In the year 5,199 from the creation of the world, when in the beginning God created heaven and earth;
In the year 2,957 from the Flood;
In the year 2,015 from the birth of Abraham;
In the year 1,510 from Moses and the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt;
In the year 1,032 from David’s being anointed king;
In the sixty-fifth week of years according to the prophecy of Daniel;
In the 194th Olympiad;
In the year 752 from the building of the city of Rome;
In the 42nd year of the reign of Octavian Augustus;
The whole world being in peace;
In the sixth age of the world;
Jesus Christ, the eternal God, and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify this world by His most merciful coming, being conceived of the Holy Ghost, and nine months since His conception having passed, in Bethlehem of Juda is born of the Virgin Mary, being made man.
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
“Come, then, let us observe the Feast. 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.”
So preached St. John Chrysostom in the first recorded sermon for Christmas Day, preached this day 1,630 years ago. He captures the essence of Christmas in this one paragraph. But it’s his conclusion that deserves the most attention. Why is evil destroyed and good restored? Because God is now on earth and man in heaven. On Christmas Day the Church wants us to consider one of the most profound mysteries of the Faith: That Jesus Christ is fully God and fully Man. He is not some sort of hybrid, half God—half man, or only some parts divine and some parts human. Our minds cannot fathom this mystery. But, with Chrysostom, we will approach this great mystery from the angle that matters the most: What this mystery means to me. Christmas is only meaningful because of its end result: the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ in the flesh.
The comfort of the Incarnation, that God took on human flesh and blood, is best understood in the words of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. He writes, “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). At the Annunciation, the coming of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, Jesus, very God of very God, takes on flesh. In an instant He limits Himself. Never once did Jesus lose any of His divine attributes. In Mary’s womb was the omnipotent God. But Jesus willingly refrained from using His divine powers. He subjected Himself to all of the indignities and frailties of humanity. He was entirely dependent upon Mary’s body for His life while in her womb. And after His birth in the Bethlehem stable, He was entirely dependent upon Mary and Joseph for His every need. He knew what it was to be hungry, cold, scared, tired, and every other feeling that babies have. He knew what it was to be a toddler and young boy—learning to feed Himself, dress Himself, developing fine motor skills, learning to read, write, and speak properly. As He lived his life as a teenager and young man He learned what it was to be injured, to get sick, to go to work to earn money to eat and pay His bills. Everything that was common to man, Jesus did. He was not treated like a king, but like an everyday worker, a regular guy.
But more than that, He was tempted in every way, just as we are. Satan confronted Jesus with temptation at every turn. What the Evangelists record from Jesus’ temptation by Satan in the wilderness was only a small portion of what Jesus endured. He knows how hard temptation is to overcome when your flesh is weak, your mind is tired, and your faith is struggling. There isn’t a single thing you endure that Jesus did not.
So, what’s the point? It is as St. Paul said, “no one ever hated his own flesh.” Because Jesus, God Himself, is in your flesh, He loves it! He knows everything that you endure and He does not think less of you for it. Instead He sympathizes with you in your weakness. He is beside you in your darkest hour, in every temptation, and in every self-loathing moment after giving into that temptation. And He is not there to be angry with you, to criticize you for it. Instead He nourishes you and cherishes you. He gives you His forgiveness and His Holy Spirit to strengthen your faith to help you stand in the hour of temptation. He does not leave you, forsake you, or hate you. Rather, because He is in your flesh, He loves and cherishes, nourishes and forgives you.
Just as Jesus shares in your life, your trials, and your sufferings, He invites you to share in His life. And what is His life? God became man for the redemption of humanity. In the person of Jesus Christ God died our death, trampled down death, and gives us new life in Him. Jesus was born to die, born to raise the sons of earth. He shed His holy, innocent Blood to forgive your sins, to pay the debt you owe, and to open heaven to you. He rose from the dead to give you a resurrection like His. And on top of it all, He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God in your flesh. Jesus did not abandon His humanity. Rather, in the flesh He ascended into heaven. That is what Christmas is all about, as Chrysostom so eloquently preached: “God is on earth, and man is in heaven.” Because God came to earth, man goes to heaven, that is, you go to heaven.
That is why Christmas is so full of rejoicing. It’s why the shepherds go with haste to Bethlehem to see this thing which has come to pass. It’s why they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this Child. It’s why suddenly every angel, every saint in heaven bursts into glorious song above the Bethlehem countryside. Heaven and earth can no longer contain its joy. God is on earth and man is in heaven. Jesus Christ has come for our redemption so that we who were lowly are raised up by divine mercy.
So, come, then, let us observe this Feast of Holy Christmas. Because Jesus Christ was born on this day, your ancient slavery to death is ended, the devil’s power is undone, demons take to flight, and death is broken. This day, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, and your sin removed. Because God has come to earth, because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, you will behold His glory in heaven.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).