The shepherds were keeping guard of their flock by night, and it is in the night that Jesus is born and that the glory of the Lord shines. It is in the darkness of sinful humanity that God sends his own Son to be the light of the world.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And so he says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
Ironically, the baby wrapped in cloths is laid on a manger. He is not laid on a royal, golden crib, as it would be fitting for the King of Kings, but on a feeding trough used to feed animals. The one who created all things was indeed to become the slain Lamb of God who would give himself for the spiritual food of his people.
The bread of heaven has come to feed us, and thus from his birth he is put on a feeding trough. As we eat his Body and drink his Blood, we have life. The one who is wrapped in his birth and in his death is also put on the place of feeding because he had also come to be the food of repentant sinners.
Christmas (all 12 days!!) is a great time to join with family, to give and receive presents and gifts, and everything that goes with that. But most importantly it is a time to remember that commercialism and family functions are not the essence of Nativity season. For some, it is easier to remember this, since they have neither family nor the means to engage in commercialism. They have nothing. They are alone in this world. But Emmanuel is with them, with us.
This is the time to consider the great event of God becoming man for our salvation. It is a time to remember that God has taken upon himself our own humanity with all its frailties and limitations (except sin) to go to the grave with it, and then break the bars of death with it.
Humanity has been redeemed in Christ, death has been conquered. The Son of God has united humanity to himself, clothed in flesh for our redemption, sitting at the right hand of the Father, so that he might take us there with him.
He has sanctified birth, and he has sanctified death. He has sanctified riches and poverty, time and space, history and people. The incarnation reminds us that Christianity is not merely a set of timeless ideas, although it includes that. Christianity is not Gnosticism, and so it is not merely a vehicle of salvation through ideas, or through knowledge, or through the right propositional statements and confessions, although it includes that.
Christianity is a faith of flesh and blood that redeems not only the soul and the heart, but also the whole body, the man, the woman, one’s whole life, and the whole cosmos.
The Christian faith is the revelation of God who not only is truth, but also embodies truth, who enters history, enters time and space, enters humanity, is born, lives, eats, cries, dies, is risen from the dead. God knows humanity from the inside, especially because he has assumed humanity in order to heal it.
God redeems the soul and the body, thoughts and feelings, physical and spiritual ailments and needs. Jesus Christ is the God-man. He sanctifies physical things as holy, because everything he created is good and is worthy to be redeemed. He sanctifies water, bread, and wine as means of grace. He sanctifies fallible human beings as his Church, the vehicle of His grace to the world. He sanctifies joy and pain, motherhood and fatherhood, youth and old age, richness and poverty, health and sickness, the blessing of life and the pain of death.
St. Athanasius says On the Incarnation:
The incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God entered our world. In one sense, indeed, He was not far from it before, for no part of creation had ever been without Him Who, while ever abiding in union with the Father, yet fills all things that are. But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us . . . pitying our race, moved with compassion for our limitation, unable to endure that death should have the mastery . . .
He took to Himself a body, a human body even as our own. . . . through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, [all] men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection . . . For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all, the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.
He, indeed, assumed humanity that we might become God. He manifested Himself by means of a body in order that we might perceive the Mind of the unseen Father. He endured shame from men that we might inherit immortality. . . . such and so many are the Savior’s achievements that follow from His Incarnation, that to try to number them is like gazing at the open sea and trying to count the waves.
Christ is born for the redemption of humanity. He was born for our salvation, lived on this earth for our salvation, and he has died for our salvation. He has risen again for our salvation. Our salvation is nothing less than our union with him that brings us to his eternal purpose for us: that we might become gods. That we should shine forever as the stars of heaven with him.
Like St John the Baptist, let us be impelled by the Spirit into the wilderness of this world to be Christ’s witnesses there.
Like St Simeon and St Anna, let us be impelled by the Spirit to his temple, the Church, so that there we may see his glory.
Like the Mother of God, our Most Holy Theotokos, let us submit to God, saying, let it be done according to thy will; and as the Spirit abides in the Church, let Christ continually be formed in us, born in us, as we bring him forth as the life of the world.
Let us come to the Altar of the Lord to partake of the Body and Blood of the lamb of God, laid for us here in our manger, the feeding trough of the Bread of Life without whom we have no life.
Let us partake of his life, for in him light has shone in our darkness.
For unto us is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.