Last Wednesday, November 15, the Orthodox Church began its “Winter Lent,” the fast that prepares for the feast of the Nativity. Somewhat similar to Advent, it is the older practice, a full 40 day fast, that reminds us that Christmas, joy that it is, is a foretaste of Pascha.
The Cave of Bethlehem reminds us of the Cave of Hades (icons of the Descent into Hell picture the Cave of Hades). The Babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths, reminds us of a man who will be wrapped in fine linen and laid in a new tomb.
Christ is an action of God’s great humility. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. That same Word will reveal yet more humility when he takes that flesh and yields it to the hard wood of the cross. Entering death, the final and complete humility of God is manifest, a humility that will conquer all pride and smash the bonds of the wicked.
The world is already singing Christmas carols, and candy cane music, preparing for the annual orgy of consumer spending, seeking to please one another, and to spend ourselves into a joy that says to death, “Hush, please, for another day.”
But the spending that will set us free is the Blood of Christ spent freely – the original Christmas gift. He is the peace on earth and good-will toward man. He is the only gift that will matter – and it is a gift worth fasting for, praying, “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us, and on Thy whole world.”