A Sermon for the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ (2020)
The carnal and Jewish-minded man, says St. John of the Ladder, prepares for Feasts by arranging what foods he can enjoy on them; but the spiritual Israelite, the true Christian, seeks the spiritual recompenses which are bestowed on the Feast Days. The Jewish-minded man paints within his mind with great expectation all the dishes he can glut himself with and all the dainties he can gulp down; but the spiritual man seeks how he can slake his spiritual thirst and sate his spiritual starvation.
What recompense have we awaited to receive on this, the Feast of God’s Incarnation in the flesh? This itself—the forming of the very Godhead within our lowly human nature! Are we Jewish-minded, or are we spiritually-minded? Have we awaited this day so that we can sink our teeth into rich cheeses; or have we awaited the fatness of grace which nourishes our souls, strengthens our hearts, renews our spirits and heals our bodies? Have we awaited this day so we can weigh down our belly and then become despondent; or have we awaited this day so we can be uplifted to heaven by the God Who descended therefrom to earth?
Who is the one that knows the inner meaning of this Feast? He alone who has experienced the barrenness and deadness of his soul and now feels pulsing within his very veins the life-giving energy of God Who dwells within him.
In order to taste life, we must experience death. In order to be thankful of sweetness, we must endure bitterness. In order to be conscious of spiritual exaltation, we must suffer humiliating and shameful and painful things. In order to feel the Fullness of the Godhead Bodily form His very self within us, we must feel the activity of our lawless passions and the temptations and thorns of the demons. In order to feel the freedom of Christ which enlarges the heart and stills the soul, we must feel the suffocation of the passions, and we must enter into struggle with them, stretching and straining our spiritual muscles, that we might grow.
In order to grasp upon the great riches of grace which are offered to us today, we must not be as the Jewish-minded man who seeks a full belly, but a true Jew, one in spirit, circumcised in heart from the passions by calling out to Christ the Heavenly Physician.
Our heart must yearn, our soul must long, our mind must search, our tongue must cry out, and our whole man must pray. We seek to leap up to heaven, but often we cannot even form one good impulse within ourselves. We seek to fly to God, but we are buried in the earth—worldly gossip, distractions of a thousand kinds, overcurious prying into meaningless things, envy, irritation, petty quarrels, arrogance, ambition, wranglings, divisiveness, overburdened bellies, darkened minds, cold hearts, impure desires and a multitude of sins.
Have we made a beginning yet? If not, let us do so today. Let us never despair. For if we were so good God would not have to come down to save us! But let us endure His medicines and His physician’s art of healing, even if He needs to amputate or cauterize.
For our passions sometimes grow so close, so deep, and become second nature, that it takes a very long time for this tumor of sin to be cut out. The Lord could miraculously take it away, but it might kill us, we might feel great shock and our world would turn inside-out too quickly for us; for all that we knew to be life and joy has been dissolved immediately and we were not ready, we were not trained, we had no time to adjust. The Lord could straight way cut out all our passions and diseases of soul all at once, but we might bleed to death. We need a slow surgery, for our Lord knows the strength of our bodies and souls, the depths of the passions’ roots and our ability to work with Him.
And more than this, we must endure the bitterness of healing and the helplessness that we experience amidst our sins and evil habits. For if we endure trials and afflictions, a much greater capacity will be hollowed out in our hearts, and therefore a much greater reception of grace will be able to fill them, and then a much greater joy of conscious thankfulness to our Physician, and an accordant amount of humility of mind, will be ours.
Let us offer what we have—a broken yet prayerful heart; a spiritually darkened yet searching mind; a passionate yet longing soul. Let us offer the prayers of our lips; let us offer the feeble impulses of our souls; let us cry out night and day; and when God comes let us turn our lamentation into a ceaseless prayer of thanksgiving at His presence and indwelling.
We must feel our spiritual barrenness before we can rejoice in the filling up of our soul with grace. We must feel the deadness of the womb of our souls before we can be assured of their spiritual pregnancy. We must be aware of our interior helplessness before we experience the Christ forming Himself within us, He Who is Power, Wisdom, Life Itself.
We must go through sorrow and trial and travail of soul before we can give birth in Christ to the new man hidden in Christ which shall come alive in us by His grace; and when this new man is born and raised up in our souls, all our former sorrow will be swallowed up and forgotten, and only the consciousness of joy and delight in God will be present; the only memory of our sorrows will be a faint feeling of their passed existence as something from very long ago, and the new-found freedom will appear all the more marvelous in comparison; and a humble thankfulness will well up within us because we know Who indeed has saved us, and from what.
