The Nativity of Christ the Saviour
At the time of the reign in Judea of Herod, who was under the power of Rome, the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that all the world should have been taxed. Every Jew had to register in his own city where his ancestors lived.
Joseph and the Virgin Mary were descended from the house and lineage of David and therefore went out of Nazareth into the city of David, Bethlehem. Arriving in Bethlehem, they were not able to find room in the inn and stayed outside the city, in a cave, where shepherds drove their cattle in bad weather. In this cave that night the Holy Virgin Mary brought forth Her Child — the Son of God, Christ, the Saviour of the world. She wrapped the Divine Child in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger where they put feed for the cattle.
The shepherds in Bethlehem were the first to find out about the birth of the Saviour. On this night they were watching their flocks in the field. Suddenly an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord was shown round about them. The shepherds were sore afraid.
The angel said to them, “Fear not. I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David (Bethlehem) a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.”
When the angels were gone away from them, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing, which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to us.”
They came with haste and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. They worshipped the Child and told how they had seen and listened to the angel. Mary kept all these things in her heart.
Then, the shepherds returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.
Eight days after the birth of the Saviour, His Mother with Joseph, according to the law, gave Him the name Jesus, which had been given by God through the angel.
Adoration of the Magi
While Joseph and the Holy Mother of God and the Child Jesus were still in Bethlehem, Magi (wise men) from distant countries in the East (Persia or Babylonia) came to Jerusalem.
The Magi were scholarly people who observed and studied the stars. At that time, people believed that upon the birth of a great person there would appear in the heavens a new star. Many pagans, taught by the Jews in dispersion, knew of the coming into the world of the Messiah, the Great King of Israel, Who was to subdue the whole world. Therefore, they waited knowing that on His birth there would appear a new star in the heavens. The wise men were pious people, and the Lord by His mercy gave them such a sign: in heaven there appeared a new, extraordinary star. Having seen this star, the wise men immediately understood that the awaited King had been born. They prepared for the journey and went to the capital of the Jewish kingdom, Jerusalem, to find out where this King was born and to worship Him.
In Jerusalem, the wise men began to ask, “Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the east and are come to worship Him.”
When King Herod heard this he was troubled. He was in everything a cruel and suspicious man. Because of one of his suspicions, he sent his own children to execution. Now, he was especially terrified, afraid that they would seize his power and hand over his royal throne to the newborn King. And all the people of Jerusalem were agitated upon hearing such news.
Herod gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people, men learned in the books of the Holy Scripture, and demanded of them where Christ should be born.
They answered, “In Bethlehem of Judea: for thus it is written by the Prophet Micah.”
Then, Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again that I may come and worship Him also.” In so doing, Herod thought to kill the new born King.
When they had heard the King, the wise men departed; and lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
At that time, the holy elder Joseph and the Most-holy Virgin Mary with the Child lived in the city, in the house where they moved from the cave as the people after the census had begun to disperse.
The wise men came into the house and saw the young child Jesus with His mother. They fell down, and worshiped Him, and presented Him gifts: gold, frankincense (incense), and myrrh (expensive fragrant oil).
By their gifts, the wise men signified that the newborn child Jesus is King, and God, and man. Gold they brought to Him as King (as a tribute, or tax); incense, as God (as incense is used during worship services); and myrrh, as a man who must die (because the deceased were then anointed and rubbed with perfumed oil).
Afterward the Wise Men wanted to return to Jerusalem to Herod, but they were warned by God in a dream that they should have not returned to Herod. Then, they departed into their own country another way.
Tradition preserves the names of the wise men, who then became Christians: Melchior, Gasper and Balthasar. Their memory is celebrated by the Church on the day of the Nativity of Christ.
The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated in the Orthodox Church on the 25th of December. For this great feast we prepare ourselves by keeping the fast, which is called the Nativity Fast (or Advent).
Troparion of the Feast.
Thy, Nativity O Christ our God, hath shined upon the world the light of knowledge; for thereby, they that worshiped the stars were taught by a star to worship Thee, the Sun of righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee.
(“Those who worshiped the stars” were the wise men who studied the sky and worshiped the stars).
Kontakion of the Feast.
Today the Virgin giveth birth to Him Who is transcendent in essence; and the earth offereth a cave to Him Who is unapproachable. Angels with shepherds give glory; with a star the Magi do journey; for our sake a young Child is born, Who is pre-eternal God.
Note: See the Gospel of Luke, 2:1-21. See the Gospel of Matthew, 2:1-12.