December 25, 2023

Homily One on the Nativity of Christ (St. Luke of Simferopol)

 By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

(Delivered in 1947)

Almost two thousand years ago, near the small Palestinian town of Bethlehem, in a cave that served as a pen for cattle in inclement weather, an unknown young Jewish woman gave birth to a Son. Could there have been a more inconspicuous, more unimportant event in the eyes of the world of that time?

Who was He, for whom did He come into the world? The world did not know this, but the angels in heaven sang of this birth as the greatest of all events in the world. The sky opened over the field of Bethlehem, where the shepherds were guarding their flock at night, the heavenly light shone upon them, and the Angels, singing, announced great joy, for at that hour the Savior of the world, the Messiah, Christ our God was born in Bethlehem.

Compared to all those events in history that were considered the most important and greatest, this event was so huge, so immeasurable, like a boundless ocean compared to an insignificant rain puddle. But people did not know that this birth in the cave of Bethlehem radically changed everything, gave new life to humanity.

Not only the appearance of angels to the shepherds, not only the angelic heavenly singing of “Glory to God in the Highest, and on the earth peace among those whom He is pleased,” not only these completely unheard of events marked the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not a single event in history was so announced: the sky was never opened, the holy angels never sang.

But long, long ago, thousands of years before this event, it was foretold by God - even when Adam and Eve were expelled by God from paradise. The Lord said to the serpent-devil who deceived them: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; it will bruise your head, and you will bruise its heel” (Gen. 3:15). This seed was the now incarnate God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan bit him in the heel. He was inflicted with such torment throughout His entire earthly life and, especially, on terrible Golgotha.

In ancient times, Patriarch Jacob, blessing his twelve sons, predicted for each of them what his offspring would expect. And what did he say to Judah? “A ruler shall not fail from Judah, nor a prince from his loins, until the Reconcilor comes; and he is the expectation of nations” (Gen. 49:10). And so it was, and this prophecy came true: in this prophecy, Patriarch Jacob indicated the time when the Reconciler-Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, would come. This time came soon after the people of Israel and the tribe of Judah, from which the Lord Jesus Christ was to come, lost their political independence: just at the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the people of Israel fell under the rule of the Romans, the prince was removed from the loins of Judah, and there was a ruler from him. And this was predicted 2000 years before the birth of Christ.

Everything important that related to the earthly life of the Lord Jesus was predicted by the great prophets. The time of His coming was most accurately predicted by the great prophet Daniel, who lived 400 years before the birth of Christ. When no one knew the name of Christ, he saw the Lord as if with his bodily eyes, knew His name, for he wrote this in his amazing book: “And thou shalt know and understand, that from the going forth of the command for the answer and for the building of Jerusalem until Christ the prince there shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks; and then the time shall return, and the street shall be built, and the wall, and the times shall be exhausted” (Dan. 9:25).

“From the going forth of the command for the answer and for the building of Jerusalem” - this means when the God-appointed 70 years of this captivity expires, then King Artaxerxes of Babylon will issue a command that the Jews be allowed to return to their land, allowed to build the walls of the city and the temple itself.

And from the time when this command of Artaxerxes came out, 69 weeks had to pass, i.e. 483 years old. This is the 15th year of the reign of Caesar Tiberius in Rome, and in the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke we read that it was in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius that the Forerunner of the Lord appeared to the world, and you know that he was six months older than the Lord Jesus Christ.

So wonderfully, so wonderfully, this prediction of the holy prophet Daniel about the time of the coming of the Lord came true. Thus, the time of the terrible destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman commanders Titus and Vespasian, which was a terrible punishment of God for the murder of the Messiah, our Savior, was absolutely accurately predicted.

Therefore, the time of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ was precisely determined by the prophets many hundreds of years before His coming. It was predicted that He would be born from the house of David, from the tribe of Judah. The Forerunner of the Lord and His Baptist appeared exactly as predicted by the Holy Prophet Malachi, who predicted that he would come to straighten the path of the Lord (Mal. 3:1). And the most wondrous of the predictions about the Lord Jesus was uttered by the great prophet Isaiah, who said: “Behold, the virgin will be with child and give birth to a Son, and they will call His name Emmanuel, which is to say: God is with us” (Is. 7:14).

How could he say that Christ would be born of a virgin? Where, when was it heard that a virgin without a husband would give birth to a son? He knew, knew 700 years before the fulfillment of the prophecy, knew, as if he saw with his own eyes, that a virgin without male seed would be pregnant with the Holy Spirit and give birth to a son.

This was fulfilled, but when you hear this wondrous prophecy, the thought arises in some that they called His name Emmanuel, while the Angel of the Lord told Joseph the Betrothed that His name was Jesus. What is here, the inaccuracy of the prophecy, its obscurity? Prophecies are spoken not by people, but by the Holy Spirit: there can be no contradiction here. There is no contradiction between the two names of the Lord, for what does the name Emmanuel mean? It means: “God is with us.” What does the name Jesus mean? It means: "Savior." What separates us from God? We are separated, as the prophet Isaiah says, by our sins, and the angel of the Lord, who spoke to Joseph about the birth of the Messiah, the Savior, who will be called Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, said that He would deliver His people from their sins.

