Fr Evan Battalis
For generations in the Old Testament period the world awaited the arrival of the Saviour – The Birth of Christ.
The Prophets of The Old Testament foretold this and it took place at the time elected by God for the salvation of mankind – “Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate of The Holy Spirit and The Virgin Mary and became man” as we recite in the Nicaean Creed during every Divine Liturgy.
Christmas is a time we recall the words in the Gospel of John (John1:14) “and the Word 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“.
The holy period of Christmas is upon us where we recall significant historical events.
We recall the bright star that shone upon Bethlehem in the night above the stable where Christ was born.
We recall the angels that were present glorifying the Birth of Christ in the heavens.
We recall the three wise men and their God inspired journey, avoiding the evil of Herod, bringing gifts and worshiping The New Born King.
We prepare ourselves for Christmas and relive many events also entering a period of fasting and prayer commencing 15 November and concluding 25 December.
Christ was born in a stable. What is a stable and what did a stable like back then? A stable during this time was simply a shelter and a prison for animals that were put to work for mankind. Made with four walls, scattered with dirt, a distinctive smell with a dampness and a darkness. Traditionally one corner of the stable was clean, used to store animal food such as hay and water. This is the type of stable that Christ was born in.The Son of God became The Son of Man in a stable.
Christ’s birth in a stable represents an icon of the world that was walking in darkness.
Let us consider this icon. The world is the stable, full of dirt and darkness. Man distance from God is represented by the animals, sleeping on the dirt. The dirt in the stable represents mankind’s sin and distance from God – walking in darkness.
During these times man worshiped animals as “gods”. Man worshiped animals called Romulus and Ramulas – a calf and a donkey.
In the Old Testament, God freed the Israelites from the bondages of slavery in Egypt and commenced a journey into the wilderness after He parted the waters. A short period later they pursued Aaron the brother of Moses to make a golden calf to worship – an animal “god” idol.
On Palm Sunday Christ entered Jerusalem seated on a donkey signifying His trampling of idolatry as at that time in the world a donkey was regarded as a symbol of idolatry.
In Greece during this period man invented numerous identities and deities like Aries, Deionises and Apollo, all idols with labels of “gods” attached to them.
Mankind was walking in darkness and idolatry such as this was ripe all over the then known world.
The first men who came to worship Christ, The Good Shepherd, were shepherds. A prevailing custom existed to provide a gift to assist a new mother by offering some food or wool. Such humble gifts were offered by these poor shepherds who held a perception that the Baby was poor like them yet not realising that this baby was indeed the wealthiest of all. He was born poor, alone, in a stable. Nothing done by God is by chance or without reason, it was His deliberate Will to be born in a stable and no coincidence.
Why was He born in a stable? Because it signified His humility, a humility that is an example for all to understand throughout all time. If God wanted, He could have chosen to be born in the greatest palace; however, He chose to be born in a stable.
The Three Wise Men came forward after a long journey from Persia to worship the New Born King. They found a Baby in a stable. In these times the three Wise Men (Maggi) held a status above kings, rulers and society. They worshiped Christ humbly and offered three gifts.
The first of these gifts was that of gold. Gold is for the King of Ages.
The second gift offered by the Maggi was incense. This was offered to diffuse the pungent smell in the stable. They offered this gift in full knowledge that He is God. This gift is symbolic and an icon of Christ taking sin away from the world through the diffusion of the pungent smell of mankind’s sin.
The third gift offered was Smirni (Myrrh), an expensive aroma used to anoint the dead. The Three Wise Men knew that one day He would die due to the wickedness of this world. Mankind walking in darkness would later elevate Him onto the cross.
To this day these original three gifts presented to Christ by The Three Wise Men are preserved by the Church. On certain occasions they are bought out into cities in Greece by the monks of Mount Athos at Christmas time for faithful to venerate as a blessing.
Upon the Birth of Christ the world in this region was governed by two major powers that both officially rejected Christ and treated Him as an enemy.
The reigning Roman Emperor Octavianos was an immoral, evil, hard hearted emperor. He was an emperor who made sure he was publically perceived as a law abiding upstanding individual in public; however, behind the scenes he was the opposite. Double standards such as these have often been repeated throughout man’s history. It was the Roman Empire, an enemy of Christ, which gave the official approval to crucify Christ through Pilot.
The Roman Empire held a number of people in great esteem during this period. Oratios for example worshiped the sun, various idolatries and taught one of the prevailing philosophies at the time to “enjoy your youth at all costs”. This teaching raises its head today especially during the period of fasting and prayer at Christmas. There are times where youth observing the Christmas period with fasting, prayer, humility, sacraments and guarding the senses are mocked or accused of being backward or brainwashed.
A second governing power of the day, also an enemy of Christ, was Herod – a man of tyranny. He was neither Jewish, Greek nor Roman, he was an Ithoumeos – a barbaric race that existed during this period near Rome. He was the son of a betrayer, he was a man of immorality and a murderer. He walked in darkness and lived in chaos. It is this type of darkness and chaos that existed at the time of Christ’s birth and something that man endures when he distances himself from God, his creator. This distance and examples of such can be seen today when we watch news bulletins and observe wars and barbarianism.
Herod was awaiting the return of The Three Wise Men and wanted to know who and where this King was? His inquiry was not out of reverence or worship of Christ but out of fear for his throne.
When Herod realised he had been deliberately evaded by The Three Wise Men he relentlessly and brutally ordered the killing of all male babies under the age of two years by the sword in the regions of Bethlehem and surrounding areas – even his own. This tragic event led to the killing of some 14,000 babies. A horrific crime, a genocide of infants.
This pseudo-hero Herod ordered the death of 14,000 infants with the aim of putting Christ to death. These innocent infants died for Christ; however, Christ was born to die for all to remove the bondages of sin from man. For Mankind was walking in darkness at the time of Christ’s Birth.
During this Holy period at Christmas let us recall Christ’s humility and how He was born in a stable. Our hearts should follow this deliberate example and also be filled with humility.