On the Deliverance from Mortality; Receiving a New Birth in Christ’s Nativity

From “Homily on the Nativity of Christ” (Dec. 25)

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints
It is He Whom the angel points out to the shepherds, saying, Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Certainly, this is a great mystery, consisting of numerous mysteries, as we have seen.

From the hour of His birth this Child possessed wisdom as well as strength, for it is written: Great is our Lord, and great is His strength, and of His understanding there is no measure. Can it be said that any other babe has received understanding above elders? Ordinary newborns comprehend nothing, and as they grow, they require instruction, if they are not to remain ignorant; but this divine Child was Wisdom itself before His Nativity, and at His birth He is called the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. He has taken the form of a little boy, but His wisdom is pre-eternal. He is at once an infant, and the Ancient of Days; a son, and a father. When speaking of His Nativity, Isaiah called Him Father of the age to come. What other babe has ever been referred to as a father? It is because the divine Infant Christ shares the wisdom and understanding of the Father that the prophet uses this term. Moreover, the heavenly Offspring of the immaculate Virgin cares for us exactly as a father cares for his children, and because He does so, we know Him to be our Saviour. His Nativity permits us, who were dead in sin, to be born anew, like the prodigal son in the Gospel, who fell upon the son’s neck, and his kiss served as a sign that the for death comes from sin; therefore, when his sin is forgiven, the dead man immediately rises. Day inevitably follows night, and likewise, as soon as the gloomy death of sin is dispelled, the grace of God, which enlivens the soul, shines brightly. Without a doubt, Christ our Saviour imparted to us a kiss on the day He was born. We were dead to sin, but He brought us back to life by His grace; though only a child, He showed himself to be the wisest of fathers.

To be convinced that Christ imparted to us a kiss at His Nativity, we have only to turn to the divine Scriptures. In the Song of Solomon we read how a soul that loves the Lord expresses its yearning to be united with God: “Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.” And just who is it that so desires God’s kiss? Saint Ambrose tells us that it is we ourselves, our nature, our flesh, that so desire to see the Son of God, face to face, as it were, and to press our lips lovingly against His in a holy kiss. This He made possible by His Incarnation. “Understand that the lover in the Song of Solomon represents our flesh, poisoned in Adam by the serpent’s bite and reeking with the stench of transgression,” writes the great teacher. “Learning from many prophecies in the Old Testament that God shall come to put an end to the enemy’s deception, and that the Holy Spirit will shed abroad His grace, human nature prays, Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth.” Similarly, Saint John Chrysostom ascribes these words to the New Testament Church: “I, the Church of the Gentiles, wish not only to learn what the Lord says through Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the other prophets: I want to hear Him speak to me directly. May He come and kiss me with His lips! I hear Jeremiah say concerning Him, The heart is deep beyond all things; and it is the Man, and who can know Him. Nonetheless, I desire that He should come and kiss me. I hear Amos cry, Behold, a man stood upon a wall of adamant, and in His hand was adamant. It is He Whom the prophet proclaims that I await and long to kiss.”

These texts from the Holy Fathers show plainly that the Incarnation of God's Son is God's kiss to our nature. Just as lips are placed against lips in a kiss, so the divine nature is linked to human nature in the Incarnation.

Christ our Saviour at His birth kissed us like a father, according to David’s saying, “righteousness and peace have kissed each other”. Euthymius Zigabenus interprets righteousness as refer­ring to the divine nature (since God alone is a righteous judge), and peace to human nature, for meekness is a characteristic intrinsic to man. The two natures are said to have kissed one another, because in Christ they cooperate, agree, and are connected.

Undoubtedly, the kiss Christ gave us when He was born brought us back from the death of sin and was for us the begin­ning of the life of divine grace. The Fourth Book of Kings tells how, when Elisha was on Mount Carmel, the Shunammite woman wanted him to come to her house and resurrect her son, but the prophet sent ahead his servant Gehazi to lay his staff upon the child’s face. When this was done, heaven did not respond, so Elisha himself went in to the boy, put his mouth upon the child’s, and blew upon him. With that, the boy opened his eyes. See how the dead boy rose when the prophet’s lips touched his, as in a kiss? This miracle worked by Elisha was clearly a foretype of Christ’s Incarnation. Death, entering the world through sin, snatched away Adam, who, like a little boy, had not long been among the living. Then nature, like the Shunammite woman, began crying, O Lord, bow down the heavens and come down; cause Thy face to shine, and we shall be saved. The Lord God did not come at once, but sent His servants, like Gehazi, to lay the staff of the Law upon the child, the race of Adam. Notwithstanding, the child failed to rise, and the people remained sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death. Afterwards the Lord Himself came by His Incarnation uniting the lips of divinity and humanity in a kiss, as was already said, and placing His mouth upon ours. At once the child rose, the dead were resurrected, Adam was recalled, Eve set free, and we were given life. We were delivered from mortality, receiving a new birth in Christ’s Nativity.

There is an old tale that demonstrates how the Lord accomplished our deliverance. A man learned that his beloved friend had been slashed with the poisoned blade of an enemy’s sword. He frantically tried to do everything he could to save the dying man’s life, but physicians told him that the wound was fatal, the poison having spread throughout his friend’s body. There was only one way, they said, to save him, and that was for someone to suck out all the poison through the wound. In that case, the rescuer would himself be poisoned and certainly die. Without hesitation, the man put his lips to the gash and drew out the deadly substance, sacrificing his own life for his friend. Similarly, when we were wounded by our hellish foe, no one could heal us except by extracting the devil’s deadly venom. No physician capable of doing this could be found, so the Most High, the Creator and perfect Healer of souls and bodies, Who has His throne upon the cherubim, out of love for the race of man bent down and pressed His mouth, that is, His beloved Son, against human nature’s wound; for God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son. Just as the Holy Spirit is called in Scripture the Father’s finger (as Christ says, I with the finger of God cast out devils), so the Son of God is referred to as the Father’s mouth, for it is written: By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them by the Spirit of His mouth.

Joining His lips to our wounded nature, God the Son removed from it the poison of transgression; taking the sin of the world upon Himself, He freed us from our iniquity; restoring us to health, He gave up His own life. The kiss He gave us at His Incarnation was the beginning of a new life of grace for us. In His infancy, He is our Saviour, our wise father, a skilled physician, and a dear friend to us.

See how at His Nativity Christ manifests His invincible might and ineffable wisdom? The angel spoke truly, telling the shepherds that the sign they would be given was a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, for this Babe was not like any other. Saint Ambrose teaches, “Christ is bound, so that you may divest yourselves of sin’s rags. The mystery of Christ’s swaddling band revealed in our casting away the rough, tattered garments of corruption, in which we were clothed by death.”

Such then, is the hidden significance of the manger, such the meaning of our Savior’s coming into the world, which the angel points out to the shepherds, saying, Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Certainly, this is a great mystery, consisting of numerous mysteries, as we have seen. Unto the divine Infant born for our sake be honor, thanks, and worship from all creation; and may the most pure, most blessed Virgin Mary, who gave birth to Him, be glorified and praised by all generations unto the ages. Amen.

The Great Collection of The Lives of the Saints

This offering of the famous Russian collection of Lives of the Saints by Saint Demetrius of Rostov (1651-1709) marks the first time any of these national collections have been published in their entirety in the English language.