THE FRIDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS
(Friday, December 22)
“Prepare, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all! Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, for the tree of life blossoms forth from the Virgin in the cave! Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit: If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!” (Troparion, Forefeast of Nativity)
It’s the Friday before Christmas, or “a” Friday before Christmas, for those of us who will celebrate it in January. If we reflect on the biblical meaning of “Friday” (the day of the Crucifixion and the Sixth Day of Creation, when God created Adam and Eve) in the context of the Forefeast of Christmas, we will make the kinds of connections that the above-quoted hymn is making, between “the beginning” (of creation) and the Event that unfolded in Bethlehem: “Christ comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning!”
This is part of our preparation for the upcoming feast, making these kinds of connections. In the above-quoted hymn, when it says, “Prepare, O Bethlehem” and “Adorn yourself, O Ephratha (another name for Bethlehem)!” it is urging *us* to prepare and to adorn ourselves, to receive the New Life we are about to welcome into, and bring forth from, our own “womb” and our own “cave.” Here He is called both the Tree of Life and the Divine Fruit, because He will elevate Himself on the “tree” of the Cross, and offer Himself to us, as the Divine Fruit that hangs from that tree. “If we eat of it, (of His Body and Blood), we shall live forever and not die like Adam.” Christ will hijack the symbols or images chosen by the serpent, – a tree, fruit, the human being, and even the serpent-in-the-tree, transfiguring those images through Himself and making them salvific for us, and no longer deadly.
Christ comes to “restore” that whole picture of our common “fall,” by which we have been traumatized; He “comes to restore the image which He made in the beginning,” first and foremost us, human beings. We need not forget the traumatizing image of our initial “fall”; He heals that picture in our heads and hearts, by placing Himself in it, and inviting us henceforth to walk through it in and with Him, listening to Him and not the old serpent. We need no longer to hide ourselves in the bushes, as did Adam and Eve; we need no longer to disparage ourselves or our own “womb,” into which He offers Himself and makes into “a spiritual paradise planted with the Divine Fruit.” Let me make peace with myself and others, as I do some dignifying house-cleaning and house-decorating before Christmas. And let me come out and receive Him, Who makes my “cave” into a spiritual paradise.
(PS: Pictured here is Bethlehem at night.)