Thursday, December 15, 2011

Celebrating the Incarnation


I am struck by how so many, including myself, have trivialized the event that has received such popular celebration. Businesses and schools are shutdown, many for a week, gift giving in excess is the norm. Parties are given, often with elaborate decorations and free flowing drinks. Many even string lights outlining the whole house. Streets in many towns are decorated. But why are we all going to all this trouble? Is this the way we are called to celebrate God? Is this how we worship?

Saint Gregory the Theologian writes,
Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ from heaven, go out to meet Him! Sing to the Lord and the whole earth...rejoice with trembling and joy!
So how are we to glorify and meet Him?

Gregory says,
Let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him who is ours, or rather as our Master's; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.
And how shall this be? Let us not decorate our porches, nor organize dances, nor adorn our streets. Let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music... Let us not toast with fragrant wines, the specialties of cooks,... Let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance...
We, the object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the divine Law, and in histories, especially those that are the origin of this feast, so that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Who has called us together.

If Gregory's words make you feel a bit guilty in the way you traditionally celebrate this most miraculous event of the Incarnation of God, so be it. It does me. Remind yourself of the teaching of the Church and how she calls for a fast in preparation. Be reminded that instead of waiting with anticipation for the arrival of Santa, the Church has an all night vigil in prayer climaxed with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy and receiving His very Body and Blood into our own bodies to be united with Him, just as he united Himself with us. Following this we have a period of celebration, celebrating God becoming man so we could become gods, become like Him, joining in union with Him for eternal life in His Kingdom.

Let's seek ways to celebrate this spiritual event that is not like the heathen feast of pagans, but as is due the God of infinite mercy who now lives in our hearts because of His Becoming man.

Reference: On The Manifestation of God in the birth of the Christ, oration 38 of St Gregory the Theologian

6 comments:

  1. It's so interesting that even over a thousand years ago it would seem that folks were "decorating their porches...enchanting with music...and drinking finde wines" the same way many of us have become used to doing. This certainly does make me feel a little guilty since I just did recently decorate my porch and string lights on a tree in my living room but perhaps feeling a little uncomfortable is a good thing.

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  2. Well sand Justin. Most of us are caught up in the excesses of "Christmas" which has lost it true meaning.
    Christ is Coming!

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  3. On the other hand, it doesn't seem to me St. Gregory would necessarily have us do away altogether with beauty and light to adorn the Feast, considering that physical beauty, light, is also a big part of Orthodox worship. I can understand avoiding commercialism, acquisitiveness, gluttony, drunkenness, as contrary to the real spirit of what we are about, etc. But is there not a way to honor what St. Gregory says without becoming dourly Puritan about our celebration of the wonder of the Lord's Nativity? Being human, it seems to me especially our children benefit from the wonder and beauty of the Festal decor (within reason) as a means of setting aside this time as special (even if the full reason for that will not dawn on them until they are more mature). Our family traditions of putting out our Nativity scene, and putting up the tree and remembering past years through the ornaments (many of which are related to the Nativity directly and which they created in Sunday school) mean a lot to our children, and it seems to me there is a lot more that can redeem and draw them closer to Christ in these traditions than which gets in the way at this stage.

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  4. Seems to me, that as long as your intent is to glorify God, any display or decoration would be appropriate. Our faith is a humble one, done within the confines of the Church, about a relationship in our hearts with God, and not one that calls for public displays. We decorate our temple as this is heaven on earth to help us remember that we are joining with Heaven when we worship God. A display that tells the story can be a form of icon which can be instructional but many such displays do not accurately depict the story and emphasize the humanness of it all. The incarnation is a mystical event which is hard to communicate with material things. The idea of God becoming man is not rational but the essence of our faith.
    Also we have to distinguish between small t traditions such as putting up a tree, gift giving, santa clause and all the rest, from the T tritons which are the teachings of the Church and participation in the Christmas fast and Holy Communion and the traditional hymns of this liturgical season. Remembering that they are different can help.
    Moderation is always the prudent course and to all in the name of God and you will surely be guided appropriately.
    I pray that you and your family will give meaning to the term, "Christmas". And that you will also have a great family holiday as is our custom.

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  5. Thank you, Fr. Charles. Joyous season to you also!

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