In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen! Christ is Born!
The place of the manger, Bethlehem
On a day like today, there are many episcopal letters—very good ones, that I would like to read to you’ but not right now. And the reason is because on a day like today, a pastor wants to share something of his heart with his flock. That is why those letters are written: because the archpastor wants to share something of his heart. Well, in every church celebrating the Nativity today, pastors want to share from their hearts, and this is what I want to do with you right now. This Gospel is not expressly about the Nativity of Christ, is it? It not a narrative; it isn’t about a baby in a manger. It is about what happened after the Nativity of Christ. We are not quite sure exactly how long after, but not on the day of the Nativity; probably not even during the week of the Nativity. It is about the wise men, the astrologers from Persia, who came to worship Christ. They enquired of Herod where the Christ Child would be born. They did this is because by God’s dispensation the star, which was actually an angel guiding them, moving in a way that a star does not move—from north to south, and not according to the way a star would move in that area—disappeared when the wise men came to Jerusalem. They didn’t know where to go, so they enquired, and then Herod knew of their intentions. He said, “When you worship the Child, then tell me, so that I can also worship Him” (cf. Mt. 2:1–8). But of course, we know that he wanted not to worship, but to kill. And shortly after the wise men had left, he did kill ten thousand holy innocents, trying to make sure that he killed the Christ Child. But by then our Lord was either on His way to Egypt or there already.
Here is what I want to share with you from my heart. When the wise men had finished worshipping the Lord Jesus, Being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way (Mt. 2:12). This is very significant. Every time I read this, I am filled with great joy. There is another way, brothers and sisters. Not the way of the world, not the way of death, not the way of mundane life; there is another way. And we are celebrating, that the God-man came down, became incarnate—He actually became the God-man, so that we could have this other way. These wise men went another way to avoid Herod; but mystically this means there is now another way to live: because Christ is born. There is another way to be. There is another way to become. Human life is filled with sorrow, it is filled with sin, uncertainty, incompleteness, sickness, death. But there is another way. That way is life, that way is perfection, that way is completeness, peace, and righteousness. And that way is obtainable because of Jesus Christ. So we must apply the Nativity to our souls. We must learn to live in another way.
Now, sometimes when I look at my own life, and I happen to know the lives of many other people (they are very similar to mine), I see how mundanely we live, how easily we become angry or confused, how easy it is for us to be lazy about holy things and diligent about things that don’t matter. It seems that we are always living in the way of the world. But that wasn’t what we were born for. We were born for perfection. We were born for eternal life. And that eternal life is to be in God, and with God; to be united with Him, to not have anything in us that is corruptible. We see corruption every day in our lives, but we weren’t born for that. We were born for another way. We were born to know Jesus Christ personally, intimately, by becoming like Him. And that is what the incarnation of the God-man provides—for us to become like Him. Now, there is much that must transpire for us to become like Him. He gives us the ability, but He does not give us the will. He strengthens our will, but He does not give it to us. We must desire to follow this other way. And if we do, then we will indeed become perfect. We will become what we were born for.
Just recently I was having a conversation, and as often happens in conversations, the significance didn’t hit until later. This person said that it really hit her that Christ was born to die… When we look at Him in the manger, we see someone Whose whole purpose in life as a human being was to die. From the beginning, His purpose was to die—so that we could live. But we are not born to die. Now, we do die, and we live with that stench of death around us when we sin. Because anything that is sin is death: when our thoughts, emotions, or priorities are not holy and righteous—that is death. But we weren’t born to die. We were born to live. We were born to be fully alive. Do you know that in our ascetical theology, we do not consider human beings without Christ to be truly human? You are not truly human until you are a Christ-man, and Christ is totally filling you—because man was created to have Christ within him. If Christ is not within the man, then he is not fully a man. We are becoming fully men, fully humans because of Christ. That is the other way, not the way of the world.
I also want to say something about why this particular passage was selected—not about the Nativity narrative, not about the babe in the manger, but what happened afterwards; just as on Pascha we do not read about the Resurrection. We read from the first chapter of St. John about the nature of God, Jesus Christ Who is eternally the Son, becoming man so that we could be one with Him. Why do we do this? Why do we look ahead? Well, first of all, in our services we have already read the Nativity narrative many times previous to today. In the same way, throughout the year, every Sunday we read the Resurrection narratives. But knowing the history is not what you need. What you need is to become what the purpose is of our Lord’s incarnation, death, and Resurrection. So, we read on the Nativity about the wise men, and how they went back another way—because the Nativity is so that you can live another way, a different way, not the way of human flesh without Christ, but the way of being a Christ-man, a deified creature. That is why we read it. It’s the same on Pascha, and the same thing also after Theophany. On the Sunday after the Theophany we read of Christ going into the wilderness, being tempted by the devil, because after baptism comes temptation. After baptism comes life, the living of your life with the power that God has given you, so that you can live differently from the rest of the world, differently from your own motivations; so that you can be changed, become a deified Christ-human creature.
That is the purpose of the incarnation. St. Paul says it in clear language—for those who have ears to hear—in one of my favorites of all the epistles, where he speaks of the fullness of time, when God sent His Son, the Incarnation, and then he says to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God has sent forth the spirit of His son into your hearts crying Abba, Father; wherefore ye are no more a slave, but a son. And if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Gal.4:5-7). Do you know what this means? This is possible because through the Incarnation, and then Baptism, and being filled with the Holy Spirit, we can become something that we are not. We can become, as the Scripture says, gods. It is not blasphemous to say that. The Psalm says ye are gods, and the Church understands that to mean that we will become God-like, full of righteousness, truth, mercy, and the knowledge of God—something that we do not have by nature. Jesus Christ is the Son of God by nature, eternally. But we are not sons of God by nature—we are adopted into sonship; and with this adoption we are treated entirely as sons. But this necessitates a change in the way we think, the way we live, the priorities we have, and how we spend our time. It means we must live a different way, another way.
This is what my heart wants to tell you today, on this day of the Nativity, when the Lord has made it possible for us to be adopted, to be of His family, to become united with Him, and perfected in Him. We must remember this in everything we do, and not live the way of the world, but rather live the other way, the holy way—the way that makes no sense to the world, the way that is foolishness to the world. We must remember this in everything we do. We were born to be alive, even though there is evidence of death in us every day—from our sins, from aging, from the mistakes we make, from our uncertainties. If a Christian has the God-given ability in his heart, he can feel that death. But that death is not natural, that death is not the purpose of our life. The purpose of our life is to be alive in Christ. And with God becoming man, it is now possible. Remember this. Live a different way from the rest of the world. And if there are things in you that are living like the world, beg God to help you with them. Do something about it. You were born for perfection. Don’t wallow in mediocrity. None of us should be mediocre. All of us should know God, and feel God in everything we do; with every breath we take, we should feel the Holy Spirit. If we do not feel this, then we must change the way we live. This is the purpose of life—to live a different way from just being a human—to live as a Christ-human. The Greeks have a word, Theanthropos, or God-man. We are also to become God-men. We call Jesus Christ the God-man, but we are to become God-men. We are to become like God and to be united with God, and to do godly things, to have the knowledge of God, to be united to Him in holiness, wisdom, and purpose. This is that other way that is possible today.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Transcription of the original audio recording