God didn’t create humanity in the same manner that He did the rest of creation. Rather than saying “Let there be…” he took dust and breathed into it. Thus, as St Gregory the Theologian points out in Section 11 of his Oration 38, humanity is both part of the invisible as well as the visible creation. We are both spirit and body. Therefore, we play a unique role in all of creation. This role is explained by St. Peter in the second chapter of his First Universal Letter:
Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (verses 4-5, 9).
The normal role of a priest is to offer sacrifice. We see this in the OT priesthood where the Levites would sacrifice various animals, grains and liquids in order to cleanse those who had, through their own actions, become unclean. We also see this with various pagan religions where various items, animals and even people are sacrificed in order to appease various deities.
Note, however, that the royal priesthood that Peter describes makes spiritual sacrifices. Christ, as High Priest, made a physical sacrifice of Himself once and for all time. Religion — the practice of ritual sacrifice to appease various deities — is over. We are no longer bound to that mode of being.
The sacrifice we are called to make involves that invisible part of our makeup — the breath of God. St. Gregory equates this breath with the image and likeness of God. Therefore it is here that we become the royal priesthood — we endeavor to become like God.
There are two primary ways in which we begin to do this. Firstly, we act as co-creators. God gives us water, wheat, salt, grapes, sugar and yeast. We work these things with our hands to produce bread and wine. We then present them to God — we lift up creation to Him — so that He might re-order and renew creation. In turn, we are allowed to partake of Christ’s Body and Blood.
Secondly, this lifting up of creation allows us to participate in the love of God and it is where we learn how to love as God loves. God so loved the World that He gave us His Only-Begotten Son who became Incarnate, went to the Cross and the Tomb, Resurrected on the Third Day, Ascended into Heaven and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father. All of this He did out of love. We have access to that reality through the Body and Blood. We learn how to love by allowing God to show us how much He loves us.
This transformative love is the true miracle of Christmas.