Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes for the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Thursday, December 24, 2015.
Listening to the hymns of the Vesperal Liturgy, the Royal Hours, and of Matins today, I was struck by some extremely beautiful things, which spoke of the openness of God towards his creation; of his love and compassion for all his creation, for the entire universe, is wrapped up in the incarnation of God in the flesh.
Here’s one of the prayers we read today:
When the Lord Jesus was born of the Holy Virgin, the whole creation was lighted, even Herod was lighted, though he resisted that light and became a murderer of children. In fact, the only one in the entire Nativity story who closed his heart was Herod. And you see what happened to him: anger, fear, jealousy, bitterness, and murder comes when you close your heart. Tonight, God has opened his heart entirely and sent His only-begotten Son to save us.
How is this? How has He filled the entire universe with Himself? Because He took our common flesh. He took upon Himself the matter which makes up the universe, the matter we all share, and by which we are all brothers and sisters together, every man, woman, and child, our brother and sister. Around the manger, all creation gathered, the heavens with the star, and the earth; the kings, the elite, and the poverty-stricken lowly shepherds; and the animals in the guise of the ox and the ass. Not only that, the church saw something even deeper than that when they chose the ox and the ass for the icons. The ox and the ass, everyone knew, that the ox and the ass represented the Egyptian gods Osiris and Sept. What they were saying is that even the gods are gathered at the manger to worship the true God, the incarnate Lord, the Son of God, the Living God. The Church knew something was going on that was deeper than any of us today would ever know.
I fear that today because of the circumstances in the world, and because of other things, we are being tempted to close our hearts, to become angry and bitter and vengeful and paranoid. We must not accept this temptation. We are Christians and Christians love all people. We love our enemies or we are not Christians. We love those who abuse us and persecute us or we are not Christians. Jesus Christ Himself on the cross kept His heart open and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Christ never closed His heart, and we are never to close our hearts for any reason whatsoever.”
We must keep ourselves in line with Him. We don’t want to become like Herod. You know, when your heart closes, you can feel it. You become darkened, you become enclosed. It’s a nerve-wracking feeling. You feel like the world is becoming narrower and narrower. When you feel that feeling, open your heart. Trust in God, Trust in Him Who is born tonight. Do not be afraid even of death, for He has conquered it. He has touched all of life, by sanctifying it with Himself. We have no reason to be afraid, even of death.
We rejoice tonight because He has opened His heart. Who are we to say that He can save some and not save others? That He includes some and not others? In the Scriptures, the light begins to dawn even in Samaria. The Jews did not like the Samaritans. Even in the land of Zebulon and Nepthali where the people dwelt in darkness, the pagans, the light was shining! The light is shining everywhere! Everyone who seeks Him will find Him! Everyone who loves and has compassion in their heart are already part of Him!
Let us not separate ourselves from Him. Let us worship Him and adore Him and love one another. There is one proof of Christianity according to the Holy Fathers. If we love our enemies, then we know we have made it! If we don’t love our enemies, we have a lot of work to do.
Christ is born!
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2015/nativity.