-- the Lantern Festival celebrating the eve of the nativity of the Virgin Mary in Ahuchapan, El Salvador, on 7 September 2016
I think you should be happy about Christmas.
Of course you know why you should be: the Son of God is born, at the Nativity Feast we celebrate today: the Son of Man is born in the flesh, has become as human as any of us.
But I wish for you that, body and soul, you will feel the warmth of joy and wonder, peace, contentment, radiant mystery, sweet longing, a depth of seeing into the quiet beauty of all things -- even the creatures that do not know that they are made in the delight of God. It is a “happy homesickness” of sorts.
You know what I mean.
“God rest you merry, gentlemen.” I want you to experience peace, to breathe the peace that the Incarnate Son of God breathes on you. He offers peace on earth to all humanity, to whom He gives His good will. You were made for this.
There really is peace on earth, in the here and now, in the Body of Christ. But not everyone wants it.
When have humans learned to be so cruel? to cut themselves off from natural affection for the demotic and quotidian, the small, the weak and defenseless? How have we gotten so used to rough, calloused humanity? so inured to it that we, to be philosophical, must sound cynical in order to sound intellectual?
The supernatural experience of “sentimental merriness” is what the human heart must have to simply live, now and forever. This is the life our Lord spoke of when He said that “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10.10).
I want you to be happy, to be sentimental. Not in a mawkish or sugary way, but tender and meek. Look at the icon of the Nativity. Look at the icon of the “sweet-kissing” of the Theotokos with her baby Son and her Lord God. Look at the icon of the Theotokos Ὁδηγήτρια (literally: "She who shows the Way"; Russian: Одигитрия), the Directress, as she points to her Son, the tender center of the universe.
At this center, we finally understand. At the center of everything, at the essence of all reality and concentration of all power, there is not what you would expect. There is tenderness instead of terror. The universe turns on the point of the radiant stillness in this Cave.
As we say in one of the most important songs about the Feast, in the Ikos of the Nativity:
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 undue Well, whence David longed to drink of old. There the Virgin has borne a Babe, and made the thirst of Adam and David to ceae straightway. Therefore let us hasten to this place where now is born a young Child, the pre-eternal God.
Be sentimental about this. Feel this. Think this.
Too many people, especially academic types, set sentiment and feeling on one side and reason on the other, as opposites. But emotion and thought are not against each other: they are both part of a larger unified movement in the soul and body: they should not be separated. Every thought is accompanied by a feeling: and there is no action that is not started and maintained by both feeling and thought.
Christian love -- the pouring out of one’s heart for another, the repentant life of self-donation -- is possible only from an emotional heart resting at peace in joy, and in a rational soul full of the knowledge of God.
To say the same thing in a picture: You can live as a Christian in this world in abundance, only when your soul is like the Cave of the Nativity, where the tenderness of the Virgin with her Infant Lord is your logical focus and overwhelming emotion -- like a bright Sea at Dawn.
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The young, ever-virgin Mary is the representative of the human race and all creation (even the bodiless creation: that is why the angels especially venerate her). She is the gate foreseen by the Prophet Ezekiel, through whom God could enter into creation. There was no other human, no other way. Everything depended upon her willingness to participate in the work of creation and salvation (there really is not much difference between those two words).
God became human to save humanity and all His beloved and much-desired creation.
Salvation is a joyous work that can only be done in communion, in nearness, by contact ... miracles are not magic. Say that again: miracles are work done by God, not lazy, aristocratic magic.
So the Creator entered Creation by becoming human in the Cave of the womb of the Theotokos.
There was no other way ... I will say that God could not have done otherwise ... it is not true that God can do, arbitrarily, whatever He wants, because there is only one way to create (through His Word and His hands), and only one way to save (through the Cross).
in other words, God could not have simply “snapped His fingers” and wiped away sin and death ... remember, there is no such thing as “magic” or “distant action” ... all action -- even on God’s part -- is work and must be done by personal contact.
This is also true of the even older and wider work of the incarnation for theosis. For God to deify humanity and all creation, He “had to” become Creation. There was no other way. To say otherwise is to speak against reality. The other word for such speaking is to lie. and we all know who the father of that sort of practice is.
When we say “God can do anything,” as in “With God all things are possible,” we are talking about God’s infinite love and power and the ability to do anything real -- we are not talking about “infinite options” or alternatives -- because in the economy of the incarnation and salvation, the options are not infinite ... indeed, there is only one way ... and that way, for humans and all creations, is terribly impossible.
But with God -- as we heard for the first time from Jesus -- all things are possible. There is no determinism, no fate, no idiotic horoscope, no diagnosis, no law, no obligation, no unforgivable sin, no demon that can separate you from the love of God (Romans 8.35-39).
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If you believe anything about salvation as theosis (which is the only Orthodox way to know salvation), then I think you really must be confidant about the question as to whether God would have become incarnate if there had been no sin, if Adam had not failed and fallen.
Would Jesus have been born anyways? The answer is yes, because the complete issue -- even before the failure of sin -- was always for full communion with the divine, as this is the perfection of Creation. In this sense, Time is but the necessary condition of that Trinitarian work of perfection, when creation is brought into full union with the Creator. Death is now transformed -- in the greatest Artistry of all time and space -- by the Newborn King, and beautifully becomes the moment when Time is fully liberated and rises, in song, into an unfettered canon of Being.
Is it not amazing that the salvation of the universe begins in the sentimental embrace of mother and child? If fellowship (and communion and salvation) is the theme of the Nativity, surely the tone is tenderness.
Our Trinitarian God, infinite in might and terrifying in knowledge, is meek in an infinite relationship of complete self-donation. And our Incarnate God, the Divine Second Person, brings this sameTrinitarian meekness into our humanity, into this world of Creation.
Tender is the Might.
I am happy, joyous in wonder, and content in radiant peace, because my Queen is an ever-young beautiful girl, who is the first and greatest Christian, and she lives in a mystical festivity of Light.
And my Lord is my joy, the Angel of Counsel, and the Prince of Peace:
Our Saviour, the Dayspring from the East, has visited us from on high, and we who were in darkness and shadow have found the truth: for the Lord is born of the Virgin! (Matins Expostilarion of the Nativity)
Love for all time, in the holy earth of the Dayspring: