“O people, let us celebrate the Forefeast of Christ’s Nativity! Let us raise our minds on high, as we go up to Bethlehem in spirit! With spiritual thoughts, let us contemplate the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to the Lord and God of all! Joseph, as he contemplated the greatness of the wonders, thought that he saw only a human Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, but from all that came to pass he discovered the Child to be the true God, Who grants the world great mercy.” (Stichera-hymn of Byzantine Vespers, December 20)

Today is the first day of the “Forefeast” (Προεόρτια, Предпразднство) of the Nativity (NC). The five days of the Nativity-Forefeast are traditionally a time of intensified fasting and intensified focus on the “vision” of the upcoming feast. As we can see in the above-quoted hymn, we are invited to “raise our minds on high” and place ourselves in the midst of the world-changing Event, unfolding in and through the lives of the Virgin and Joseph; to “go up to Bethlehem in spirit,” and to “contemplate the Virgin as she hastens to the cave…”

In the midst of the pre-Christmas hustle-and-bustle, when we’re perhaps “hastening” not to a cave in Bethlehem, but to shopping-malls and grocery stores, let me take pause and “contemplate” the “great mercy” of Christ’s humble, quiet coming into my life. Let me not be stressed, but rather blessed, by my preparations for the feast, letting myself come to the One Who is coming, and meet Him in honesty and gratitude. “Let us raise our minds on high, as we go up to Bethlehem in spirit!”