Section 17 of St. Gregory the Theologian’s Oration 38 and passages like it are the reason I so adore reading the Fathers of the Church. How can one not leap for joy, as St. Gregory exhorts us to do, after reading these words?
In order to understand the power behind these words, and why I love this passage so much, I need to quote the Anaphora of another of the Three Hierarchs — St. John Chrysostom. This is the prayer that immediately follows the words of institution (Eat…Drink…)
Remembering, therefore, this command of the Savior, and 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.
Note how the second and glorious coming is referred to in the past tense. This is an acknowledgment by the Orthodox Church that what happens within the liturgy does so outside of time as we experience it. When we utter the words, “Blessed is the Kingdom” we enter into the Eight Day, the day that has no end, the day that exists outside of time where time can only be described as the eternal now.
It is in this context that St. Gregory exhorts us to leap for joy. Note that as he moves through all of the various narrative actions from the story of Christ’s birth that we are called to join in. This joining is not something which we do in remembrance of something that has happened in the past, but rather is something which is occurring right now.
When we gather as the Orthodox Church to celebrate the Nativity, we will be witnesses to the event itself. Christ is perfect God and perfect Man. As such, Christ is both in and outside of time. Thus, everything that he has done for us exists both in and outside of time. While the birth of Christ is an historical event that did happen in the past, it is also an eternal reality that we will partake of as the Orthodox Church.
Thus, we can be awed by the census, revere the birth, honor Bethlehem, bow before the manger, know our master and his crib, run after the star to bring gifts, give glory, sing hymns and witness the angels lift up the gates of heaven right now. Amen.