We know that the purpose of His coming, the purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God was to deliver us all from the power of sin, from eternal death in our submission to the devil. And when sin was defeated, which separated us from God, then we united with God through the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the Savior, He was “God with us” – Emmanuel.

You see that both names could not be more consistent with what our Lord Jesus Christ was in His Divine essence. Both names are true, each a testimony to His Divine dignity. So, there is no contradiction between the words of the holy prophet Isaiah and the words of the Angel to Joseph the Betrothed.

We find in the holy prophets amazing images of the main and most important features of the life and personality of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what the holy prophet Isaiah says: “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth” (Isa. 42:1–3). Isn’t this a vivid image of our humble, meek Lord Jesus, Who was despised due to his low origins in the eyes of many of his contemporaries? It is He, the Meek and Quiet, who will not break a bruised reed and will not quench the smoking flax, it is He who stood before the spiritual eyes of the holy prophet 700 years before His coming.

The Holy Prophet Isaiah is called the Old Testament evangelist, for he depicts all the most important things that one needs to know about Christ; not only His humility and meekness are depicted, His Sacrifice on the Cross is depicted, the meaning of the work that the Savior accomplished on earth is explained. Listen to his amazing words: “Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Is. 53:1-4). Isn’t this how many Jews, His contemporaries: the high priests, the scribes, the Pharisees, treated the Lord? Saint Isaiah saw all this in advance: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5).

Isn’t this what we know from the Gospel, isn’t this an image of His suffering on the cross, His humiliation? And this has been said for 700 years. “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, but He was buried with a rich man” (Isa. 53:9). Shouldn’t they have thrown Him into a pit along with the thieves with whom He was crucified, shouldn’t they have prepared for Him this coffin with the villains - but He was buried in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea. And the holy prophet saw and knew this.

Perhaps even more amazing is the prophecy that we read in the 21st Psalm of King David: “All who see Me mock Me, saying with their lips, nodding their heads: He trusted in the Lord, let him deliver Him, let him save him, if He pleases him” (vv. 8–9).

But don’t you hear these very words when the Passion Gospels are read, how the scribes and Pharisees, passing by His Cross, mocked and said: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ, the Son of God”. Saint David heard these words a thousand years prior: “For dogs have surrounded Me, a crowd of evildoers has encircled Me” (Ps. 21:17). “They pierced My hands and My feet” — they pierced them with nails — “all My bones could be numbered. And they look and make a spectacle out of Me. They divide My garments among themselves, and they cast lots for My clothing” (vv. 17–19). Even this was predicted, even the fact that those who crucified Him cast lots for His undivided tunic.

And from the holy prophet Zechariah we read an extraordinary prophecy about the solemn Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9–10).

You know that Judas betrayed the Lord for thirty pieces of silver; and when Christ was crucified, he came to the temple in horror and repentance to the high priests, threw the money on the floor and said: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They answered him: “What is that to us? You see to it” (Matthew 27:4). And then they thought about what to do with this money, stained with blood: it was impossible to put it in the treasury, so they decided to buy the potter's land for the burial of wanderers. And this was predicted by the prophet Zechariah: “Then I said to them, 'If it is agreeable to you, give me my wages; and if not, refrain.' So they weighed out for my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me, 'Throw it to the potter' — that princely price they set on me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter” (Zechariah 11:12–13). Well, what else do you need to say, what other prophecies, how can you even testify more to all the heavenly greatness of the current festival? It would seem that every human soul should be shocked by these events, these prophecies, should be imbued with sacred awe, should burn with love for the One on whom all these prophecies were fulfilled.

“And the world did not know Him; He came to its own, and its own did not receive Him” (John 1:10–11). Their own people crucified Him; their own people still continue to crucify Him. Oh, how scary this is, how it shakes our souls! We can do nothing except shed bitter tears.

This is how it pleases God, this is what the Lord Jesus predicted: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). You see how immensely many people in all nations who do not believe in Him mock Him.

Glory to God, there is great joy in the fact that the small flock of Christ has still been preserved, joy in the fact that yesterday and today our church is filled to capacity. But the grief is that we see many of those whom we do not see on smaller festivals, and on Sundays, when the Church glorifies the resurrection of Christ, who come to church only 2-3 times a year, on the greatest festivals, do not honor Sunday, they do not want to become at least a little like those magi, those pagan wise men of the East who came from a very distant place, bringing Christ the gifts of their admiration for Him: gold, incense and myrrh; gold as for a King, incense as for a High Priest, myrrh as for a three-day dead man who rose again.

Let us be at least a little like these wise Chaldeans, who came to worship from a far, far away land, guided by a wonderful star. What will we bring to Christ? Faith, ardent, fiery faith in Him; a love that befits the One True God. And may this love, this reverent reverence for God, prompt us to often come to where we hear preaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, where we hear His own holy words, where He Himself is present among us, for He said: “Where there are two or three gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them." Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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