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 and we beheld His glory. John 1:14
Good morning Prayer Team!
For the past 40 days we have been studying the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and their accounts of the Nativity. The Gospel of Mark makes no mention of the Nativity. It begins with the Baptism of Christ. The Gospel of John summarizes the Nativity in one verse: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. In Nativity scenes and Christmas pageants, we are so enamored with the figures of the Nativity story—the angels, the shepherds, the Magi—that sometimes we forget the main figure in the story—our Lord Jesus Christ.
When we call the feast of Christmas “The birth of Jesus,” this too causes confusion. My wife and I have been blessed with one child, who was born in a finite moment in time. Before his birth, we had no son. He did not exist. This is NOT true for Jesus Christ. Saint John captures this best with the opening chapter of his Gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1-3)
As we examined in an earlier reflection, “Word of God” is another title given to the second person of the Trinity, who is also called Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Son of Man, Only-Begotten Son of the Father, Messiah, Savior.
It is easier to understand the beginning of John’s Gospel if we insert “Christ” for “Word”, so please allow me to do this for better understanding: In the Beginning was CHRIST, and CHRIST was with God, and Christ was (and is) God. Christ was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Christ (He was co-Creator with God the Father and the Holy Spirit) and without Christ was not anything made that was made.
Continuing on with John’s Gospel, And Christ took on flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His Glory.
The Feast of the Nativity is the day that the Son of God came to live among us. He took on flesh in the way that we do. He came into this world as a new-born baby. He didn’t just drop in as an adult. And from the time of His Incarnation, He followed all the steps that we take. He grew up as we do. He learned to walk, He went to school, He had friends, He had struggles. The difference between us and Him is that throughout His life, He walked in tandem with God. He never ventured away from God, as we do when we sin. He came to show us the path to salvation. He came to show us how to live in God, with God, and for God. And He came to balance the equation, to die for our sins, to open a path back to Paradise for us.
So the Feast of the Nativity is not the BIRTH of Christ, but the Incarnation of the Son of God in the flesh. It is the day the Creator came to live with His Creation. It is the day that the uncontained God was “contained” in a human body.
The scriptural account of the Nativity that we have been studying for the past 40 days is captured in the Icon of the Nativity included in today’s reflection. There are three distinct things that this icon depicts:
First, it captures the event of the Nativity. Mary gives birth to her first-born Son in a cave, because there is no room at any inn. Joseph is near-by, taking it all in.
Second, the icon captures that ALL of creation worshipped at the Nativity. All of Creation was present and invited to share in the miracle. The poor—the shepherds. The powerful—the Magi. The angels in heaven. The celestial bodies—the Star. The animals. The earth itself—the cave. All of Creation showed up to worship the Creator in its midst.
And third, the icon serves as an invitation to us to come and worship also. The manger is shown as a tomb, the swaddling bands are burial cloths. This IS the Creator, come to save us through the cross and the tomb. His purpose is clear. The cave is heaven—surrounded by jagged rocks, the cave itself is a setting of peace amidst a place of danger. We are called to follow, the way the Magi followed the star. We are all called—the call to the Shepherds is the call to everyone. Whatever your stage in life, whatever your status in society, all are welcomed. The heavens declare the glory of God. The angels sing God’s praises and invite us to do the same.
When I study the icon of the Nativity, the figure of Joseph is who I relate to most of all. He sits at a distance. His thoughts are confused. He has been the loyal protector. He has put his reputation on the line. He has followed and trusted. And yet he is still trying to make sense of the whole thing. And that’s okay. He’s still there. He is still trying. It is a lesson to us to do the same.
Every person in the icon has followed a tough calling—
Mary has lost parents, given many years of her life in the temple, and has given birth to a Son whom she will see killed in a heinous manner.
Joseph has risked reputation to protect his betrothed who is with child that is not his. Joseph won’t live long enough to see Jesus grow into a man.
The shepherds were the first to see the Christ, but still remained scorned outsiders. They weren’t even important enough to be counted in the census, yet God counted them the first to be called to the manger.
The Magi left kingdoms and riches and followed the star. It was a two year journey in, and presumably a two year journey home. What possibly could have been left of their lives after a four year absence?
In their supreme sacrifice, in their trust, in their faith, all of these people received the greatest blessing. They beheld HIS GLORY. They beheld with their own eyes, the Son of God, made flesh, come to dwell among us. They were all profoundly changed for the experience. And all are profoundly honored both by God, and now by us.
Indeed, John captures the message of the feast in the most succinct way. We are called to behold His glory. This is the message of the Nativity. It is also the goal of every human life.
Be not afraid.
I bring you good news.
Of a great joy.
Which will come to all the world.
For to you is born this day.
A Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Let us go, today.
Rejoicing exceedingly with great joy
Opening our treasures.
For the Word has become flesh.
Let us behold His Glory.
You righteous, be glad in heart; and the heavens, be exultant. Leap for joy, O mountains, at the birth of the Messiah. Resembling the Cherubim, the Virgin Maiden is seated and holds in her embraces God the Logos incarnate. The shepherds glorify the newborn Babe; Magi bring the Master their precious gifts. Angels are singing hymns of praise and say, “O Lord incomprehensible, glory to You.”
The Father was well pleased; the Logos became flesh; and the Virgin gave birth to God who became man. A Star reveals Him; Magi bow in worship; Shepherds marvel, and creation rejoices. (The Praises, Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Have a Blessed Feast of the Nativity!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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