To Make Room for Christ
The theme of preparation is emphasized within a week of the start of the Nativity Fast at the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple on November 21. Orthodox Christians believe the Virgin Mary was born to her elderly parents, Joachim and Anna, in response to their devout prayers. In fulfillment of their promise to dedicate Mary to God, they took her at age three to the Temple in Jerusalem where she was conducted into the Holy of Holies by Zechariah, who would later become the Father of John the Baptist. The Theotokos stayed in the Temple until she was betrothed to Joseph. The Church's hymnody at the Feast and throughout Nativity speaks of Mary as a Royal Throne, the Temple, a special place prepared for God. Orthodox Christians view Mary as the great example for us to follow, not a great exception. We are also called on to prepare a place in our lives, and indeed in our bodies, through the mystery of the Eucharist, for Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ became a man and abides with us so that man may abide with God. Advent is the best time of year to contemplate the Incarnation and what it means for us and our salvation. I find it helpful to read St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (this version has an introduction by C.S. Lewis). It has been said that most heresies result from an improper understanding and teaching of the Incarnation; so let us be properly armed! The fasting disciplines help us on the path of theosis, restoring the image and likeness of God with which we were created. Thus, Advent can be incarnational for ourselves, making us Christ-like as we were meant to be.
The Nativity Fast is a time of unfolding. Although the fasting rules do not specifically address such things as when Christmas decorations should be put up in the home or the playing of Christmas carols, it is best to move into these sorts of things gradually. Christmas lights should be welcomed in anticipation of Nativity itself and in remembrance of the star the Magi followed. Since western Christmas carols are not a part of Orthodox services, when they are to be played in church is not a problem as they are never played in church. The fasting rules themselves become more rigorous as Christmas Day approaches, with fish no longer allowed. A fuller sense of joy can replace the small place that had been occupied by fish. We need to remember why we are fasting, what we are preparing for, Who is coming. A small stillness must be kept in the midst of the Christmas busyness. Let Christ and His Mother find room in your Inn this Nativity Season.
O Mother of God, in a wondrous manner you conceived the Word and Wisdom of God. You brought into the world its Maker, holding in your arms the One who holds the whole earth in His hands, the Sustainer of the cosmos, the Creator and Lord. Thus, O all-holy Virgin, I glorify you and ask you in faith for the remission of my sins. At the hour in which I stand before my Creator, O holy Virgin and Lady, grant me your help through the favor which you always have before God. (Orthros Service of December 5)
Mark Naftel is an Orthodox Christian, husband, father of two children, and a member of St. Ignatius Orthodox Church in Franklin, Tennessee.