The feast of the Entrance of Mary into the temple marks the first specific liturgical announcement of the birth of Christ. On this festival, for the first time in the season the canon of the Nativity of Christ is sung at the festal vigil.1
Christ is born; glorify Him!
Christ comes from heaven; go to meet Him!
Christ is on earth; be exalted!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth!
And praise Him in gladness, O people,
For He has been glorified!
To the Son, begotten of the Father before all ages,
And incarnate of the Virgin without seed in these latter days-
To Christ our God let us cry out:
You have raised up our horn.
Holy are You, O Lord!
Stem and flower of the root of Jesse,
You have blossomed from the Virgin, O Christ.
From the mountain overshadowed by the forest
You have come,
Made flesh from her who knew no man.
O God not formed from matter
Glory to Your power, O Lord!
I behold a strange, most glorious mystery!
The cherubic throne-the Virgin!
The manager-the place where Christ lay,
The uncontainable God whom we magnify in song.2
The Christmas canon, nine odes following the biblical canticles of Moses, Hannah, Habbakuk, Isaiah, Jonah, the three young men in the Babylonian furnace, and the magnificat of the Virgin herself, was inspired by a famous homily for the festival of Christ’s birth given in the fourth century by Saint Gregory Nazianzen who is called in Orthodox tradition the Theologian. The friend of Saint Basil the Great and defender of the divinity of the Son and Word of God, and therefore of the dogma of the Most Holy Trinity, Gregory is praised not only as a great theologian and mystical poet, but as a great preacher of the Christian life. These are passages from the sermon which has been incorporated into the liturgical songs of the Church in her celebration of the Winter Pascha:
Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go to meet Him. Christ on earth, be lifted up. Sing to the Lord, all the earth. And that I may join the two in one word: Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, because of Him who is of heaven and is now on earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, and with joy because of your hope. Christ of a virgin. Live as virgins, you mothers, that you may be mothers of Christ. Who does not worship Him who is from the beginning? Who does not glorify Him who is also the End?
Again the darkness is past. Again Light is made. . . . The people that sat in darkness, let them see the Great Light of full knowledge. Old things have passed away. Behold, all things are becoming new. The letter gives way, and the Spirit come to the fore. The shadows flee away, for the Truth has come upon them. Melchisedek is now fulfilled. He that was without a mother (being begotten from the Father before the ages) now becomes without a father (being born of the Virgin). The laws of nature are upset. The world above must be filled. Christ commands it. Let us not set ourselves against Him.3
~Adapted from Thomas Hopko, The Winter Pascha: Readings for the Christmas-Epiphany Season
1 The Christmas canon is sung at the vigil of the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos as the second canon of matins. It is customary to sing it at each major vigil after this feast until Christmas itself.
2 Matins of the feast of the Entrance and of the Nativity.
3 Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 38, On the Theophany or Nativity of Christ.