Source: St Peter the Apostle Orthodox Mission
When I heard “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” for the umpteenth time on the radio and I looked out through the windshield of my truck and saw the sun shining, people in shorts on bicycles, I thought to myself, “No, it’s not.” The images of snowflakes and tinsel (or icicles as we called them when I was young) and Christmas lights on palm trees seemed just incongruous…wrong. Even though I grew up in Atlanta, I have distant memories of Cleveland, Ohio and recent memories of Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and cold Christmas seasons. “Now, that’s Christmas!” I’d say to myself. I realized that I had bought into the created North American image of Christmas. It is human nature to associate the seasons where one is located with the seasonal events. I’m used to Christmases with grayer skies. I’m used to the forced introspection of colder climates along with the pleasures of hot cocoa and a warm fireplace.
That’s not Christmas, , though...that’s just the season. Christmas in the Holy land, actually, is more like the weather in Jacksonville, Florida or Jackson, Mississippi. But even that is beyond the point. The point is; Christmas is a holiday that celebrates something more than a snowman that comes alive when an old silk hat is plopped on its head. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Frosty the Snowman…but he has nothing to do with Christ’s birth! No, for that matter, does a jolly old elf’s livestock with aerodynamic antlers! As I said, it’s natural to associate the seasons with the holidays (or rather, holy days), but we are called to go beyond the merely natural and enter into the super-natural aspect.
Truly, there is no “Christmas mood” to get into. But there is conforming oneself. There is an old saying, “Christ is the reason for the season.” True, but Christ is the reason for all seasons. While the colder climates can be a helpful tool for introspection and contemplation, it is not necessary to draw one’s thoughts inward.
As I wrote above we are called to transcend the merely physical world and to step into the super-natural realm. This is not to deny the physical world or the seasons. We are, rightly speaking, creatures of both the material and the spiritual. This is why I stressed the term super-natural…that is, above nature and did not stress the simply spiritual. When we say spiritual we can stay separated from nature; when we say super-natural, then we are comparing things to nature, and more specifically, fallen nature. What Christ did for us was to elevate our nature by taking on that nature Himself and healing it. We are not called to destroy what is natural within us, but to transfigure and transform and transcend it by God’s Grace. We strive to live super-naturally. This is important to think about when contemplating the Nativity. Christ came and took on full humanity (both body and soul) and healed it so that we could be healed in totality (both our physical and spiritual natures). After the Resurrection we see that what constitutes a restored humanity is often above our current nature: super-natural (note my spelling. I’m also trying to steer clear of the popular conception of the supernatural…). Christ could walk through walls, etc. St. Paul also speaks about the Resurrections bodies that we will receive. Many saints, though, partake of this energy and gift already. There are countless stories of saints being in two places at once, or entering locked rooms, healing the sick and raising the dead, and so on…even leaving incorrupt bodies after they fell asleep in the Lord. Perhaps the greatest super-natural event, though, is when we repent and turn from those ingrained passions within us that have become part of our nature and, with God’s help, overcome our own fallen nature. It may take a while, it may seem at times that we make only baby steps in correcting ourselves, but when these things are accompanied by the Grace of God then it is above nature and is a miracle.
Again, Christ came to save mankind by taking on human nature for Himself. We are constantly reminded of this in our hymnography and prayers….especially the prayers before Communion. This is one of the reasons that I say there is no “Christmas Mood” to get into. We are called to live in the Nativity every day of our lives. We recall the Incarnation daily and even more when we prepare to partake of His Body in the Divine Eucharist. In the opening hymn (the Eirmos) of the 4th Ode of the Canon for Preparation we hear (and this also shows up in the Canons for the Feast of the Nativity):
From a Virgin didst Thou come, not as an ambassador nor as an angel, but the very Lord Himself incarnate, and didst save me, the whole man. Wherefore I cry to Thee: Glory to Thy power, O Lord. (Jordanville Prayerbook)
St. John Chrysostom makes the ion of the Nativity and communion explicit when he writes, “as Thou didst consent to lie in a cave in a manger of dumb beasts, so consent also to lie in the manger of mine irrational soul, and to enter into my defiled body.” We say this prayer every time we prepare to take Communion (hint). We re-live the Nativity each time we partake. Even more, we are to become a version of the Theotokos as well…only we give birth to Christ in our hearts. We pray, we fast, we confess, we strive to overcome our passions all in order to make a place in our hearts for Christ to be born within us and to dwell. We are to daily live out the “Christmas Mood” which will be transformed instead to the Life in Christ. Let us joyfully daily cry within the greeting of the Nativity Season, “Christ is born! Glorify Him!”.