilith. In some stories, Lilith is made from clay at the same time as Adam. In other accounts, Adam and Lilith are made as one person and only later separated by God into male and female. In these stories, Lilith refuses to remain united in purpose with Adam, is caste out of the garden, and intermarries with angels and/or demons to spawn a race of monstrous Jinn. In some accounts, Lilith takes on the body of a serpent, and she is sometimes depicted as the one who slips back into the garden to tempt Eve with the forbidden fruit. Another prominent feature of these stories is that Lilith hates human children and carries them off to feed upon them. In this fresco by Filippino Lippi (1502, Fresco, Strozzi Chapel, Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy), Adam is depicted protecting a young boy from Lilith the child snatcher.

Filippino_Lippi-_Adam

George MacDonald’s story of Lilith follows a young man, Mr. Vane, who has inherited an ancient home with a library that was started long before printing. Mr. Vane spends most of his time in this library and finds it frequented by a spectral librarian, Mr. Raven, who has served the family time out of mind. Following this ghostly librarian one day, Mr. Vane wanders into another realm where he learns that Mr. Raven is Adam and that Adam lives with his wife Eve in a home where they tend to all those who are ready to give up their lives and die the death that brings true life. Invited to lie down in his place among these cold sleepers, Mr. Vane finds that he is unable to do it. Instead, he wanders back out and alone into the world outside the great house of Adam and Eve.

Within this realm, over the course of a prolonged adventure, he encounters a girl and two grown women: Lona, Mara, and Lilith. Lona is the innocent child of Adam and Lilith, abandoned at her birth but kept safe from her cannibal mother. He meets Mara and Lilith separately. Mara is a queenly daughter of Eve who tends to all the suffering souls who are still wandering and unready for death. With a biblical name meaning sorrow or bitterness (and often associated with the name Miriam or Mary), Mara is also called the Lady of Sorrow and the Mother of Sorrow. She is a protectress and her home is a sanctuary at times. However, her primary task is to attend upon sorrow and suffering as agents of salvation.

Lona is a child-mother, tending a tribe of abandoned and innocent babes (called “Little Ones” and “Lovers”). These children bring to mind the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem and of all human history (infants aborted and left to die). They live together in a Paradise of little fruit trees and are only very vaguely threatened by a neighboring tribe of utterly stupid giants.

Several subplots ensue as the story follows Mr. Vane’s wandering and striving within this world. However, all these plots converge on Lilith’s salvation as she faces bitter defeat and comes to accept the life-restoring death offered by Adam and Eve. George MacDonald’s universalism is openly defended in this story. Generally well within the bounds of historic Christian teaching (on Christology, trinitarianism, etc.), this is one point on which George MacDonald dissents. In Lilith, Adam says that even Satan (reduced to a dimensionless although expansive and sinister shadow who follows Lilith with a desperate and dependent hunger) will one day give up his flight from God’s love and submit to the memory-restoring sleep of death (ultimately given back his purpose as a creature of God). This salvation of Satan is a heterodox speculation for which the great Origin was sanctioned.

George MacDonald is a profound metaphysician, and this heterodox claim for Satan does not negate an otherwise profound understanding of God’s goodness in creation, the bottomless of our suffering and evil, and the faithful depths to which God will go in restoring us to Himself. Lilith is largely about soteriology, and his heterodox claims are not integral to the insights at the core of his story. While MacDonald’s doctrine of salvation strays far from the typical framework of his own Presbyterian tradition, it is faithful to the oldest ideas of the church fathers. The story of Lilith connects salvation to death and suffering. Adam speaks repeatedly about the need to die and about the presence of true life within death itself. Maximus the Confessor crystallizes the teachings of all the church fathers (including, prominently, that of Irenaeus) when he describes the trick that God played by entering into death itself and placing the source of life at the heart of death. Jesus Christ gave death a new purpose as a weapon that destroys sin instead of a weapon that destroys human nature:

[T]he Lord, …naturally willed to die…. Clearly he suffered, and converted the use of death so that in him it would be a condemnation not of our nature but manifestly only of sin itself. …The baptized acquires the use of death to condemn sin. …Christ, the captain of our salvation (Heb 2:10), turned death from a weapon to destroy human nature into a weapon to destroy sin. [Ad Thalassium 61 “On the Legacy of Adam’s Transgression.”]

Upon the verge of following the Little Ones into the very presence of Jesus Christ (described only as “the beautifullest man” and whose only words are recounted by “the smallest and most childish of the voices” as “’Ou’s all mine’s, ‘ickle ones: come along!”), Mr. Vane finds himself suddenly back in this world, alone among his library books. Returning to his own life, Mr. Vane reports that he does not see any of the characters from Adam’s realm again, with one exception: “Mara is much with me. She has taught me many things, and is teaching me more.”

Mara, as the Lady of Sorrow who helps each one in the searching out of their own hearts, certainly has much in common with Mary:

And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. …Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also) so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” [Luke 2]

Mary is the ultimate point of contact between God and His rebellious creation. Her “let it be to me according to your word” opens the way for God to be present with his fallen creatures in their suffering and death, making their suffering and death into something new, into something divine. Just as Mary is the only point of contact between our fallen humanity and God, so Mara is the only point of contact between our mortal history and the world of myth and faerie. And in both cases, the point of contact is our suffering and sorrow, where God meets us and transforms the purpose of our suffering and death. George MacDonald has this message throughout his writings:

The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His. [George MacDonald in “The Consuming Fire” from Unspoken Sermons (First Series), 1867. This passage has also been quoted by Madeleine L’Engle in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art and by C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain.]

