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December 26, 2022

1947 Nativity Message of St. John Maximovitch

 By St. John Maximovitch

(Delivered in Shanghai in 1947)

“Thou hast dwelt in a cave, O Christ our God. A manger welcomed Thee. Shepherds and Wise Men worshipped Thee” (Apostichon of Great Vespers for the Nativity).

Seeing the human race perishing from sins, the Son of God descends to earth. “When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). For us, for the sake of man and for our salvation He came down from heaven to earth. The Son of God takes on human nature in order to reunite man with God. He comes to earth when humanity has fallen into a complete moral decline, when people have languished, not seeing a way out.

The Jews were waiting for the promised Messiah. The pagans were waiting for something out of the ordinary to change everything. “Either God will come to earth, or the world will perish,” said the then famous Roman philosopher Seneca.

From the prophecies, the Jews could clearly see that the time had come for their fulfillment. The seventy weeks from the restoration of Jerusalem, announced by the archangel Gabriel to the prophet Daniel, were ending, as the time of the coming of the Messiah and the termination of the Old Testament. But with the general languor of the spirit and the expectation of an unusual baby, with the birth of which a “golden age” will come on earth, the expected Baby was recognized and welcomed by a few when He was born.

Moreover, there was not even a place for Him in human dwellings. Mary "brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2:7, 16). And when the shepherds, who heard the angelic singing, came to see the One Whom heaven glorified, they "found the Infant lying in the manger."

Long before the coming of Christ, the divine Habakkuk foresaw that with spiritual eyes, standing on divine guard: “Lord, I heard Thy report and was afraid, in the midst of the two living creatures you will be known” (Hab. 3:2). In the midst of the animals lay the King of the world, who had come to save the world, since people had departed far from Him.

“If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I go into sheol , Thou art there” (Ps. 139:8), the Psalmist once called out.

God does not dwell in people who have given themselves over to sin. “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh,” said the Lord God, when the earth was corrupted and filled with iniquity before the flood (Gen. 6:3).

Humanity again became “flesh” by the time the Savior came to earth. Most of them were "earthly philosophizing" - some unrestrainedly surrendering to the pleasure of the flesh and other vices, while others, even in their best aspirations, were looking for only earthly things. There were few who sought the Kingdom of God, prepared for people from the foundation of the world.

Therefore, there was no place for the King of heaven in human dwellings, but His dumb animals, who remained true to their nature, accepted Him. “The Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8; Lk. 9:58) and then, thousands followed Him and all the people sought to touch Him, “for power went out from Him and healed them all” (Lk. 6:19), and He fed many people with a few loaves. Even in order to sanctify people with His blood, Jesus “desired to suffer outside the gates” (Heb. 13:12), since the Jewish vinedressers (Matt. 21:39) brought the Son of God out of the city to be crucified.

But the Savior who was lifted up from the earth to the cross drew us to Himself. Just as the simple shepherds and the wise men, who were ready to give everything to the Truth, recognized the One lying in the manger, so all those who seek Salvation recognize God in the Crucified One.

And just as the Child born in Bethlehem to the Immaculate Virgin was persecuted, so His Immaculate Bride, His holy Church, was persecuted in the days of her infancy, and those who worshiped Him were forced to hide from the rulers, like the Magi from Herod. A new sign was needed in heaven for the Church to triumph over the persecutors, and instead of the star of Bethlehem, a cross appeared in heaven, with which heaven preached to everyone the Crucified One, and brought kings to Christ, worshiping Him by faith. “The whole earth was filled with the knowledge of God” and not only “from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon,” but from all over the earth many people flocked to listen to and fulfill Christ’s teaching, being healed not so much from their bodily as from their spiritual ailments, conquering unclean spirits and becoming terrible for them.

However, the prince of this world does not want to easily give up power and strains all his strength to keep the sons of men under him. He sows tares everywhere in order to stifle Christ's wheat with them, in order to arouse sinful passions in pious hearts, and, above all, to induce those who are humble to himself to persecute everything that bears the name of Christ.

The struggle between the One who brought heavenly peace to earth and the rulers of the darkness of this age, the spirits of wickedness in high places, which began in Bethlehem, is being waged without interruption and with increasing force. It happens all over the world, in every place. It divides humanity, it divides people who were close to each other, it takes place inside each person until good or evil finally wins in him.

Now, more than ever, that “separation” is felt (Luke 12:51), which was announced by the One Who is glorified now with an angelic song - “Glory to God in the highest, and on the earth peace among those whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). The “sword”, brought to the earth by the Infant lying in the manger (Matt. 10:34), divides and separates father and son, mother and daughter, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. The words “a man’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt. 10:36), foretold by the prophet Micah, who predicted the birth of Christ in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, 7, 6), are truly exactly fulfilled.

People do not find peace in themselves either, languishing from the internal struggle not only between the flesh and the spirit, but often feeling divided in their aspirations, and they fall, having no support within themselves.

And it sometimes seems that even now a more worthy place for the Christ Child would be the manger of the dumb beasts than human society, still preserved from all the destroying "achievements" of this evil age!

But the Son of God came to earth not for the sake of resting Himself, but to heal the wound of Adam.

Having worshiped Christ, “the shepherd returned, glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:20) and “rejoicing with great joy” (Matt. 2:10) were the wise men who found Him. Joy of spirit and gladness of heart filled the shepherds and wise men who came to Christ. Only He alone is our world (Eph. 1:4), only He is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). As each individual person, so the whole of humanity will see the light only in His Light.

Having torn away from the vanity of the earth, let us mentally cling to the cave of Bethlehem and our soul will feel unearthly joy, and the lips of the angels will cry out: “Glory to Thy descent, O Lover of Man.” Christ is born!

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.