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Anticipating Nativity

November 22, 2010

So, we have done one week of the Nativity Fast. This is my first time observing the Nativity Fast. This time last year I was still wrestling with Orthodoxy, though I was very near conceding. I don’t remember the date, but I think it was sometime about this time of year when I, like Jacob the Patriarch, clung to the leg of the Lord, begging His blessing. In other words, I stopped trying to figure out the Church, and began to trust and believe in the Church as the Spirit-led Bride of Christ. Not surprising, it wasn’t long after that point that I began to realize that as the Resurrection is the center of our hope, the Incarnation is at the center of Orthodox theology, which is also its spirituality.

The theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church is not simply a set of concepts, theories and principles about God that are dry and systematized. Theology is the life of the Church, its very experience of God Himself. This experiencing of God Himself is made possible by the Incarnation. This experience is often called “mysticism” or described as “mystical” and has various otherworldly adjectives attached to it. But the Incarnation of Christ, His Nativity, show us that we experience God Himself in everyday life. In a 3-Lecture series given at St Barnabas Orthodox Church Hieromonk Irenei Steenberg speaks about Eastern Orthodoxy and Mysticism. I hope you will listen to it. His points are very good. I want to share some of what he did in his lecture that applies to Nativity.

We tend to think of the mystical experience as being only one that can be found in solitude, or at least it is one that is outside the realm of everyday life; a kind of phenomenon that would sound like an “Encounter of the Fourth Kind.” I know I have been (I suppose I continue to be to an extent) guilty of this belief. But precisely because Christ came in the flesh and lived an ordinary life in which people encountered Him, we can experience the Living God in our regular life. We don’t have to walk around with our heads around in the clouds to do it either. The Scriptures are far more practical then they are esoteric. Love God, love your neighbor as yourself, give to those who ask, forgive. Simple. While I have heard of great monastic Saints having extraordinary experiences that were what we would call “supernatural”, mostly they encounter God in their daily tasks, surroundings and neighbor.

As a non-monastic Christian I can experience the living Christ in my life now, though maybe by a different path than a ascetic monk. We have a different setting for our life in Christ, but our goal is the same. Both the parish Christian, and the monk (or nun) have a vital role to play in the life of the Church, that allows them to experience God. I find this encouraging. For I have thought of monks as the supermen of our faith, which may be true, but little ol’ me can have a role to play in the life of the Church too. All because He is come in the flesh.

Also, on the note of anticipating the feast of Nativity, I find the spirit of this fast much lighter. When I can’t eat meat or dairy, I can eat fish! It’s like setting up the Christmas tree and decorating the house for Christmas; you may not get to open the presence yet, but there is a joyful anticipation. Instead of dreading the season of consumerism and shopping stress, I find myself thinking about which charities I want to give an extra gift to, how I can teach my girls about “giving to Jesus” by giving to the poor, and having an overall sense that this season is about the coming of the One who makes Christianity what it is. Yes, I have always had that understanding that Christmas is about Christ, but I love how the disciplines of the Church set you up to engage that understanding in tangible ways. Prayer and fast but a part of that preparation.

Lastly I am anticipating the midnight vigil service with my girls. I have Christmas Eve off this year, and will be able to attend the midnight service with my older two girls. They had such a great time at Pascha, that when I told them there is a service coming up for Nativity, they were excited. The fact that they are excited makes me excited. I have not been to Nativity Vigil before, as I had to work last year, so I am very eager to experience it. With the fast being a bit lighter than Lent, I am not anticipating the experience will be the same intensity (you have to admit Pascha Holy Week is the most intense thing ever experienced in a Church, other than I suppose one’s baptism, chrismation and first reception of the eucharist), but I am sure it will be wonderful.

So this post finds us one week into the fast, and one week closer to the Nativity we anticipate. May we great those around us this season with the words “Christ is Born! Glorify Him!”

 

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