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A Homily in Preparation for the Celebration of Christmas: According to Saint John Chrysostom

A feast day is about to arrive and it is the most holy, august, and awesome of all feasts; it would be no mistake to call it the chief and mother of all holy days. What feast is that? The day of Christ’s birth in the flesh. It is from this day that the feasts of the Theophany, the sacred Pasch[a], the Ascension, and Pentecost had their source and foundation. Had Christ not been born in the flesh, he would not have been baptized, which is the Theophany or Manifestation; nor would he have been crucified, which is the Pasch[a]; nor would he have sent down the Spirit, which is Pentecost. So, it is that, just as different rivers arise from a source, these other feasts have their beginnings from the birth of Christ.

Holy Nativity Icon

Not only for this reason it is right that the day of Christ’s birth should enjoy the principal place but also because what occurred on this day provides a much stronger reason for us to experience a holy fear and trembling than all the others do. For the fact that Christ, who became man, also died was a consequence of his birth. Even though he was free from any sin, he did take upon himself a mortal body, and that should make us marvel. That he who is God was willing to become man, that he endured to accommodate himself to our weakness and to come down to our level is to great for our minds to grasp. It makes us shudder with the deepest holy fear; it fills us with terror and trembling. This is what amazed Paul when he said: “Wonderful indeed, is the mystery of our religion.” How wonderful? “God was manifested in the flesh.” And again, in another place: “God is not taking to himself the angels but he is concerned with taking to himself the children of Abraham; therefore, it was right for him to become like his brothers in every way.” This is why I especially greet and love this day. This is why I set before your eyes his love so that I may make you share in it. And this is why I ask and beg all of you to be here in Church for that feast with all zeal and alacrity. Let each of us leave his house empty so that we may see our master wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This is a sight which is filled with holy fear and trembling. It is incredible and beyond our every expectation.


What defense or excuse will we have when, for our sake, he comes down from heaven, but we do not even leave our homes to come to him? The magi were strangers and foreigners from Persia. Yet they came to see him lying in the manger. Can you, a Christian, not bear to give a brief measure of time to enjoy this blessed sight? If we shall present ourselves in a spirit of faith, there is no doubt but that we shall truly see him as he lies in the manger. For the table of this altar takes the place of the manger.


And surely the master’s body will be lying on this altar, not wrapped in swaddling clothes, as it was after birth, but clothed all about by the Holy Spirit. Those who have been initiated understand what I am saying. The magi adored him, but that was all. If your conscience is without stain when you come forward, we shall allow you even to receive that body and then to go off to your home. Do you, therefore, come forward and bring your gifts, not such gifts as the magi brought, but gifts which are far holier and more august. The magi brought gold; you bring a temperate and virtuous spirit. They brought incense; you must offer pure prayers, which are the incense of the soul. They brought myrrh; you must bring a humble and contrite heart along with alms.


If you come forward with these gifts, you will enjoy and share in this sacred table with great trust and confidence. Why do I speak these words at this time? I know for sure that on that day many will come forward and lay hostile hands on that spiritual sacrifice. We must not do this to the harm and condemnation of our souls. We must approach the altar to win salvation for ourselves. That is why, now, before that day, I beg and beseech you, only after you have cleansed yourselves in every way are you to approach these mysteries.


Let no one say to me: “I am so ashamed. I have a conscience filled with sins. I am carrying the heaviest of burdens.” The period of five days is time enough to cut away the multitude of your sins if you are sober and watchful and if you pray. Do not look to the shortness of the time but consider the loving-kindness of the master. The people of Nineveh drove off God’s Great wrath in three days. The narrow span of time did not deter them, but after their eager souls won for them the master’s loving-kindness, they were able to accomplish the whole task.


After the harlot had come to Christ, in a brief moment of time, she washed away her every reproach and disgraceful deed. Even though the Jews were accusing Christ because he let her come to him and gave her such freedom and confidence, Christ curbed their tongues, freed her from her sins, accepted her earnestness and zeal, and then sent her away. Why did he do this? Because she had come to him with a warm heart, a soul on fire, and a fervent faith. She first loosened her hair, sent forth streams of tears from her eyes, took hold of those sacred feet, and emptied her jar of ointment upon them.

St John Chrysostom Patriarch of Constantinople

She used the things with which she cast her spell on men as medication to effect her repentance and conversion. She poured forth her tears through the eyes which she had used to arouse the eyes of licentious men. She dried the feet of Christ with the curling hair with which she tripped up many a man and turned him to sin. She anointed his feet with the perfume with which she enticed her many lovers. You, too, must make God favorable to you and appease him again with the same things you used to anger and provoke him. Did you provoke him by stealing money? Then you must appease him with money by giving back what you have stolen to those whom you have wronged, and by giving back an amount over and above what you stole. You must say, as Zacchaeus did: “I give back four times of all that I stole.”


Did your tongue anger God by insulting and abusing many men? Then win back God’s favor by your tongue as you send pure prayers up to him, as you speak well of those who insult you, as you praise those who speak ill of you, as you give thanks to those who wrong you. This does not require many days or years but only the right intention and purpose. Then all is set straight in a single day. Stand aloof from wickedness, take a firm hold on virtue, stop doing evil, promise never to commit these sins again, and this will be enough to excuse you. I solemnly affirm and I give you my pledge that if each of us who is in sin turns away from his past evil deeds and truly promises God that he will never go back to them again, God will ask for nothing else by way of a greater excuse. He is a God of loving-kindness and of mercy. Just as the woman in labor is eager to give birth to her child, so God desires to pour forth his mercy, but our sins stop him short.


