The Church, from ancient times even to today, celebrates the birth of our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This birth is no fictitious imagining borrowed from the fanciful myths of the world. Nor is it an ordinary birth of One who is only a human baby (which to be fair, would be a fine cause for celebration).
No, this is the One whom angels adore.
The ancient Church father Chrysostum uttered from his mouth these golden words about the Christ Child: “[The Father has commanded] Saying with respect to the flesh, And let all the angels worship Him.” Chrysostum’s point is that Christ was worshiped by all the heavenly hosts not only because He is the Son of God. Once the incarnation has happened, the human and divine natures are united as one in Christ. There are not two Christs, but one. So angels can no longer worship Christ only according to His divinity. They also worship Him who possesses human flesh.
The angels cried out or sung these words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” But the other angel already made clear that the Lord was not merely up in heaven, but now He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. That tiny One was the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. So the words of the angels must be applied to our dear Lord Christ. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” Those wonderful words that we have taken up again in song this evening after our Advent fast were then spoken of Christ as if to say, “The Baby in the manger is the Lord God. All glory to Him in the highest heaven! For He brings peace and good will to men.” These are words of worship of the highest order, spoken of the human yet divine Baby in the manger.
Starting from the incarnation, there is a Man who is to be worshiped. The angels recognized this. It would be no stretch of the imagination for them to worship the Son of God. They had been doing that for long ages. But God commands, and the angels eagerly obey, that the human who is God, Christ Jesus, must be worshiped.
As Chrysostum also said: “For it is really great and wonderful and full of awe that our flesh should be seated above, and be worshiped by angels and archangels and by the seraphim and cherubim. Reflecting upon this, I am often entranced.” Indeed, entrancing to us all is the truth that the Christ Child, having run His course in this world and reascending to the Father, is worshiped. Our dear Brother has not set aside His human flesh, but embraces it forever. He who is God is also Man to eternity! Before that Man, seated in glory above, all the heavenly host bows down.
We also adore. Chrysostum continues by saying: “This body, even when lying in the manger, the Magi worshiped … and they took a long journey; and having come, they worshiped with much fear and trembling.”
So we worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is not only God but Man. It may seem startling to say that there is a Man whom we worship. If He were only a man, then we would do wrong to worship. But since the Godhead dwells fully in Christ, then we do right to worship the Man. It would be wrong not to.
Athanasius, in his writing called On the Incarnation, wrote, “If any one says that the flesh of our Lord as that of a man is not able to be adored, and is not to be worshiped as the flesh of the Lord and God, him the Holy Catholic Church anathematizes.”
Here Athanasius asserts quite firmly that there is no negotiation on this issue. If we are to be faithful Christians who hold steadfastly to the one true Biblical faith, then we must also say that the flesh of the Lord Christ is to be worshiped.
We do this very thing when we bow and kneel to the Body and Blood of Christ when He sits upon this Altar later in our Divine Service. Are we worshiping a Man’s Body and Blood this way? Yes, we are. This Man is the Son of God in human flesh, who gives Himself for life.
That is the exact reason that He was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Athansius went on to write: “Not in order to add to divinity did the Word [the Son of God] become flesh, but in order that the flesh might rise up; not that [He] might be made better, He came forth from Mary; for rather was there a great addition to the human from the communion and union with it of the Word.”
This means that the Son of God could not be made better than He already was when He became Man and was born. He was not in it for self-improvement. No, He came for OUR improvement. He came so that human flesh might be exalted and raised up from the pit of sin and death into which we had fallen with Adam.
So He came to bring life. As Leo the Great said in a sermon on the Feast of the Nativity, "In adoring the birth of our Savior, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life. For the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian folk, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the body."
Did you hear that? Since Christ is our Head, that means that we, His body, celebrate OUR birthday today! This should be so obvious. Human flesh wants to discount the birth of Christ as simply a historical date that means little to us. But no, it is so vitally important that we should all celebrate it as if it were our own.
This is really the same thing that Church father Cyril says: “When you have examined the mystery of the incarnation with commendable care, and have learned to know the life dwelling in the flesh, you will believe that, although the flesh is not able to do anything by itself, it has nevertheless become quickening [that is, life-giving]. … For the body not of Paul or of Peter or of others, but that of Life itself in which the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily, can do this.” And he adds, “For the only-begotten Son is not partaker of life, but IS LIFE by nature.”
So what do we celebrate today? The LIFE was born today! Christ, the Life of the world, took His first breath in Bethlehem. Christ the Savior of the world exited the womb of Mary and entered our world on this day so that He could give us life overflowing to all eternity.
And yes, some will say, “Well, we don’t really know what day He was born - probably not December 25th.” Okay, if you want to ignore the opinion of the early Church on the matter, that is not a sin. If you want to be cynical, who am I to criticize you?
But make sure that, straining out a gnat, you do not swallow a camel. What I mean is, do not think that the really important thing is the exact date He was born. Let us say, for the sake of argument, that He was not born on December 25th. The exactness of the date pales in comparison, it is nothing at all, when we consider what the birth of Christ means. The overwhelming victory of life began in the flesh of Christ. Conceived in the Virgin Mary, born from her womb into our world, and then living His life of which its sole purpose was to give life to the world – how can anything compare to that?
For He gives what is His own to us who were born dead. He resuscitates a dead race to give them new birth and resurrection from the dead. He came to be the gift that He gives to you. As the Angel says, “Unto YOU is born this day,” which echoes the word of God through Isaiah the prophet, “For unto us a Child is born.” This Child is for you – as I said, He is your Head, and you His body. He who is Life has become your life. This life no one can take away, not the grave nor the devil nor your sins nor the gates of hell.
That is the meaning of the Child in the manger. That is the meaning of this day, even if you want to celebrate it on a different calendar date. This is worth celebrating.
Oh, come, let us adore Him. For He will be laid upon this Altar soon. Let us praise and glorify Him, following the example of the angels. For God has become Man, and has brought you life. Glory be to Him in the highest, for He brings peace on earth, good will to men.
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