The Festival of Christ’s Birthday

The festival of Christ’s birthday

St. Gregory Nazianzos

”Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ from heaven, go out to meet
Him. Christ on earth; be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole
earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens
rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is. of heaven and
then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with
joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your
hope. Christ of a Virgin; O you Matrons live as Virgins, that you
may be Mothers of Christ. Who does not worship Him That is from the
beginning? Who does, not glorify Him That is the Last?”

Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished
with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar. The people that
sat in the darkness of ignorance, let it see the Great Light of full
knowledge. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.
The letter gives way, the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee
away, the Truth comes in upon them. The laws of nature are upset; the
world above must be filled. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves
against Him. O clap your hands together all you people, because unto us
a Child is born, and a Son given unto us, Whose government is upon His
shoulder (for with the Cross it is raised up), and His name is called
The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father. Prepare the way of the
Lord: I too will cry the power of this day. He Who is not carnal is
Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the same
yesterday, and today, and for ever. Let the Jews be offended, let the
Greeks deride; let heretics talk till their tongues ache. Then shall
they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not
then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge.

Of these on a future occasion; for the present the Festival is the
Theophany or Birthday, for it is called both, two titles being given to
the one thing. For God was manifested to man by birth. On the one hand
Being, and eternally Being, of the Eternal Being, above cause and word,
for there was not word before The Word; and on the other hand for our
sakes also Becoming, that He Who gives us our being might also give us
our Well-being, or rather might restore us by His Incarnation, when we
had by wickedness fallen from well-being. The name Theophany is given to
it in reference to the Manifestation, and that of Birthday in respect of
His Birth.

Celebrating the birthday of Christ

This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating, the
Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the
more proper expression) that we might go back to God -that putting off
the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we
might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and
buried with Him and rising with Him. For where sin abounded grace did
much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the
Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after
the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the
way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but
as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of
weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.

And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches; nor arrange dances,
nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, not enchant the ear
with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, not prostitute the
taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and
entrances for sin; let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and
flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness, nor with the
glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of colour, belying
the beauty of nature, and invented to do despite unto the image of God.
Not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled, I know well,
chambering and wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give
are evil. Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the kickshaws of
cooks, the great expense of unguents; and let us not strive to outdo
each other in temperance, and this while others are hungry and in want,
who are made of the same clay and in the same manner.

Let us leave all these to the Greeks and to the pomp and festivals of
the Greeks. But we, the object of whose adoration is the Word, if we
must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the Divine
Law, and in histories; especially such as are the origin of this Feast;
that our luxury may be akin to and not far remove from Him Who has
called us together. Or do you desire (for today I am your entertainer)
that I should set before you, my good guests, the story of these things
as abundantly and as nobly as I can, that you may know how a foreigner
can feed the natives of the land, and a rustic the people of the town,
and one who cares not for luxury those who delight in it, and one who is
poor and homeless those who are eminent for wealth?

We will begin from this point; and let me ask of you who delight in such
matters to cleanse your mind and your ears and your thoughts, since our
discourse is to be of God and Divine; that when you depart, you may fade
not away. And this same discourse shall be at once both very full and
very concise, that you may neither be displeased at its deficiencies,
nor find it unpleasant through wearisomeness.

The Divine nature of God

God always was, and always is, and always will be. Or rather, God always
is. For was and will be are fragments of our time, and of changeable
nature, but He is Eternal Being.

And this is the Name that He gives to Himself when giving the Oracle to
Moses in the Mount. For in Himself He sums up and contains all Being,
having neither beginning in the past nor end in the future; like some
great Sea of Being, limitless and unbounded, transcending all conception
of time and nature’, only adumbrated by the mind, and that very dimly
and scantily . . . not by His Essentials, but by His Environment; one
image being gotten from one source and another from another, and
combined into some sort of presentation of the truth, which escapes us
before we have caught it, and takes to flight before we have conceived
it, blazing forth upon our Master-part, even when that is cleansed, as
the lighting flash which will not stay its course, does upon our sight .
. . in order as I conceive by that part of it which we can comprehend to
draw us to itself (for that which is altogether incomprehensible is
outside the bounds of hope, an not within the compass of endeavour), and
by that part of it which we cannot comprehend to move our wonder, to,
become more an object of desire, and being desired to purify, and by
purifying to make us like God.

The Divine Nature then is boundless and hard to understand; and all that
we can comprehend of Him is His boundlessness; even though one may
conceive that because He is of a simple nature He is therefore either
wholly incomprehensible, or perfectly comprehensible. And when drawing a
conclusion from the whole it calls Him Eternal. For Eternity is neither
time nor part of time; for it cannot be measured. But what time,
measured by the course of the sun, is to us, that Eternity is to the
Everlasting, namely, a sort of time-like movement and interval
co-existence with their existence. This, however, is all I must not say
about God; as my present subject is of the Incarnation. But when I say
God, I mean Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This then is the Holy of
Holies, which is hidden even from the Seraphim, and is glorified with a
thrice repeated Holy, meeting in one ascription of the Title Lord and God.