Mary’s most glorious appearance in the Bible is in Revelation chapter 12, which is marked by both celestial glory and intense earthly suffering:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. [For an excellent scholarly exposition of this passage, see the transcription of this lecture by Scott Hahn.]

Mary, like us, was and is vulnerable. She suffered and fled to Elizabeth in the face of expulsion from her community. But she is also the heavenly Queen Mother, and we understand her in the characters of Eve, Mara, Lona, and Galadriel. We also understand her in the tyrants of Lilith and Jadis, those self-imposed queens who hate the destiny of Adam and all his children, those mothers-apposed-to-God who hate the thought of their children bearing God’s image and mediating God’s presence.

In the end, Mara patiently but persistently reveals that this life of mediating God’s presence is available only within suffering and death because creation has fled from God and God has met us at the end of our flight from Him. This is why Mr. Vane comes so close to seeing Jesus Christ in this vision (hearing the Little Ones exclaim as they encounter Jesus) but parts the final veil himself only to find himself alone within his library again, with only Mara and bitterness as his teacher.

Nativity is the intrusion of God’s glorious intention and conclusion into the midst of our moment-by-moment travails in this life. George MacDonald’s story allows Mr. Vane to experience this end briefly without reaching it fully. In this attempt to describe God’s purposes for humanity, George MacDonald pushes his language to the limit. Humanity is the living point of contact between God and His creation—the interplay or amplification-chamber of thanksgiving, consciousness, and desire—where creation knows its Creator. This is humanity’s purpose and life as the priest and the divine image within the temple of creation:

Every growing thing showed me, by its shape and colour, its indwelling idea—the informing thought, that is, which was its being, and sent it out. …I lived in everything; everything entered and lived in me. To be aware of a thing, was to know its life at once and mine, to know whence we came, and where we were at home. …When a little breeze brushing a bush of heather set its purple bells a ringing, I was myself in the joy of the bells, myself in the joy of the breeze to which responded their sweet TIN-TINNING, myself in the joy of the sense, and of the soul that received all the joys together. To everything glad I lent the hall of my being wherein to revel.

…Now, the soul of everything I met came out to greet me and make friends with me, telling me we came from the same, and meant the same. …Two joy-fires were Lona and I [a new Adam and Eve]. Earth breathed heavenward her sweet-savoured smoke; we breathed homeward our longing desires. For thanksgiving, our very consciousness was that.

Mr. Vane does not stay here with Lona but returns very shortly after this scene to life alone with the Mother of Sorrow for his only teacher. However, Mary’s Magnificat announces that God is with the down-trodden. “He has put down the mighty from their seat: and has exalted the humble and meek.” At the climax of Mara’s ministry to Lilith, Mara can do nothing herself but sit down to weep as Lilith suffers:

Then came the most fearful thing of all. I did not know what it was; I knew myself unable to imagine it; I knew only that if it came near me I should die of terror! I now know that it was LIFE IN DEATH—life dead, yet existent; and I knew that Lilith had had glimpses, but only glimpses of it before: it had never been with her until now. …Mara buried her head in her hands. I gazed on the face of one who knew existence but not love—knew nor life, nor joy, nor good; with my eyes I saw the face of a live death! She knew life only to know that it was dead, and that, in her, death lived. It was not merely that life had ceased in her, but that she was consciously a dead thing. She had killed her life, and was dead—and knew it. She must DEATH IT for ever and ever! She had tried her hardest to unmake herself, and could not! she was a dead life! she could not cease! she must BE! In her face I saw and read beyond its misery—saw in its dismay that the dismay behind it was more than it could manifest. It sent out a livid gloom; the light that was in her was darkness, and after its kind it shone. She was what God could not have created. She had usurped beyond her share in self-creation, and her part had undone His! She saw now what she had made, and behold, it was not good! She was as a conscious corpse, whose coffin would never come to pieces, never set her free!

Lilith is all of us. We are Adam’s first family. Lilith is Eve without God’s unmerited grace (to use a little Presbyterian lingo). Lilith is Eve without Seth and Mary. Take or leave any part of Lilith and her story, and you are still left with Adam, Eve, and all of their children. When the end finally comes for Lilith, and she yields to Mara, we see a picture of ourselves accepting our poverty and our need apart from God:

Without change of look, without sign of purpose, Lilith walked toward Mara. She felt her coming, and rose to meet her. …Like her mother, in whom lay the motherhood of all the world, Mara put her arms around Lilith, and kissed her on the forehead. The fiery-cold misery went out of her eyes, and their fountains filled. She lifted, and bore her to her own bed in a corner of the room, laid her softly upon it, and closed her eyes with caressing hands.

Lilith lay and wept. The Lady of Sorrow went to the door and opened it.

Morn, with the Spring in her arms, waited outside.

At Christmas, it is the Lady of Sorrow who opens the door for morning and spring to enter our world and our lives. God’s arrival as a baby does not spare the innocent children from tyrannical slaughter, but this baby who is driven into exile with his young mother will establish a Kingdom that belongs to “such as these.” This “beautifullest man” will always welcome the “smallest and most childish” with: “You’re all mine, little ones. Come along!”

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.

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

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