The Nativity of Christ: What’s in a Greeting?

Christ is Born, glorify Him.  Christ is from Heaven, receive ye Him.  Christ is on earth, be ye exalted.  O all the earth, sing unto the Lord…” (Ode 1, Nativity Canon). 

These words begin the Nativity Canon sung during Matins on December 24 and at each major Vigil Service during Advent. They are found as well, at the start of a Nativity (Theophany) sermon by St. Gregory the Theologian (4th century, Oration 38) and were given a prominent place over time in the Orthodox celebration of Christmas.  

The exclamation, “Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!” also constitutes a traditional Orthodox greeting during the holiday season.  In this brief affirmation of joy, is presented both a great mystery of grace and the human response:  Christ is Born, a mystery past all understanding; Glorify Him, the most appropriate reaction to God's offering of love. 

During the Nativity season when Orthodox Christians greet one another with, “Christ is Born!“ they are affirming through the eyes of faith that in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the anointed and promised Savior of the world has come (John 1:40-41; 4:25-26). The Man Jesus – born in Bethlehem – is the only begotten Son of the one, true God (John 3:16). He is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, equal in honor and divinity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 5:21-23; John 10:30; Matthew 28:18-20).  He is the Creator and Lord over all that exists (John 1:1-4; Philippians 2:9-11).  At the same time however, Jesus is completely and perfectly Man (Hebrews 2:14-18).  He is God, but He is also our brother, and through Him we become sons of God by adoption (Galatians 4:4-7, the Nativity Epistle; John 1:12-13).    

Furthermore, Orthodox Christians insist that Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, is the Light of the world Who comes to enlighten all men (John 1:7-9; John 8:12).  He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of man (John 14:6). He is the Teacher (John 3:1-2), the Shepherd (John 10:11,14), the Physician of souls and bodies (Matthew 11:4-6; Mark 2:17). Jesus is the I AM of the Old Testament – the only truly existing One – a self-affirmation for which He was unjustly condemned (John 8:58-59; Exodus 3:14).  Jesus is the perfect, blameless sacrifice offered for the sins of the world, and having risen from the dead, He becomes the first born of the dead (John 1:29; 1 John 2:1-2; Colossians 1:18; Hebrews 2:17).  Jesus has power over both life and death (John 5:26) and raises sinners with Himself to a new and eternal life, from corruption to incorruption.  Furthermore, while granting immortality to believers, He gives them the possibility on earth, to experience victory over sin, the devil and over the fallen passions of the flesh (Romans 6; Hebrews 2:14-15; Leviticus 11:44, 1 Peter 1:13-16).

On the day of His Nativity this same Divine Person entered the world in a most humble fashion, providing His followers lessons in both humility and love. The manner of His appearing in fact, was a revelation of God’s Divine Humility.  The Son of God, “not counting equality with God a thing to be grasped…emptied Himself, (took) the form of a servant, (and was) born in the likeness of men…” (Philippians 2:7).

At Christ’s birth there were no trumpets, no fanfare for the masses to announce His arrival.  Even when the angels and star presented themselves, they did so only to those whose hearts were open:  the simple shepherds and the wise men, representing both Jews and Gentiles, people of all nations for whom Christ came. Similarly, our Lord continues to come in our day to those whose hearts are prepared and purified for His Self-revelation (John 14:23).  

So, when Orthodox Christians greet one another with “Christ is Born,“ we should maybe pause briefly, giving ourselves an opportunity to think about what is being declared, the identity of the One, “Who was born in a cavern and lay in a manger” (Festal Dismissal Prayer).  We can then perhaps more fully appreciate that the most appropriate human response to our Lord’s Birth is indeed one of simple yet sincere gratitude and glorification.  This Mystery, this gift of Christ is certainly unmerited, as well as incomprehensible in its greatness.  In light of it we can only say most humbly:  Thank You God, for Your great loving kindness. Thank You God, for the gift of adoption to sonship, in Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  

Christ is Born!  Glorify Him!