When His first creation was in good order, He conceives a second world,
material and visible; and this a system and compound of earth and sky,
and all that is in the midst of them an admirable creation indeed, when
we look at the fair form of every part, but yet more worthy of
admiration when we consider the harmony and the unison of the whole, and
how each part fits in with every other, in fair order, and all with the
whole, tending to the perfect completion of the world as a Unit. This
was to show that He could call into being, not only a Nature akin to
Himself, but also one altogether alien to Himself. For akin to Deity are
those natures which are intellectual, and only to be comprehended by
mind. Perhaps some one who is too festive and impetuous may say, What
has all this to do with us? Talk to us about the Festival [the Birth of
Christ], and the reasons for our being here today. Yes, this is what I
am about to do, although I have begun at a somewhat previous point,
being compelled to do so by love, and by the needs of my argument.

The fashioning of man

Mind, then, and sense, thus distinguished from each other, had remained
within their own boundaries, and bore in themselves the magnificence of
the Creator-Word, silent praisers and thrilling heralds of His mighty
work. Not yet were the whole riches of Goodness made known. Now the
Creator-Word, determine to exhibit this, and to produce a single living
being out of both – the visible and the invisible creations, I mean –
fashions Man; and taking a body from already existing matter, and
placing in it a breath taken from Himself which – the Word knew to be an
intelligent soul and the Image of God, as a sort of second world. He
placed him, great in littleness on the earth; a new Angel, mingled
worship- per, fully initiated into the visible creation, but only
partially into the intellectual; king of all upon the earth, but subject
to the King above; earthly and heavenly; temporal and yet immortal;
visible and yet intellectual; half-way between greatness and lowliness;
in one person combining spirit and flesh; spirit, because of the favour
bestowed on him; flesh, because of the height to which he had been
raised; one that he might continue to live and praise his Benefactor,
the other that he might suffer, and by suffering be put in remembrance,
and corrected if he became proud of his greatness. For to this, I think,
tends that Light of Truth which we here possess but in measure, that we
should both see and experience the Splendour of God, which is worthy of
Him Who made us. and wilt remake us again after a loftier fashion.

This being (man) He placed in Paradise, having honoured him with the
gift of free will (in order that God might belong to him as the result
of choice); naked in his simplicity. Also He gave him a law, as a
material for his Free Will to act upon. This Law was a commandment as to
what plants he might partake of, and which one he might not touch. This
latter was the Tree of Knowledge. But when the Devil’s malice and the
woman’s caprice, to which she succumbed as the more tender, brought to
bear on the man, he forgot the commandment which had been given him, he
yielded; and for his sin he was banished, at once from the Tree of Life,
and from Paradise. Yet here too he makes a gain, namely death, and the
cutting off of sin, in order that evil may not be immortal. Thus
punishment is changed into a mercy; for it is in mercy, I am persuaded,
that God inflicts punishment.

And having been first chastened by many reasons (because his sins were
many), by word, by law, by prophets, by benefits, by threats, by
plagues, by waters, by fires, by wars, by victories, by defeats, by
signs in heaven and signs in the air and in the earth and in the sea, by
unexpected changes of men, of cities, of nations, at last he needed a
stronger remedy, for his diseases were growing worse; mutual slaughters,
adulteries, perjuries, unnatural crimes, and that first and last of all
evils, idolatry and the transfer of Worship from the Creator to the
creatures. As these required a greater aid, also they obtain a greater.

The Word Himself

And that was that the Word of God Himself – Who is before all worlds,
the Invisible, the Beginning, the Light of Light, the Source of Life and
Immortality, the Image of the Archetypal Beauty, the immoveable Seal,
the unchangeable Image, the Father’s Definition and Word, came to His
own Image, and took on Him flesh for the sake of our flesh, and mingled
Himself with an intelligent soul for my soul’s sake, purifying like by
like; and in all points except sin was made man. Conceived by the
Virgin, who first in body and soul was purified by the Holy Spirit (for
it was needful both that childbearing should be honoured, and that
virginity should receive a higher honour, He (Christ) came forth then as
God with that which He had assumed, One Person in two Natures, Flesh and
Spirit, of which the latter defied the former.

O new commingling; O strange conjunction; the Self Existent comes into
being, the Uncreated is created, that which cannot be contained is
contained, by the intervention of an intellectual soul, mediating
between the Deity and the corporeity of the flesh. And He Who give
riches becomes poor, for He assumes the poverty of my flesh, that I may
assume the richness of His Godhead. He that is in full empties Himself,
for He empties Himself of His glory for a short while, that I may have a
share in His fullness. What is the riches of His Goodness? What is this
mystery that is around me? I had a share in the image; I did not keep
it; He partakes of my flesh that He may both save the image and make the
flesh immortal. This is more godlike than the former action, this is
loftier in the eyes of all men of understanding.

