The reason for the Nativity Fast and the festive season of Christmas is: God became flesh. God spoke, and this Word put on humanity that we might put on divinity. Or, as St Athanasius writes, “God became man, that man might become God.” Within the Virgin Mary the Word was clothed with human flesh and Christ was born: God dressed in human flesh.
The first Eve, by her disobedience, bore the fruit of death to Adam, all Mankind. The new Eve, Mary, by her obedience, bears the Fruit of Life, the new Adam, her son and God, to all mankind. This, in a nutshell, is the very heart of our Christian Faith and the reason for the season, so to speak, of Christmas. It represents the difference in the fruit born of disobedience and that brought forth in obedience.
Eve, being a virgin and incorrupt, conceived the word spoken of the serpent, and brought forth disobedience and death. But Mary the Virgin answered, ‘May it be according to Thy word,’ and received faith and grace.*
Jesus, the new Adam – the “new man” – was born in the city of Bethlehem. The word “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” The new Adam was born in the House of Bread and laid in a Manger, a feeding trough. Many times in the Gospel (eight times in John Chapter 6, alone), Jesus refers to himself as bread. Traditionally, this is reflected in the hymn Orthodox priests recite as they begin the preparation of the bread for Communion:
Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden hath been opened for all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the tree of life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin; for her womb did appear as a spiritual paradise in which is planted the divine Plant, whereof eating we shall live and not die as Adam. Christ shall be born, raising the image that fell of old.**
In the fullness of time, God chose a young maiden in Nazareth to be both bride and mother. The Virgin Mary was deemed worthy of this highest calling by her faithfulness and chastity. Whereas Adam named his wife Eve, the mother of the living, God has made Mary the Mother of all Christians. Whereas all the living are kin to Adam through his blood and sin, all Christians are kin to Christ, the New Adam, through His Blood and faithfulness. St. Paul writes:
So before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ (Galatians 3:27).
It is only in being clothed in Christ that we can be in a right relationship with God. Christ clothed himself in humanity that we might be clothed in righteousness. Before Christ, there was the Law. With Christ, there is no other way to stand in a right (just) relationship with God lest we be clothed in Christ. Just as our Lady the Most Holy Theotokos answered “Be it unto me according to thy word,” we, too, may take on Christ. Through the womb of the baptismal font we are born anew in Christ – marked, clothed as His own forever. Like the Mother of God before us, having been born anew in Christ, being justified by faith, we may bear Christ to the world.***
So, brothers and sisters — clothed in Christ, during the preparatory season of the Nativity Fast, let us love one another with the same love that receives the King of Glory and wraps Him in swaddling cloths (Luke 2:12). The perfect gift cannot be found in the mall, but in the manger. The perfect gift, God is! God clothed Himself in our flesh for our salvation. The manger is a feeding trough and God is now our food. So let us prepare with eyes of faith to see the King of Glory, God in human flesh, in the manger – the chalice of our salvation! Let us receive Him into our hearts as once did Mary. Let us partake of this heavenly food and rejoice! “Let your priests be clothed with righteousness. Let your saints shout for joy!” (Psalm 132:9).
* – Joanna Manley, The Lament of Eve (Menlo Park, California: Monastery Books, 1993) #37, p.82.
** – Bishop Basil [Essey], comp., The Liturgikon – The Book of Divine Services for the Priest and Deacon, 2nd ed. (Englewood, New Jersey: Antakya Press, 1994), p.245.
*** – Portions of this Post taken from DEFEATING SIN – Overcoming Our Passions and Changing Forever, published by Regina Orthodox Press.
Prothesis Table, where the bread is prepared, St John the Baptist Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Washington, DC – Image Source