Your Nativity, O Christ our God, made the light of knowledge dawn on the world. For through it those who worshipped the stars were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of righteousness, and to know You, the Dawn from on high. O Lord, glory to You! (Apolytikion of the Nativity)
THE SEASON OF CHRISTMAS is a feast of light and joy, since we celebrate the coming of “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:9). This celebration of light continues until the Great Feast of the Theophany—the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan (January 6)—known also as the Feast of Lights, when we sing, “Your light, O Lord, has been signed upon us” (Kontakion of the Theophany).
And yet, in the middle of our joyful celebration of light, only a few days after the angelic proclamation, “on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Luke 2:14), the Church compels us to come face to face with a terrible darkness. We are confronted with an event surrounding the Nativity that many would prefer to ignore, an event that is far from bright and joyful, an act that is without doubt the most evil act imaginable: infanticide.
King Herod, having been convinced of the biblical prophecies concerning the birth of the Messiah in the Old Testament, feared for his rule. Like many of the Jewish people of his day, he wrongly believed the promised king of the Jews would be an earthly ruler. He hoped to extinguish the threat he perceived to his reign but did not know exactly where to find the newborn king.
“Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.” (Matt. 2:16- 18)
Many think of Christmas as something sweet and sentimental. But this grim event in the midst of the Nativity narrative reminds us that there is nothing sentimental about it. Instead we are shown the harsh reality of evil, of the kind of violent world that Christ enters as a newborn baby. In becoming one of us, in taking on human existence in everything but sin, He subjects Himself to human tragedy, to suffering and death. Already from the moment of His birth, we see Christ offering Himself to the reality of our own pain and mortality, with no power, no authority, no means of defense.
Yet in spite of this, the Light of the world was not extinguished by the darkness. What do we see? A poor, defenseless family up against an army of trained soldiers, against a tyrannical, seemingly unstoppable empire of violence, wealth, and power. And yet it is the defenseless family that is victorious!
“The light shines in the darkness” (John 1:5), and the Church does not allow us to ignore the darkness. Yet we should not fear it more than we love and trust the Light. No matter how much evil seems to get the upper hand, however hopeless things may seem, we must never lose faith, we must never cease to trust in God. For however great the darkness, the light will always overcome it, no matter how weak the light may appear to be.
The Feast of the Nativity is a celebration of divine weakness overpowering human strength, of good conquering evil, of the light of divine knowledge dispelling the darkness of ignorance. This is not just a cause for an annual celebration, but is the strength of our Christian faith and the joy of the divine Light which the darkness of evil can never extinguish.
The Incarnation is not just for Christmas; it’s for life! Christmas comes and goes, but the light of the Nativity shines forever.
~Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth