Christmas (or in Greek, Christougenna): The Birth of Christ, the Savior of the World

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


In the Old Testament

In the reading certain passages of the Old Testament, and in particular the Book of Isaiah, one might get the impression that the Messiah will come only once in order to establish an era of reconciliation, justice, glory, and happiness. "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse [the father of David]...with righteousness he shall judge the poor...and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked...The wolf shall dwell with the lamb...The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp...They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord" (Isaiah 11:1, 4, 6, 8-9). And again, "On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast...He will swallow up death for ever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of His people He will take away from all the earth...It will be said on that day, 'Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us...Let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (Is. 25:6, 8-9).

The Book of Isaiah

On one hand the Book of Isaiah describes the Messiah as a suffering servant who is beaten and humiliated:

"...his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance...He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities...The righteous one, my servant, shall many to be accounted righteous; and He shall bear their iniquities...He poured out His soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Is. 52: 5, 11, 12).

On the other hand, the same book describes the Messiah as coming in glory, even in God's own glory. Jesus Himself alludes to this passage (Isaiah 35:1-10), when the disciples of the imprisoned John the Baptist ask Him if He is "the One Who is to come" (St. Matthew 11:2-6). This text is read on the Holy Feast of Theophany (Epiphany) at the blessing of the water:

"The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom...and rejoice blossom...and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the Majesty of our God...Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 'Be strong, fear not! Behold, your God...will come to save you." Then they eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, then shall the lame man leaps like a hart…For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert...(Is. 35:1-2, 4-6). [Please note that the miraculous healings performed by our Lord Jesus Christ during His First Coming are also signs foreshadowing the glory He will reveal when He returns at the end of time.]

The Book of Daniel

This book describes two visions of the First and Second Comings of the Messiah.

The First Vision

The first vision consists of King Nabuchadnezzar's allegorical dream which the prophet interprets. The central image in this dream is a rock that grows and expands.

The king sees a statue of great size, with a bright and terrifying aspect. Its head is of fine gold, its breast and arms are of silver, its stomach and thighs are of bronze, its legs are of iron, and its feet are partly of iron and partly of clay. Suddenly a rock crashed down on the feet of the statue and smashed it. The clay, iron, bronze, silver, and gold were all broken in pieces and scattered, without leaving a trace. And the rock grew into a great mountain that filled the whole earth" (Daniel 2:31-35).

Daniel interprets the four elements of which the statue is made as a succession of four great kingdoms. The last kingdom, symbolized by the feet, is a divided kingdom which is both strong and weak. The rock is also a kingdom, but unlike the others, it is established by the God of heaven. Daniel explains: "The God of heaven will set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever" (Dan. 2:44).

This rock, which is cut out without the help of human hands and smashes the great statue, gradually fills up the whole world. It overthrows all earthly kingdoms (note the disturbing--even subversive--element in the Kingdom of God, which permits it to attack the kingdoms of this world), and symbolizes the historical events initiated by the appearance of the Messiah. This passage is read on Christmas Eve because the Church interprets it as a prediction of the Messiah's First Coming, inaugurating His Kingdom in this world.

"Christ, the cornerstone not cut by the hand of man, was taken from you, the unhewn mountain, O Virgin; joining in one two different natures. Therefore we magnify you, O Theotokos, with great rejoicing." (Irmos, ninth ode, tone 4 Sunday matins canon)

In this hymn Daniel's mountain is interpreted as a prefiguration of the Theotokos. The Rock is the image of Christ, born of the Ever-Virgin Mary without the intervention of an earthly father. This Rock is also the cornerstone of Psalm 117 [118]:22, which is rejected by the builders but in fact supports the whole building. It is also the precious cornerstone revealed to Isaiah, which Saint Peter in his First Epistle recognizes as Christ, the "Living Stone" (Is. 28:16; 1 Peter 2:4).

The Second Vision

In chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel, the Prophet cries out:

"I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed" (Dan. 7:13-14).

Clearly this passage refers to the same kingdom. The king appears "with the clouds of heaven" and stands before the throne of the heavenly Father, the Ancient of Days. Christ applies this prophecy to Himself when He foretells His return in glory (St. Matthew 24:30). He also quotes the passage to Caiaphas, thus provoking the high priest to condemn Him to death as a blasphemer (St. Matthew 26:64).

The Prophet Zechariah

Zechariah also describes the Messiah both as humble and suffering, and as all-powerful and glorious.

a) The Humble and Suffering Messiah:

"Lo, your king comes to you...humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass" (Zech. 9:9).

The Evangelist John (12:16) tells us that after the Resurrection Jesus' disciples "remembered that this had been written of Him and had been done to Him" on Palm Sunday at His entrance into Jerusalem. The prophet Zechariah writes in chapter 12:10, 12):

"...when they look on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a first-born...The land shall mourn.

b) The Glorious and All-powerful Christ

But in chapter 14:4-5, 7, 9, Zechariah describes a glorious and all-powerful Christ:

"On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two...Then the Lord your God will come, and all the holy ones with him...And there shall be continuous day...And the Lord will become king over all the earth; on that day the Lord will be one and His name one."

(Source: The Living God)


The Festival of Christ's Birthday
by Saint 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 forever. 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."

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George