Thursday, December 22, 2005

Prepare the Mystery

In order to help you prepare for the imminent feast of the glorious Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ, I’d like to share with you some texts from the Byzantine liturgical services celebrated in the few days before Christmas. There is much in these poetic and theologically rich texts to help us open our minds and hearts to the mystery of Emmanuel—God with us in the Person of the Son of God made man for our salvation.

“He who is carried by the cherubim has taken human nature in the abode of the immaculate womb. He has come to earth to be born of the tribe of Judah. The holy cave has been adorned like a splendid palace for the King of all; the manger, like a ruby throne. The Virgin will place the Child therein for the renewal of his boundless creation.

“Having conceived in a manner beyond understanding, the Virgin places You into the manger of the dumb animals, O Eternal Word of God, because You come to pardon the ignorance that I acquired through the envy of the serpent. You come to be wrapped in swaddling clothes in order to break the chains and fetters of my sins. O Only-blessed One and Lover of Mankind, I most joyfully glorify, extol, and adore You and your coming in the flesh; for through You I have been set free.

“O Virgin who knows no man, where do you come from? How can you cradle the Creator in your arms? How did you accomplish virgin-birth? Most pure Lady, we see in you great wonders, awesome mysteries fulfilled on earth. We shall prepare a worthy cave for you. We shall ask the heavens for a star. We shall ask the Magi from the east to come and behold your newborn Babe in a manger: the Savior of all.

“The holy Vial containing the sweet-smelling Perfume goes to the cave at Bethlehem to pour it forth in a gentle stream on those who sing: ‘Blessed are You, O God of our fathers!’

“A strange mystery, wondrous, which causes amazement: the Lord of Glory has come down upon earth. He has appeared in a cave, bearing our nature, in order to raise up Adam, and to free from her pains the ancient mother of all the living!

“Make ready, O Bethlehem; reopen yourself to all, O Paradise! For in a cave a Tree of Life blossoms forth from the Virgin. Her womb reveals itself to be the mystical paradise wherein grows the Divine Fruit, and eating thereof we shall live and not die as did Adam, for Christ is born to restore the long-lost likeness to God.

“Today the Virgin is on her way to the cave where she will give birth in a manner beyond understanding to the Word who is in all eternity. Rejoice, therefore, O universe, when you hear it heralded! With the angels and the shepherds glorify Him who chose to be seen as a newborn Babe, while remaining God in all eternity.

“Draw near, angelic powers; prepare the manger, O people of Bethlehem! The Word is coming into the world; the Wisdom of God is approaching! O Church, receive the signs of love! O people, speak with joy of the Mother of God! Blessed is your coming, O our God, glory to You!

“Heaven, give heed, and earth, lend your ear! The Son of the Father, the Word Himself, is coming! He shall be born of an undefiled maiden. Because she consented and gave birth without pain* through the assistance of the Holy Spirit, make ready, Bethlehem, and you, Eden, open your gates, for He-Who-Is shall become what He had not been. The Maker of creation shall become the Dispenser of great mercy to the world.

“The Virgin has conceived the Word who exists from before all time. The righteous Joseph sings to her and cries out: ‘I see you as the Temple of the Lord, bearing Him who comes to save all mankind. In his love He will make of all the faithful who sing to your name living, holy temples for our God.’”

Happy meditations! Christ is coming soon to make of your heart a new Bethlehem for his sweet repose.

* There is a tradition in the East (I don’t know if it’s the same in the West) that Mary gave birth to Christ without pain—for pain in childbirth was part of the curse laid on Eve after she had sinned, but Mary as the sinless New Eve was able to give birth painlessly. But the tradition goes on to say that the pains she was spared at childbirth she experienced at the foot of the Cross—as she said “yes” once again to giving her Son to us as our Savior.