Christmas is a time for clothes. It is one of the few times that I notice clothes. Even before wearing a jibbee – a clerical robe – I’d never been much of a clotheshorse or trendsetter. Thanks to Christmas, I’ve never bought much clothing for myself. Ever.
This time of year finds even the houses, trees, and pets clothed in festive array. During the season, you will see some of the oddest outfits that you will ever see, and many of the prettiest will remain on the mannequin. ‘Tis the dressiest time of the year.
Christmas and clothes, they go hand in hand. In fact, at some age, usually in your late teens, for some reason, most of the presents you receive become clothes. For this I am truly grateful, else I may still be wearing platform shoes and silk shirts. (Though, perhaps, I would now be in style?)
In fact, the reason for the Feast and season is God became flesh. God spoke, and this Word put on humanity that we might put on divinity. The Word was clothed with human flesh. Within the Virgin Mary the Word was clothed with human flesh and Christ was born God dressed in human flesh.
St. Paul writes, “So before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” [Gal.3:27].
It is only in being clothed in Christ that we can be in a right relationship with God. Christ clothed himself in humanity that we might be clothed in righteousness. Before Christ, there was the law. With Christ, there is no other way to stand in a right (just) relationship with God lest we be clothed in Christ. Just as our Lady the Most Holy Theotokos answered “Be it unto me according to thy word,” we, too, may take on Christ. Through the womb of the baptismal font we are born anew in Christ – marked, clothed as His own forever. Like the Mother of God before us, having been born anew in Christ, being justified by faith, we may bear Christ to the world.
This season shall be celebrated with gift giving. Yet, as the concluding prayer of the Divine Liturgy, the Prayer behind the Ambon, states: “For every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from Thee, the Father of Lights.” Thus it is that the time may come during all the secular hoopla of the season that we ask ourselves “Am I doing this right? Is this the way to celebrate the birth of Christ?”
What is the “right” way to celebrate the birth of our Saviour? No matter how we answer this question, one thing is certain: Clothes. We’ll put them on, we’ll try them on, we’ll give them, and we’ll receive them. Soon we may find that we’ve outgrown ‘em. (The season does have a way of clothing you with a few more pounds!) Nonetheless, somewhere amid all the cares, burdens, and worries of the Fast and festive season, you’ll ask yourself “Am I doing this right?”
Whether we celebrate something once in a lifetime or annually we have a tendency to want to do it right – as if the moment depends on us! Usually, we overdo it. Our sinful pride clouds our vision. We think the more we do, the better things will be. We fall prey to the Serpent’s lie from the tree and view ourselves as gods. (Didn’t this lead to worries about clothing to begin with?)
There is nothing you can do to make things “right.” This has been done for you. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” This is right. It is this we prepare to celebrate during this season. We celebrate what God has done, is doing, shall do … for those who believe.
So, in order to celebrate in a right, Orthodox, way: LOVE. Love one another with the same love that receives the King of Glory and wraps Him in swaddling cloths [Lk.2:12]. Do not worry about what you shall receive. Do not worry if you’re doing things right. For God clothed in flesh said, “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” [Mt. 6:28-30].
But oh how we worry through the months of December and January. We worry about our bills, our plans, our possessions … ourselves. Yet, in order to see God clothed in human flesh, we must look with the eyes of faith. For often during times like these, our Lord comes to us. How? “For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed me” [Mt.25:35-36]. We must look, with the eyes of faith, beyond ourselves.
For, “The Lord reigns, He is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed, He has girded Himself with strength” [Ps.9:31]. Yet this same Lord, the King of glory, we often clothe with a robe of purple. We fashion a crown of thorns. We spit upon Him – and, in His time of trial and agony, we walk away from Him. After all, we have our own cares.
May God be gracious unto us and forgive us. Let us love one another with a holy love during the Nativity Fast. Let us forget the cares and occupations of this temporary home and build up treasures in heaven. Forgive one another. Love one another. Be clothed with the King of Glory and let that Light shine round about you! Be ye holy as He is holy!
The perfect gift cannot be found in the mall, but in the manger. The perfect gift, God is! God clothed Himself in our flesh for our salvation. The manger is a feeding trough and God is now our food. So let us prepare with eyes of faith to see the King of Glory, God in human flesh, in the manger – the chalice of our salvation! Let us receive Him into our hearts as once did Mary. Let us partake of this heavenly food and rejoice! “Let your priests be clothed with righteousness. Let your saints shout for joy!” [Ps.132:9]
“Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden hath been opened for all. Prepare, O Ephratha, for the tree of life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin; for her womb did appear as a spiritual paradise in which is planted the divine Plant, whereof eating we shall live and not die as Adam. Christ shall be born, raising the image that fell of old” [Proskomedia prayer].
New clothes. Yes, that is truly what the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour is all about.
A version of this piece first appeared in The Word, 1996.