Source: St. Lawrence Orthodox Church
On the second Sunday before Nativity, the Gospel reading leaves off its progression based on Pentecost and aligns itself with the approaching Nativity. This is a sign for us; a message of urgency regarding what is about to happen. Worries, distractions, and cares must now be set aside for the sake of not missing out on the greatest of the Father’s gifts to us, which is His Son in human flesh. Every other mystical and sacred gift is secondary to the Incarnation.
We have been preparing for the feast by fasting. And now that we have moved past the midpoint of the fast, the pace quickens in anticipation of Christ’s birth. We commemorate the Holy Forefathers who were part of mankind’s preparation for the Messiah. Without them, there would be no God-man, no Christ, for prophecy foretold His birth from their lineage. Therefore their flesh, their prophecies, and their piety prepared the way for the coming of Christ.
Without the Incarnation, there is no salvation as we know it, there is no Cross, there is no Resurrection, there is no partaking in the divine energies of God and no deification. Even paradise and immortality submit to the mystical superiority of the Incarnation. For both paradise and immortality were given to man before the fall. Without the Incarnation, Paradise and eternal life only result in being perfectly and eternally joined to God as His servants.
But when the Father gives His Son to redeem mankind, you and me, redeemed from the curse of the Fall wherein God commanded that “surely you will die,” and His Son deifies human flesh and makes it a communicant with the Holy Trinity through Himself, the second Person of the Trinity, no longer are we called to be servants in His Kingdom, but adopted sons and daughters of God the Father.
“You who are led by the Spirit of God, you are sons of God . . . you have not received the spirit of bondage again but the Spirit of adoption.” (Rom. 8:14)
“Blessed be God, who has given us every spiritual blessing in heaven through Christ, foreordaining us to adoption through Jesus Christ to Himself [the Father].” (Eph. 1:3)
In Great Vespers on Saturday, we praise the glorious men from before and during the Old Covenant Law. We honor Adam, Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Samson, Barak, Jephthah, Nathan, Eleazar, Josiah, Job, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha and all the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, “and all the rest,” especially Daniel and the three holy youths, Zachariah, John the Baptist, and all those who proclaimed Christ.
Likewise, we sing praises to the holy women who were made “strong in the days of old by the might of Your Strength, O Lord: Hannah, Judith, Deborah, Huldah, Jael, Esther, Sarah, Miriam, Rachel, Rebecca, and Ruth.”
Orthodox Christians never forget where we come from. We not only remember that we are from the dust of the earth, but we also remember those who have preceded us, and are joined to us, in piety, and in faith, and in the spiritual struggle. History is chronological, but the Kingdom of God is ever-present, and we commune with all the righteous who were before us and await us. As brothers and sisters in Christ, they are our forefathers too!
The days of preparation for receiving the Incarnation with joy and understanding are drawing to a close. We may come to church on the feast, but if we have not prepared our hearts, we will miss the fullness of what happens there. Everything of value in life is worthy of preparation. Attend services, pray, read, be charitable, love your neighbor, and give gifts of love and devotion.
During the Christmas break from school, talk to your children about the birth of Christ. Read children’s books about Nativity (they are good for adult souls too!). Visit friends, have quiet family time at home with a hot drink in front of the fire and in the glow of the Christmas tree. Christ’s last gift in the flesh was given to all of us while His mother and faithful disciples gathered around the tree of the Cross. It is fitting that we anticipate His first gift in the flesh, the Incarnation, gathered around a tree as well.