Therefore, let us tear down this wall and, from this time on, let us bid everything farewell for these five days and begin to observe the feast. Away with business of the law courts! Away with the business of the City Council! Away with daily affairs together with their contracts and business deals! I wish to save my soul. “What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but suffer the loss of his soul?” The magi went forth from Persia. You go forth from the affairs of daily life. Make your journey to Jesus; it is not far to travel if we are willing to make the trip. We need not cross the sea nor climb the mountain crests. If you prove your piety and full compunction, you can see him without leaving home, you can tear down the whole wall, remove every obstacle, and shorten the length of the journey. As the prophet said: “I am a God who is near at hand and not a God afar off,” and: “The Lord is close to all who call upon him in truth.” But, as it is, many of those who do believe have come to a high pitch of folly and contempt. Even though their souls are weighted down with countless sins and they feel no concern for themselves, they still approach this table on feasts days with no thought or preparation. They do this because they fail to realize that it is not the feast day nor the assembly but a pure conscience and a life freed from sin which make the time right for communion. The man whose conscience is free from fault should approach this table every day. But for the man who is in the grip of his sins and is unrepentant, it is perilous to approach this table even on feasts. For surely coming once a year does not free us from the reproach of our sins if we draw near to the table with an unworthy heart. In fact, our condemnation is the greater because, even though we come but once a year, on that one occasion we approach the table with an uncleansed soul.


Therefore, I exhort all of you not to take in your hands these divine mysteries because you feel that the feast forces you to do so. If ever you should be going to share in this holy sacrificial offering, I urge you to cleanse your hearts many days before. How? By repenting, praying, giving alms, and devoting your efforts to things of the spirit. Do not, like a dog, turn yourself back again to your own vomit. Is it not foolish to show such great concern for material things? Yet, many days beforehand, because the feast is coming, you select the best clothes from your wardrobe and get them ready. You buy new shoes. You prepare a more sumptuous table. You think of many means to provide for yourself in every way. You overlook nothing which will brighten your appearance and make you look stylish and smart. But you take no account of your soul. It is neglected, clothed in shoddy garments, unwashed, wasted with hunger, and you let it stay uncleansed. Will you bring here to church your stylish body but overlook your soul, which is half clad and filled with disgrace? Your fellow servants see only your body, and it does them no harm no matter how you have neglected it. But the Master sees your soul and he inflicts the greatest punishment on it since you have been careless and negligent about it.


Do you not know that this table is filled with a spiritual fire? Fountains gush forth with water, but this table has a kind of mysterious flame. Therefore, do not carry corn stalks or wood or hay as you approach it. You might cause a more destructive conflagration and burn your soul to ashes as it shares in the mysteries. Instead of flammable things bring precious stones, gold, and silver so that you may render them purer and then depart with your profit in your heart. If you have any wickedness there, drive it out and banish from your soul. Does one of you have an enemy who has treated him with the greatest injustice? Let that man do away with his hostility; let him keep in check his soul, which is burning and swollen with hate, so that there may be no tumult or commotion in his heart. You are going to receive your king in communion. And when your king comes into your soul, it must be very tranquil and still. Your thoughts must be marked with the deepest peace. But you were treated most unjustly and you cannot bear to put aside your anger. Why, then, do you do even greater wrong and more serious harm to yourself? Whatever your enemy may do to you, he will not treat you as badly as you treat yourself if you refuse to be reconciled to him and if you keep trampling underfoot the laws of God.


Did your foe outrage you? Tell me, is that why you outrage God? To refuse to be reconciled to the enemy who has cause you pain is not the act of a man who is taking revenge on his foe. It is the act of a man who is outraging God, who gave us these laws. Therefore, do not look back on the foe who is your fellow servant; do not look back on how deeply he has harmed you. Rather, put God before your mind and the fear of him which you should feel. Force yourself to be reconciled to the enemy whose countless evil acts have caused you pain. Then, consider that the greater the violence you will endure in your own soul, the greater will be the honor you will enjoy from God, who gave these commandments. Just as you receive him here with great honor, so will he receive you in heaven with great glory. He will give you an infinitely richer reward because you obeyed his laws. May all of you come to this reward by the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom be to the Father glory, honor, power, and worship, together with the Holy Spirit for ever and ever, world without end. Amen [1].

 

Bibliography


[1]. Saint John Chrysostom. “On the Incomprehensible Nature of God: Homily VI.” In The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation, Volume 72. Translated by Paul W. Harkins Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982. 174-183.



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Unknown member
Jan 07, 2023

Holy Father St. John Chrysostom, pray that God will have mercy on us and on all our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and Russia during this Feast of the Nativity. May those hostilities of which you write come to end - in our own hearts and in the lives of our brethren. Amen.

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Michaela
Michaela
Dec 25, 2022

Thank you! He truly has a Golden mouth. Every word of this sermon went straight to my heart. ❤️ 🙏

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Jeffra
Jeffra
Dec 22, 2022

The true meaning! May we all receive mercy and achieve the closeness we desire! God bless you friends!

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Colmcille
Colmcille
Dec 21, 2022

Thank you for sharing these edifying words of the Golden Mouth himself.

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Unknown member
Dec 20, 2022

Thank God for this!

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