Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (From the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy on Pascha) Tuesday of the 5th Week of Pascha
Good morning Prayer Team!
Christ is Risen!
We’ve all seen displays of the Nativity in our homes and churches during the Christmas season. Christmas plays and pageants highlight the story of the shepherds and angels, told in the Gospel of Luke, and the Magi, as told in the Gospel of Matthew.
In some sense, these Nativity scenes can cause confusion. We all know that babies are born at finite moments in time. For those of us who have children, there was a finite moment of time when you went from having no children to having a child. The “problem” if you want to call it that, with the way that the Nativity is told from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, is that it leads some to think, that like our children, Christ was “born” at a finite moment in time, that before the event of the Nativity, there was no Christ. This “problem” is clarified most succinctly in the Gospel of John, which, as we have said, has no account of the Nativity.
The Gospel of John summaries the Nativity in nine words: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Having established that the Word is God and has been with God from the time of creation, the Nativity is when the Word of God “took on flesh” (or in theological terms “became incarnate”) and dwelt among us. The Nativity marks the day that the Creator came to live with His creation. St. Athanasius, in his treatise “On the Incarnation” offers a well-known saying: “God became a man, so that man can become like God.”
Years ago, on Christmas Eve, I gave a sermon where I asked three men from the congregation to come up and sit in three chairs that were side-by-side. The man in the middle represented “God the Father.” The man to his right represented “Jesus Christ”, who sits at the right hand of the Father. And the man to the left represented the “Holy Spirit.” Each man held a candle that was lit and each of the candles were held together so they came together at one point—one light, held by three people, the one God in three persons. I asked two other people to come up, one man and one woman. Each of them was given a candle and they united their candles with “the Holy Trinity”. I then read the story of creation—that God (the Father), created the heavens and the earth, that the Spirit (the Holy Spirit) was moving over the waters and that God (the Word, Jesus Christ) said “Let there be light.” The man and woman represented Adam and Eve, created by God to live in union with God. This is why their candles touched the candles of the Holy Trinity, because before the Fall, mankind lived in harmony and union with God.
At the Fall, mankind fell away from God. At this point, I asked the man and woman to step away from the other three. They kept their candles lit, the “Light” did not go out in them. But their light wasn’t “as strong” because it was separated from the power of the Trinity. I then had some people hold a large sheet, a wall of separation, in between “the Trinity” and “Adam” and “Eve.” This was the consequence of the fall. The feast of the Incarnation was the day that the wall of separation came down. Mankind again had access to God, in the person of Jesus Christ. This is why the Incarnation is such an important feast, because God came to be with us. The Resurrection is the feast where Christ opened back the path to Paradise. This is also why Adam and Eve are depicted in the Icon of the Resurrection, to show that all people who come to know Christ, from the first to fall up to the last, all those who know Christ will be with Him for eternity. All who receive Christ will have a chance to be like “Adam” and “Eve” in my sermon—each will have a chance to unite with God, in the same way that Adam and Eve were with God before the fall. This is why the Incarnation is important, because in the Incarnation, the Word (Jesus Christ), who existed forever, came to be with us, His creation, and to rescue us from our sins, by paying our debt for us.
Today’s hymn is taken not from the Paschal season of the year but from the Divine Liturgy. It is sung at EVERY celebration of the Divine Liturgy, and it speaks to us of the mystery of the Incarnation, and what God did for us:
Only-Begotten Son and Word of God, although immortal You humbled Yourself for our salvation, taking flesh from the Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary and, without change, becoming man. Christ, our God, You were crucified but conquered death by death. You are one of the Holy Trinity, glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit—save us. (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Trans. by Holy Cross Seminary Press)
Celebrate the Incarnation not only on December 25, but every day!
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