I commend to you a blog post by a good friend of mine, Nathan Oates. It can be found here. It is this post that served as the inspiration for this “Gleaning” of bits and pieces from the edges of the field of Christmas. I recommend that you read it before you proceed further. It will help set the context for my meanderings.
 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying,
 “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.”
 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;
 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it is written by the prophet:
 `And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will govern my people Israel.'”
 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star appeared;
 and he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.”
There are several key words in this portion of the Nativity narrative:
- Found him
- I may too come
Indeed, it is ironic and deeply tragic, as Nathan notes in his blog post, that in our own life we prefer to pay homage to (worship) our oppressors (the passions of pride, self-love, and vainglory) which we hate and would be free of, instead of paying homage to (worshipping) the very one Who can, in fact free us, because of the cost of that freedom. As the overused bumper sticker says, “Freedom is not free.” The people hated and desired to be free of “Herod the Wicked” (and therefore the Romans) but they also feared his retribution. They feared THAT more than they desired to pay the price of opposing their oppressor. Once again, a tragic bondage.
The unique “troubled-ness” that is the fruit of bondage.
The people of Herod’s time were people of freedom as well as bondage. They HAD a covenant relationship of freedom with God ! ! The character of their bondage was not forced on them. They chose to receive it. It is not that we don’t know our bondage or even that we have and do choose it. Rather, it is that we have become numbed or dulled (drugged / anesthetized) by fear of the punishment that our chosen oppressor will be meet out upon us. As Chrysostom says in the same homily,
“From the same feeling which caused them before also to turn away from God when pouring His benefits on them [the Exodus], and to be mindful of the flesh-pots of Egypt, while in the enjoyment of great freedom.”
When will we reach our “bottom,” when it will become worth it to pay the price that our freedom requires?! That cannot be predicted. It is different for all of us. Chrysostom says a couple of sentences later in the same homily, “…none of these things thoroughly awakens them, so great was their dullness, and with this their envy also.”
What time is it? Is it time for your deliverance? Does your Redeemer draw near? Is the darkness the context for the light?
What IS clear is that we MUST be looking for our deliverance – seeking “diligently” – in the form of not only the “bottom” we must reach but for the Savior Who is present is that “cave.” The Christmas manger [crèche] is, among other things, the address of the bottom we must reach in order to truly receive for the first time or once again the costly freedom of new life in Christ Jesus. (It is worth nothing, parenthetically that among the meanings of crèche, is a place of protection and care.) There we must “find him” and “come” to meet Him and worship Him, paying the price of a truly bended knee beginning in the very cave of our bondage and our freedom. The shepherds and the Magi and Herod and the people – the whole universe that groans in travail [bondage] – is exhorted and provoked to meet Christ Jesus at and in the cave. This cave, the crèche, is both a place of great darkness and even greater light. This cave is the address of our salvation.
The Holy Tradition does, proclaim this underlying theme of the clash of darkness and light, of bondage and freedom, in its Nativity hymnography. It does not let us get away with reducing Christmas to sentimental dribble which is just the spirit of delusion in another wrapper …
Kontakion for the Eve of the Nativity
“On this day the Virgin cometh to a cave to give birth to God the Word ineffable, Who was before all the ages. Dance for joy, O earth, on hearing the gladsome tidings; with the Angels and the shepherds now glorify Him Who is willing to be gazed on as a young Child Who before the ages is God.”
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” vs. 3-4
How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” vs. 3-5
Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.
And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!
For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When with the ever circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.