CHRISTMAS MEDITATION: The Mystery by Saint John Chrysostom
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:13-14)
I behold a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the shepherds’ song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The angels sing. The archangels blend their voice in harmony. The cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The seraphim exalt his glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on Earth, and man in Heaven. He who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised up.
Bethlehem this day resembles Heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolding within itself on every side, the Sun of Justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For he willed, he had the power, he descended, he redeemed; all things move in obedience to God. This day he who is, is born; and he who is, becomes what he was not. For when he was God, he became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is his. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became he man, nor through increase became he God from man; but being the word he became flesh, his nature remaining unchanged.
The father begot in the Spirit, and the virgin brought forth without defilement. The father begot without the limitations of flesh; so neither did the virgin endure corruption in her childbearing, since she brought forth miraculously. Hence, since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does his coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this birth I have learned to venerate in silence, and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of his works.
It is indeed the way of nature that a woman in wedlock brings forth new life; when an unwed virgin, after she has born a child, is still a virgin, then nature here is surpassed. Of that which happens in accord with nature we may inquire; what transcends it we honor in silence; not as something to be avoided, passed over, but as that which we venerate in silence, as something sublime, beyond all telling.
What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a mother who has brought forth new life; I see a child come to this light by birth. The manner of his conception I cannot comprehend. Nature here is overcome, the boundaries of the established order set aside, where God so wills. For not according to nature has this thing come to pass. Nature here has rested, while the will of God labored. O, ineffable grace! The only begotten one, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, which is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that we mortals cannot see. For since we believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, we doubt that which they do not see, and so he has deigned to show himself in bodily presence, that he may remove all doubt.
And he was born from a virgin, who knew not his purpose; neither had she labored with him to bring it to pass, nor contributed to that which he had done, but was the simple instrument of his hidden power. That alone she knew which she had learned by her question to Gabriel: “How shall this be done, because I know not a man?” Then said he: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.”
And in what manner was the Almighty with her, who came forth from her? He was as the craftsman, who coming on some suitable material, fashions to himself a beautiful vessel; so Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the virgin, builds for himself a living temple, and as he had willed, formed there a man from the virgin; and, putting him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. For it was to him no lowering to put on what he himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into his hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its maker.
What shall I say! And how shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched, who is without complexity, incorporeal, now lies subject to human hands. He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant’s bands. But he has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and abject humiliation the measure of his goodness. For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of his word; taking my flesh, he gives me his spirit; and so he bestowing and I receiving, he prepares for me the treasure of life. He takes my flesh to sanctify me; he gives me his Spirit, that he may save me.
Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side — a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the Earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and we now hold speech with angels.
Why is this? Because God is now on Earth, and man in Heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on Earth, while being fully in Heaven; and while complete in Heaven, he is without diminution on Earth. Though he was God, he became man, not denying himself to be God. Though being the unchanging word, he became flesh that he might dwell amongst us.
What shall I say? What shall I utter? “Behold an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Mary is present, who is both virgin and mother. Joseph is present, who is called father. He is called husband, she is called wife. The names indeed are lawful, but there is no other bond. We speak here of words, not of “realities.”
To him, then, who out of confusion has wrought a clear path; to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit, we offer all praise, now and forever.
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