“Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, / And the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! / Angels with shepherds glorify Him! / The wise men journey with a star! / Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!” (Byzantine Kontakion-Hymn of the Nativity)
I’ll just come out and say it: I like seeing the Magi (or Wise Men) in Nativity scenes and Nativity icons, together with the shepherds and various animals in the cave. Even though, as pedants like me may remind you, the Magi clearly came later, entering a “house,” – not a cave – where they found Mother and Child and knelt down before Him (just read Matthew 2). But at the time of Christ’s birth they actually still “journey with a star,” as it says in the Kontakion quoted above. So the Magi and the shepherds celebrated “Christmas” at different times. And yet in our popular perception, in Nativity scenes and plays, and in present-day Byzantine tradition, we group them together, because they are participants in one “mystery,” of greeting Him after He is born.
Today we also celebrate His Nativity at different times, for rather different reasons. As most of the Christian world enters the celebration of Christ’s Nativity today, those of us on the Older Calendar do not. I’m thinking about this because I also belong to, and grew up in, a church-community that celebrates Christmas two weeks from now. From early childhood I’ve known the strange feeling of anticipating Christmas, while our neighbours’ Christmas trees were already discarded on their front lawns or sidewalks.
Despite the awkward reality of different calendars, I am reminded today that we are, indeed, participants in one Mystery, of greeting Him upon His birth. While some of us still “journey with a star,” continuing the Nativity Fast, I wish all of you who are greeting Him now a blessed feast. Whether you are with family, or lonely, or far away from home, may His birth in a lonely cave in the insignifiant town of Bethlehem be a source of peace and joy and comfort in His Holy Spirit. Have a blessed Christmas, “Since for our sake,” for all of us, “the Eternal God is born as a Little Child.”