And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first born Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger because there was no place for them in the inn. -Luke 2:6-7
If you look closely at many icons of the Nativity, you will notice that the manger is not a straw-filled wooden trough as we see in most Nativity displays around town. Rather, it resembles a casket or tiny tomb. The swaddling bands are not like the large cloth that we swaddle our children with, but rather are the burial bands used to bind the bodies of the dead. Why do the icons depict this? To make clear from the beginning the purpose of the Incarnation of Christ. His purpose in coming to be among us was to die for our sins. It all leads to the Cross and the Tomb. This is the reason Christ came to earth. This is the reason God incarnated His Only Begotten Son.
When you enroll in high school or college, what year do they label your class? It’s the year you are scheduled to graduate. I entered college in 1990. I went in as the class of 1994, which ended up being the year I finished. Why do schools label classes by the year they finish, rather than the year they start? Because when you go to school, the purpose for your attendance is in order to finish. So, even from the first day of school, the focus is on the last. Sure, the journey is long, and fun, and important, but the focus of the journey is its end, not the journey itself, certainly not the beginning of it.
Our Christian life is the same. God’s purpose in putting us here is so we can GRADUATE from this life, into eternal life. No one can get to heaven if they haven’t lived on earth. Just like no one can graduate from college if they never spend a day in school. So, every day of our life, there should be a thought given to eternal life. This is why we hear at every Divine Liturgy (and in the daily vespers), a petition that speaks to us of “A Christian end to our lives, peaceful, without shame and suffering, and a good defense before the awesome judgment seat of Christ;” so that this thought of our destination inspires how we spend our present journey.
Take some time every day, whether it is Christmas, or Advent, or the middle of summer, to work on your salvation, think about where you are headed for eternal life. So many people plan for retirement, but not for eternity. Spend time each day through prayer, meditation on scripture, obedience to the commandments and charity towards others. Spend a lifetime doing that and you will be in good shape for that accounting at the awesome judgment seat of Christ.
The Resurrection couldn’t happen without the Nativity. However, the Nativity without the Resurrection would make Christ into an incredible teacher and healer, but not our Savior. An incredible life without Christ is just that-an incredible life that will one day come to an end. A life with Christ and a life in Christ is like going to school; you will be there for a while, you will even make good memories and have good times, but one day you will graduate to something bigger and better.
The purpose of Christ’s Incarnation is apparent from the Nativity. God’s purpose for our life is apparent from our birth as well!
Before Your birth, O Lord, the hosts of angels already perceived the mystery. They were struck with wonder and trembled, for though You adorn the heavens with stars, You are now well-pleased to be born as a Babe. You hold the ends of the earth in Your hands, but now You are laid in a manger of dumb beasts. Yet all these things fulfilled Your saving plan, by which Your compassion was revealed to us. Christ of great mercy, glory to You! (From the Royal Hours of the Nativity. Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes.)
Have a purposeful day!
~Father Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, LET ALL CREATION REJOICE: Reflections for Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany