by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Have you ever stopped to ponder upon and let yourself be captivated by…and to fall in love with God through the following awe inspiring words from Jesus’ most profound Gospel writer, John the Apostle?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … Through Him all things were made, and nothing was made without Him. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind. … The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” ~ from the Gospel of John, Chapter 1
Perhaps you’ve heard these words for so long that the mystery of their meaning has been dulled & deadened and is now completely lost upon you. But the truth is, every time we are confronted by the infinite energy of this mystery, it should bring us to a state of gobsmacked awe.
That baby child, first held within the womb of His (still virgin) mother Mary, and now lying in a feed-trough in a rock-hewn animal shelter…is the very same *Word* who from before all time, by a word, called the countless angels; all of the universe’s galaxies; and every living thing flying above and living on the earth into existence. He is the *Word* who, by a word caused everything to grow…who originally gave life to the very God-bearer who now devotes her every waking moment to giving Him life and causing Him to grow. The Creator of all becomes a part of His creation, born to poor parents who are as insignificant to the rest of the world as most of the rest of us are.
So we wonder: Why would He do that? Why be born through a human? Why didn’t He just, poof, suddenly appear with a Word? Why did the Word choose to…as the Gospel writer John says, “become flesh to dwell among us”? And, why did He choose to be born into such a poor, insignificant family?
One of our ancient Church hymns resonates with this wonder of wonders. It’s our more profound version of the modern Christmas carol, “Mary Did You Know?” In the ancient hymn, she is absolutely aware of who this baby Son is (she knows), but she is mystified and awed that this could be happening through her. This ancient hymn steps into the shoes of Mary, imagining the humble astonishment that she must have felt as she marveled:
“O my child…child of sweetness,
How is it that I hold You, the Almighty?
And how is it that I feed You,
Who gives bread to all?
How is it that I swaddle You,
You who clothes the whole earth with clouds?”
(Pre-Christmas Troparion - 9th song)
The reason this hymn is so much more profound than “Mary Did You Know” is because, in it, Mary is the model of what Christ wants to do through each of us. This is why we hold her up as the Church’s most significant saint… why we call her “the first among equals.” It’s because she most clearly represents what it means to be a follower of her Son. This is why, on the Holy Doors leading into our sanctuary/altar, there’s an icon of the Archangel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary…his news that she would “conceive and give birth to the Son of the Most High,” reminding us of her answer, “Let it be”…because God wants each of us to give that same answer…and likewise, by God’s grace, to conceive and bear forth the Son of the Most High from our lives into the world. This is also why there is such a large icon of Mary in our apse, behind the altar—the icon that names her, “More Spacious than the Heavens,” showing that Mary held within her womb the *Word,* who created the heavens…because God wants each of us also to carry within us the *Word* who created the heavens. And as we, who are expecting this miracle, step into the mystery of the birth of Christ at Christmas, we are invited (as that above-mentioned hymn leads us) to step into the shoes of Mary…to participate with her in bearing forth Christ into the world and to wonder and marvel with her in joyous worship, that God (through His Holy Spirit) would make such a thing possible in each of us. Wow! Why would He choose to be born forth from our own pitiable, insignificant selves? Why would He do that in any of us?
It’s because He loves us more than we could possibly imagine. It’s because, in calling us also to be sons and daughters of God, it’s not merely a figurative gesture, but rather, by His merciful grace, when we participate with His work in us, it’s made tangibly manifest in each of our lives. Our Lord calls us to be co-heirs (Romans 8:17), siblings with Him in this great mystery in a way that sanctifies the very physical, material part of ourselves and creation around us through His Spirit (Romans 8:19; Ephesians 4:11-16). St Gregory of Nazianzus, in his Festal Orations, said: “Let us become like Christ, since Christ also became like us; let us become gods (Psalm 82:6) through uniting ourselves with Him, since He also because of us became human. He assumed what is worse that He might give us what is better. He became poor that we through His poverty might become rich. He took the form of a slave, that we might regain freedom. He descended that we might be lifted up, He was tempted that we might be victorious, He was dishonored to glorify us, He died to save us, He ascended to draw himself to us who lay below in the Fall of sin. Let us give everything, offer everything, to the One who gave Himself as a ransom and an exchange for us.”
So, through Mary, the God-bearer, Christmas reminds us that this is the feast of salvation…revealing the awesome and wondrous mystery that, through God’s grace, we humans are capable of bearing God in ourselves. Because Mary held within her womb and bore forth God the *Word* who had united Himself to humans through her…she also became united to God through Him…and thus was forever transformed by that experience of Him. Through Mary, God united Himself with humanity, so that humans could become, by God’s adoptive grace, united with God. O wonder of wonders…wisdom, let’s learn to become attentive to this!
“O people, let us celebrate the Forefeast of Christ's Nativity!
Let us raise our minds on high, as we go up to Bethlehem in spirit!
With spiritual thoughts, let us contemplate the Virgin
as she hastens to the cave to give birth to the Lord and God of all!
Joseph, as he contemplated the greatness of the wonders,
thought that he saw only a human Child wrapped in swaddling clothes,
but from all that came to pass, he discovered the Child to be the true God,
Who grants the world great mercy.”
As you now make your way toward Bethlehem in spirit, may your mind be raised to contemplate this wonder of wonders…that God could be conceived within and born-forth from you, and that by God’s grace manifest in you, the people around you, will discover the true God and become forever transformed by that experience.