An Open Table where Love knows no borders

The Nativity Sermon of St John Chrysostom

Extracted from the original (preached in Antioch in 386AD) and paraphrased by Nathan Nettleton

I behold a new and awesome mystery.
The Shepherd’s song rings in my ears;
not a soft and distant melody,
but thundering forth in a heavenly anthem.

The Angels sing.
The Archangels join in to sing the harmony.
The Cherubim add their joyful praise.
The Seraphim swell the chorus to God’s glory.
All join to praise this holy feast,
recognising that God is here on earth,
and humanity is raised to heaven.

The One who is of heaven,
now lives here on earth
to put all things right for us.
Those who were lowly
are by God’s mercy raised up.

though groaning under the weight
of hostility and violence,
yet this day
receives a taste of heaven;
for in its skies are heard the singing of angelic voices;
and hidden in its darkness
the Sun of Justice dawns.

And don’t bother trying to work out how:
for when God’s mind is made up,
the laws of nature step aside.
For God decided,
God had the power,
God descended,
God put the world right;
all things fall into line before God.

This day the One who is,
is Born;
and the One who is,
becomes what he was not.
For when he was God,
he became human;
and yet he did not cease being God.

When he was born
people refused to believe that his birth
was in any way extraordinary;
the most devoutly religious
began to twist the sacred scriptures;
the biblical scholars spoke in contradiction
of what they knew they had read.
Herod hunted for the One who was born,
not that he might adore,
but to put him to death.

Today the paradox is revealed,
although as the psalmist said,
it was already clear to the children.

What am I to say to you;
what shall I tell you?

I behold a Mother who has brought forth;
I see a Child born to this light.
The way he was conceived
is not something I can comprehend.
Nature here is overcome,
the laws of nature are set aside,
where God so wills.

For this thing has not come to pass
according to the normal ways of nature.
Nature here took a day off,
while the will of God went to work.
O unimaginable grace!
The Only Begotten,
who is before all ages,
who cannot be touched or be perceived,
who is pure, without body,
has now put on a body the same as mine,
a body that is visible and vulnerable.

And why?
So that coming among us he could teach us,
and teaching us,
he could lead us by the hand to the things
that people can otherwise not see.
For since people are more willing to believe
what they see with their own eyes,
and they doubt whatever
they can’t see for themselves,
so therefore he decided to show himself
in bodily presence,
that he may banish our doubt.

What shall I say!
And how shall I describe this birth to you?
This wonder fills me with astonishment.
The Ancient of days has become an little baby.
The One who is enthroned in glory in heaven,
now lies in a feed trough.
And the One who cannot be touched,
who is pure spirit and truth,
now lies at the mercy of human hands.
The One who has broken the bonds of sinners,
is now trussed up in a bunny rug.
But he has decreed that disgrace shall become honour,
that infamy will be clothed with glory,
and that total humiliation
will be the measure of his goodness.

For this he took on a body the same as ours,
that we might become capable of bearing his Word.
Taking on our flesh,
he gives us his Spirit;
and so he bestowing and we receiving,
he prepares for us the treasure of Life.
He takes our flesh, to make us holy;
He gives us his Spirit, so that he may save us.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast.
Come, and we shall celebrate this festival;
this strange and truly wondrous festival
of the Nativity.

For this day the ancient slavery is ended,
the devil is thwarted,
the demons run for their lives,
the power of death is broken,
paradise is unlocked,
the curse is taken away,
sin is removed from us,
error driven out,
truth is back on centre stage,
the speech of generosity and hospitality is unleashed,
and spreads in every direction,
heaven’s way of life
has been established on the earth,
angels communicate with humans without fear,
and human beings now converse with angels.

Why is this?
Because God is now on earth,
and humanity is in heaven;
everything is reconciled in one.
He has arrived on earth,
while remaining whole in heaven;
and while complete in heaven,
he is no less whole on earth.

Though he was God,
he became human;
without being any less God.
Though being the eternal unchanging Word,
he became fragile flesh;
in order that he might live with us,
he became fragile flesh.

He did not become God:
he was God.
Can anyone understand it? He became flesh,
so that the One whom heaven could not contain,
would this day be contained in a feed trough.
He was placed in a manger,
so that the One who nourishes all things,
might receive a baby’s food
from his Virgin Mother.

And so the kings have come,
and they have seen the heavenly King
who has come forth on the earth.
He has not brought with him
the armies of heaven
or the trappings of power and authority.
Instead he trod a new and solitary path,
He has come forth from an untouched womb.

Yet He has not abandoned his angels,
or left them without his care,
nor because of his incarnation
has he ceased to be God.

And look who has come to him:
kings have come,
that they might bow before
the heavenly King of glory;
soldiers have come,
that they might take their orders from
the Commander of the Hosts of Heaven;
women have come,
that they might adore the One
who was born of a woman,
the One who changes
the pains of child-birth into joy;
virgins have come
to the Son of the Virgin,
and they see with joy,
that the One who is the giver of milk,
the One who determined
that women’s breasts
might nourish babies,
now himself receives from a Virgin Mother
the food of infancy;
infants have come,
that they may adore the One
who became a little child,
so that out of the mouth of babes,
he might perfectly praise the Father;
children have come
to the Child for whom children were martyred
before the murderous rage of Herod;
men have come,
to the One who grew to be a man,
and bore on his own shoulders
the weight of the world’s pain;
shepherds have come
to the Good Shepherd
who has laid down his life for his sheep;
priests have come,
to the One who has become a High Priest
according to the order of Melchizedek;
servants have come,
to the One who took upon himself
the form of a servant
so that he might bless our serving
with the reward of freedom;
fishermen have come,
to the One who from among fishermen
chose those who would catch people;
publicans have come,
to the One who chose one of them
to be an Evangelist;
Prostitutes have come,
to the One who accepted on his feet
the tearful touch of one of their own;

and so that all of us may together be embraced,
all sinners have come,
that they may look upon the Lamb of God
who takes away the sins of the world.

Since therefore all rejoice,
I too desire to rejoice.
I too wish to share in the joyful dance,
and celebrate the festival.
But I take my part,
not plucking the harp,
not banging the drums,
not with the music of the pipes,
nor holding a torch,
but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ.

For this is everything I hope for,
this my life,
this my salvation,
this is my pipe, my drum, my harp.

From the power of this wondrous birth
we have received the gift of speech,
and so we too,
with the angels and the shepherds, sing:
Glory to God in the Highest,
and on earth peace to people of good will.


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