The Feast of the Nativity, or, as it is known in America, “Christmas,” is an ancient Feast whose origins are somewhat obscure. By the fifth century AD it is mentioned by the Council of Isaac (AD 410) in conjunction with the Feast of the Epiphany: “. . . we should together, as one, keep the holy feast, the first-born of blessed feasts, the glorious day of the birth and epiphany of Christ our Savior.” [Chabot, J. B., ed., Synodicon Orientale, Paris, 1892, p.20, lines 15-16 (Eng. trans. by M. J. Birnie).] At some later time the Epiphany was separated into two Festivals, one celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, the other celebrating his Baptism (and retaining the name “Epiphany”). All the churches (with the exception of the Armenians) adopted December 25 as the day to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, leaving the Feast of the Epiphany on the older January 6 date.
The Feast of the Nativity is an occasion for emphasizing in ritual and word the incarnation of the Son of God, the divine Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). But it is a time, too, when we are most acutely conscious of his humanity, when the wonder of the incarnation is accompanied by a very clear realization of the helplessness of the infant Jesus, his dependence upon his parents, the precariousness of his situation. We ponder anew each year the implications of the divine condescension, the love of the Father, the willing self-emptying of the Son, and the brooding power of the Spirit. We are astounded at such love, and warmed by our celebration of it. “God so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jn. 3:16)
On this Feast, “the first-born of blessed feasts,” we are moved by love to love. We are inspired by obedience to obedience. Our hearts and minds are exalted from wonder to wonder at the humble beginnings of the great drama of our redemption from sin and death. And we are grateful in all.