To this what have those cavillers to say, those bitter reasoners about
the Godhead, those detractors of all that is praiseworthy, those
darkeners of light, uncultured in respect of wisdom, for whom Christ
died in vain, those unthankful creatures, the work of the Evil One? Do
you turn this benefit into a reproach to God? Will you deem Him little
on this account, that He humbled Himself for you; because the God
Shepherd, He who lays down His life for His sheep, came to seek for that
which had strayed upon the mountains and the hills, on which you was
then sacrificing, and found the wanderer; and having found it, took it
upon His shoulders on which He also took the Wood of the Cross; and
having taken it, brought it back to the higher life; and having carried
it back, numbered it among those who have never strayed. Because He
lighted a candle – His own Flesh – and swept the house, cleansing the
world from sin. And He calls together His Angel friends on the findings
of the coin, and makes them sharers in His joy, whom He had made to
share also the secret of the Incarnation?

He (Christ) was sent, but as man, for He was of a twofold Nature; for He
was wearied, and hungered, and was thirsty, and was in an agony, and
shed tears, according to the nature of a corporeal being. And if the
expression be also used of Him as God, the meaning is that the Father’s
good pleasure is to be considered a Mission, for to this He refers all
that concerns Himself; both that He may honour the Eternal Principle,
and because He will not be taken to be an antagonistic God. And whereas
it is written both that He was betrayed, and also that He gave Himself
up and that He was raised up by the Father, and taken up into heaven;
and on the other hand, that He raised Himself and went up. Are you then
to be allowed to dwell upon all that humiliates Him, while passing over
all that exalts Him, and to count on your side the fact that He
suffered, but to leave out of the account the fact that it was of His
own will? See what even now the Word has to suffer. By one set He is
honoured as God, but is confused with the Father, by another He is
dishonoured as mere flesh and severed from the Godhead. With which of
them will He be most angry, or rather, which shall He forgive, those who
injuriously confound Him or those who divide Him? For the former ought
to have distinguished, and the latter to have united Him; the one in
number, the other in Godhead. Do you disbelieve in His Godhead? This did
not even the demons, O you who are less believing than demons and more
stupid than Jews.

A little later on you will see Jesus submitting to be purified in the
River Jordan for my Purification, or rather, sanctifying the waters by
His Purification (for indeed His had no need of purification Who takes
away the sin of the world) and the heavens cleft asunder, and witness
borne to him by the Spirit that is of one nature with Him; you shall see
Him tempted and conquering and served by Angels, and healing every
sickness and every disease, and giving life to the dead (O that He would
give life to you who are dead because of your heresy), and driving out
demons, sometimes Himself, sometimes by his disciples; and feeding vast
multitudes with a few loaves; and walking dryshod upon seas; and being
betrayed and crucified, and crucifying with Himself my sin; offered as a
Lamb, and offering as a Priest; as a Man buried in the grave, and as God
rising again; and then ascending, and to come again in His own glory.
Why what a multitude of high festivals there are in each of the
mysteries of the Christ; all of which have one completion, namely, my
perfection and return to the first condition of Adam.

Christ’s Conception

Now then I pray you accept His Conception, and leap before Him; if not
like John from the womb, yet like David, because of the resting of the
Ark. Revere the enrolment of account of which you were written in
heaven, and adore the Birth by which you were loosed from the chains of
your birth, and honour little Bethlehem, which has led you back to
Paradise; and worship the manger through which you, being without sense,
was fed by the Word . . . If you are one of those who are as yet unclean
and uneatable and unfit for sacrifice, and of the gentile portion, run
with the Star, and bear your Gifts with the Magi, gold and frankincense
and myrrh, as to a King, and to God, and to One Who is dead for you.
With Shepherds glorify Him; with Angels join in chorus; with Archangels
sing hymns. Let this Festival be common to the powers in heaven and to
the powers upon earth. For I am persuaded that the Heavenly Hosts join
in our exultation and keep high Festival with us today . . . because
they love men, and they love God … just like those whom David
introduces after the Passion ascending with Christ and coming to meet
Him, and bidding one another to lift up the gates.

One thing connected with the Birth of Christ I would have you hate …
the murder of the infants by Herod. Or rather you must venerate this
too, the Sacrifice of the same age as Christ, slain before the Offering
of the New Victim. If He flees into Egypt, joyfully become a companion
of His exile. It is a grand thing to share the exile of the persecuted
Christ. If He tarry long in Egypt, call Him out of Egypt by a reverent
worship of Him there. Travel without fault through every stage and
faculty of the Life of Christ. Be purified; be circumcised; strip off
the veil which has covered you from your birth.

After this teach in the Temple, and drive out the sacrilegious traders.
Submit to be stoned if need be, for well I want you shall be hidden from
those who cast the stones; you shall escape even through the midst of
them, like God. If you be scourged, ask for what they leave out. Taste
gall for the taste’s sake; drink vinegar; accept blows, be crowned with
thorns, that is, with the hardness of the godly life; put on the purple
robe, take the reed in hand, and receive mock worship from those who
mock at the truth; lastly, be crucified with Him, and share His Death
and Burial gladly, that you may rise with Him, and be glorified with Him
and reign with Him. Look at and be looked at by the Great God, Who in
Trinity is worshipped and glorified, and Whom we declare to be now set
forth as clearly before you as the chains of our flesh allow, in Jesus
Christ our Lord, to Whom be the glory for ever. Amen.