7· That is why God who sits upon the cherubim (cf Ps. 99:1) is set before us as a babe on earth. He upon whom the six-winged seraphim cannot look, being unable to gaze intently not only at His nature but even at the radiance of His glory, and therefore covering their eyes with their wings (Isa. 6:2), having become flesh, appears to our senses and can be seen by bodily eyes. He who defines all things and is limited by none is contained in a small, makeshift manger. He who holds the universe and grasps it in the hollow of His hand, is wrapped in narrow swaddling bands and fastened into ordinary clothes. He who possesses the riches of inexhaustible treasures submits Himself voluntarily to such great poverty that He does not even have a place at the inn; and so He enters into a cave at the time of His birth, who was brought forth by God timelessly and impassibly and without beginning. And – how great a wonder! – not only does He who shares the nature of the Father on high put on our fallen nature through His birth, nor is He subject merely to the utter poverty of being born in a wretched cave, but right from the very start, while still in the womb, He accepts the final condemnation of our nature. He who is by nature Lord of all is now ranked with the servants and enrolled with them (Luke 2:I-6), clearly making humble service to others no less honourable than the exercise of lordship, or rather, showing the servants as having greater honour than the earthy ruler at that time, provided of course they understood and obeyed the magnificence of grace. For the man who then seemed to rule the world was not counted with the King of heaven, though all his subjects were, nor was this earthly ruler reckoned then as one of them, but the heavenly Lord was. — St. Gregory Palamas, Homily Fifty-Eight on the Saving Nativity According to the Flesh of Our Lord and God and Savior.
I don’t have much to add to the beauty of this paragraph. Palamas does such a wonderful job describing the supreme irony of the Nativity that I don’t feel I can add anything useful. I will, however, demonstrate how St. Gregory is plugging into major themes found in the hymnody of the Church. Note how she describes her wonder:
I see here a strange and paradoxical mystery. For, behold, the grotto is heaven; cherubic throne is the Virgin; the manger a grand space in which Christ our God the uncontainable reclined as a babe; Whom in extolling do we magnify. — Ode IX, Canon I of the Katavasias of Christmas
And how she compares the glory of Rome and Caesar to that of the Kingdom of God and Christ:
When the time came for Your Advent on earth, the first census of the Roman world was conducted. Then it was that You began to record the names of those who would believe in Your birth. Such a decree was published by Caesar, because the timelessness of Your eternal kingdom was revealed anew. And now, we in our turn, above and beyond a monetary tax, bring to You the wealth of Orthodox theology, O God and Savior of our souls. — Doxological Hymn from the Lauds of Orthros for the Nativity of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ
Finally, I’d like to highlight St. Gregory’s observation that “right from the very start, while still in the womb, [Christ] accepts the final condemnation of our nature.” Take note of this detail from the icon of the Nativity:
Christ is not depicted in a watering trough wrapped in swaddling clothes, he is in a tomb wrapped in a burial cloth. From the womb, His purpose was the Cross and Golgotha. As we sing the praises of the birth of Christ, let us remember His purpose: to suffer and die for us that we might find resurrection in Him. Amen.