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Today I’d like to spend some time with the second sentence of the first paragraph of St. Gregory Palamas’ homily (I told you I could spend several days here):

Our address must be exalted therefore in accordance with the greatness of the feast, and enter into the mystery, as far as this is accessible and permissible, and time allows, that something of its inner power might be revealed even to us. — St. Gregory Palamas, Homily Fifty-Eight on the Saving Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior

There are five words/phrases that jump out to me: greatness, mystery, accessible and permissible, time and inner power. Let me explore each of them in turn.

Greatness

I spent some time yesterday on this, but it bears repeating: Christmas is one of the Great Feasts. I myself struggle with this — when the first Christmas commercials start as early as September/October, it is difficult not to be cynical. Let me quote the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

Remembering . . . all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming.

None of these things are possible without the Incarnation, without the Nativity of Christ. Therefore, if we rightly understand that Pascha is the Feast of Feasts, we must acknowledge the greatness of the Nativity without which Pascha cannot happen.

Mystery

How can anyone rationally explain the Virgin Birth? Despite what the secularists and atheists would like us to believe, there are limits to what human reason is capable of. This is especially true of our understanding of God. Again, from the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom:

You are God ineffable, beyond comprehension, invisible, beyond understanding, existing forever and always the same; You and Your only begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit.

Notice how God is described — St. John Chrysostom is using apophatic language. In other words, what God is not, rather than what He is. God cannot be contained by language, human reason is limited, a virgin birth cannot be explained and that is okay. It is a mystery, but one that has benefitted us all beyond our imagination.

Accessible and Permissible

There is an irony in these words that is not immediately apparent. God is not the one who limits the accessibility of the Nativity. God is not the one who denies us permission. We do. God has declared to all the world His Gospel. The Church has always acted in the open (they may have met secretly in times of persecution, but one need not look much further than St. Justin the Martyr to see that even under the threat of death, early Christians were very open as to what it was they were doing when they met). God has definitively acted within history. Our access to this reality is only limited by our own actions and belief. Are we going to give ourselves permission to celebrate the greatness of the Incarnation or not? The choice is ours.

Time

Time is part of creation. It, as is everything in creation, is radically different than God. This understanding allows us another layer of greatness to add to the Nativity — God not only became Incarnate, but entered into time.

Inner Power

Let me revisit the quote above from St. John Chrysostom:

Remembering . . . all that came to pass for our sake, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, the enthronement at the right hand of the Father, and the second, glorious coming.

All these things not only necessitate the Nativity, but they are all done for our sake. God does not need them. He didn’t have to do all these things. He chose to. He chose these things for all of us — for you. Imagine for a moment Christ on the Cross. As God, He is All-Knowing. Therefore, He knew of you. His love for us is so great, that He was willing to go through torture and death for you.

That knowledge, in itself, is power. God loves you no matter what. How much different can be your day, year, life be if you walk around secure in that knowledge? May we all accept the reality of the Nativity, accept all that has been done for our sake and live it. Amen.