Saint John Chrysostom: Behold A New And Wondrous Mystery!

Like many others, I will be away from my computer on Christmas Day, so I am posting this homily from Saint John Chrysostom on the eve of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord instead. Apart from the issue of timing, it is perhaps good to read Saint John’s stirring words before the feast itself anyway, as their inspiring and evocative tone fosters a deep sense of wonder appropriate for a preparation to celebrate Christmas, setting the scene and priming our imagination for the solemn reality and awesome mystery of the Nativity itself. Throughout his homily (a heavily abridged version of which I present here), the Holy Hierarch continually impresses upon us just what a marvellous event the Incarnation is.

Moreover, the excerpts below contain some very moving reflections on the person of Our Blessed Mother, which compound the sense of mystery implicit in God’s making ready the one who would then bear Him in her womb, and also heighten our appreciation of the great reverence due to the Blessed Virgin, who alone was worthy to undertake such a task, and whose will was surrendered so completely to God’s that she was able to accept what Gabriel had to ask of her. Towards the end, Saint John then runs off a litany of the many differences that the Incarnation has made, and returns to the theme with which he began – the unsurpassable glory and mystery of God’s uniting our human nature to His.

The urgent, almost excitable manner in which Saint John delivers his words here are highly infectious, and the great eloquence with which he relates the mysteries that we contemplate at Christmas confirm the wisdom of the handle given him by his peers – John the ‘golden tongued’. All that remains now is for me to get out of the way and let Saint Chrysostom speak again, with words that have lost none of their significance or power, and to wish anybody reading this a very merry Christmas for tomorrow (and for the next few days, as I probably won’t be posting anything else until next week)! May you all have a blessed day as we remember and reflect upon the awesome fact that to us has been born a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord:

I behold a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of Justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things move in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassibility, remaining unchanged…

…What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend. Nature here is overcome, the boundaries of the established order set aside, where God so wills. For not according to nature has this thing come to pass. Nature here rested, while the Will of God laboured. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption…

…And he was born from a Virgin, who knew not His purpose; neither had she laboured with Him to bring it to pass, nor contributed to that which He had done, but was the simple instrument of His Hidden Power. That alone she knew which she has learned by her question to Gabriel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? Then said he; do you wish to hear his words? The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.

And in what manner was the Almighty with her, Who in a little while came forth from her? He was as the craftsman, who coming on some suitable material, fashions to himself a beautiful vessel; so Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker…

…Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Come, and we shall commemorate the solemn festival. It is a strange manner of celebrating a festival; but truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being Whole in heaven; and while complete in heaven, He is without diminution on earth. Though He was God, He became Man; not denying Himself to be God. Though being the impassible Word, He became flesh; that He might dwell amongst us, He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things are nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

taken from The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: 1. From the First Sunday of Advent to Quinquagesima (1960), pp.110-115, Longmans.

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