Christ is born today, and our souls are reborn!
Christ is born, and the world is made new!
Christ is born, and the emptiness and barrenness of human nature is over-filled with the grace and life of the Godhead!
Christ has formed Himself within us!
Christ has given growth and increase to His very Person in our hearts!
Christ has brought to fruition the spiritual labors of the Fast which we have offered, poor though they may be!
Christ has planted His Kingdom on earth:
His throne is our heart! His sword is our soul, sharpened against our common enemy! His royal crown is our salvation and deification in Him! What greater joy does God have than the renewal of His creation!
Christ is born! God is made Man! Heaven is open! The angels sing with shepherds! The irrational beasts bow down before the Mind and Reason of all! Earth is made heaven! Men become God! The Virgin becomes a mother, the Virgin is virgin still! Our barren soul is filled with spiritual fruit! Our once deadened souls now rejoice in unspeakable delight!
What more can be said? All words fail, for the Word of God Himself is in our midst! What more do we need to say, for human words are worthless when the Word speaks from within our hearts! Feeble voices, combinations of syllables, movements of the breath, and a near-sighted mind with an enfeebled thought cannot depict the glories of Christ, for He is the very Image and Living Icon of the Father, and He, the Creator, Fashioner and Artist of all beauty, has inscribed Himself within our hearts!
How can we praise Him worthily? For He Himself is the Pre-eternal Praise of the Father, the Never-Silent Word, Who by His very existence glorifies God the Father from before all ages, all time, all the angels, all things. He it is Who is born today, in our midst, dwelling within us! He it is Who we now praise! He bowed down the heavens and came down. Let us then bow ourselves down in body and soul and cry out:
Christ comes from the heavens! Receive ye Him, O my soul!
How do we receive Him? How do we make an abode worthy for Him in our hearts? He has told us, and before doing so He has already done it: become a little child, and the Kingdom is yours. And what is the Kingdom? It is Christ the King enthroned and ruling. Ruling where? In His household, in His temple. And this is where? In our very bodies and souls, all of us individually and collectively knit together in His Spirit.
Become a little child and this is yours—Become simple, unaffected by vainglory and hypocrisy. Cut out judgment, complaining, wrath and vengefulness. Receive all with a most pure smile. Cry out to the Father when you are in need. Embrace Him when you are full and protected. When in danger, tug at the hem of His garment. When fallen down, cry out, and before you do, He will lift you up in spiritual exaltation. His eyes are filled with watchful care, anticipating your folly and waywardness, and before you wander too far, He has prevented you and saved you. Cling to the Father through the name of the Only Rightful Son, and you will be engrafted within the Family of heaven by the grace of adoption.
Weep a few tears if you can! If you can’t, then fall down on your face before your icons and confess the wretchedness of your heart. If you are closed up and shut fast like a sealed tomb, then humbly admit it, and you will see the evil dissolved, the darkness banished, the light shining, the joy renewed, the purity of God cleansing every fiber of your soul.
Christ is born! And we are made new, we are reborn!
Christ is born! And the Kingdom is opened! The devil is banished!
Christ is born! And the foundation of the New Earth has been laid!
Christ is born! And life begins anew, our hope flourishes again, our faith is renewed, and our love is refound!
Christ is born! Let us fall down and weep before Him Who has created us! Let us beg for a new beginning! Because He receives the humble, He receives the repentant, He receives those who are sick and bound and sinful, in need of a Healer!
He does not need the healthy! He does not need the righteous! He does not need your intelligence! He does not need your might! He does not need the self-reliant! He does not need the proud and self-assured! He does not need the self-sufficient!
He needs, no, more than this, He desires the weak! He desires the ignorant! He desires the honest! He desires those who confess their uselessness and His mercy, love and power. He desires those who do not hope in their own wisdom and strength! He desires children, children in heart, children regarding malice, children who are fully dependent on the Father and Life of all! Receive Christ like this, and the Kingdom is yours.
Christ is born! Let us worship Him with the sacrifice of praise and joy!
Christ is born! Let us not waste His graces on vanities!
Christ is born! Let us enkindle our hearts with reciprocal love, and if we cannot, let us beg the Consuming Fire Himself to do so!
Christ is born! And God is with us! More than this: God is in us!Brothers and sisters, forgive me, Christ is born!
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