Monday, December 25, 2017

"Where God wills, the order of nature yields" ~ St. John Chrysostom on Christmas

Adoration of the Child by Gerard van Honthorst, ca. AD 1620.
In celebration of the feast of the birth of Jesus, here are some snippets from one of the Christmas homilies of Saint John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople in late Roman times. This homily was originally given in Greek in the late fourth or early fifth century AD. The translation was done by Maria Anne Dahlin in 2012 and made available here along with several other Chrysostom sermons on

These excerpts beautifully capture St. John's exuberance regarding the Nativity, a feast held in the greatest reverence because: "the event which occurred upon it, was of all events the most stupendous....That being God, [Jesus] should have condescended to become man, and should have endured to humble himself to a degree surpassing human understanding, is of all miracles the most awful and astonishing." [Walter, On Saint Philogonius, p. 198]

This particular homily is entitled: In Natalem Christi Diem -- On the Day of Christ's Birth. In it, you can get some sense of why St. John was given the epithet "the Golden-Tongued" by his contemporaries. Enjoy!
"I see a new and amazing mystery. My ears resound to the shepherds—not playing a plain song, but singing a heavenly hymn. The angels sing, the archangels harmonize, the cherubim sing hymns, the seraphim give praise, all are celebrating God seen on earth, and man in heaven. He who is above is now below because of stewardship and the one below is above because of the love for man. Today Bethlehem is a type of heaven, receiving the hymning of angels in place of the stars. In place of the sun, making room for the true sun of righteousness. And do not ask how, for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He was able, He came down, He saved. All things meet together in God. Today he who is, is born, and he who is, becomes what he was not. For, being God, he became man without setting aside his divinity. For he did not become man by putting off divinity, nor again did he become God by advancing from man, but being the word, through impassibility, he became flesh, while remaining unchangeable by nature.... 
"Because everyone is dancing around, I also want to skip, I want to dance, I want to celebrate. But I dance, not striking the lyre, not waving a bough, not having a flute, not kindling a fire, but, in place of the musical instruments I carry the swaddling-clothes of Christ. For this is my hope, this is my life, this is my salvation, this is my flute, this is my lyre. This is why I go bearing these, because when I speak of the strength in them, I am taking strength with the message I say. Glory to God in the highest. With the shepherds, also, peace on earth, goodwill to men. Today the one who was inexplicably begotten of the Father was born of a virgin. I can not explain it, but he, as begetter, knows. According to nature he was begotten before eternity by the Father. But today, again, he was born according to nature, in this way the grace of the Holy Spirit is established.... 
"Come then, let us feast, come let us celebrate. For the guest is the way of the feast, the paradox also is the word of the begetting. For today the bond is loosed at last, the devil is disfigured, demons flee, death is loosed, the garden is opened, the curse is done away with, sin is put out of the way, the wanderer has gone astray, the truth has returned, the word of piety is spread and runs everywhere. The citizenship above is planted in the earth, angels have fellowship with men, and men speak with angels without fear. Why? Because God came to earth and man into heaven..."
Again, many thanks to Maria Anne Dahlin for making the words of St. John Chrysostom come alive again for a modern audience after 1,600 years! Click here to read the rest of this sermon and others.

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