Contemplation on The Royal Hours on Christmas Eve: First Hour

Righteous Joseph the Betrothed. Righteous Joseph the Betrothed.

Mt. 1:18-25

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.

Our Lord is born today, let us rejoice and be glad! No one may be sad today no matter what sorrow there be, no matter what losses we have suffered, because today is a festival of life for everyone. There is no more fear of death, for in the love that Christ has revealed to us there is no fear, and He gives to all the joy of eternal life.

Let no one be outside of this joy, because the cause of joy is common to all. Having been born in order to destroy sin and death, not finding anyone who could reach Him in heaven, our Lord came in order to reach all on Earth. Let all the saints exalt today, for this is the day of their triumph. Let sinners rejoice, for they are invited to receive forgiveness. Let those who do not know God spurn despair, for they too are called to life. Let the angels leap for joy more joyfully than the forefather of God, David, at the ark of the covenant and sing, “Glory to God in the Highest!” and spread the glad tidings to those on Earth who love God.

St. Irenaus of Lyons says, “The glory of God is a living man; human life is the vision of God.” Since that time, when the Son of God became what we are so that we would become what He is, it has become impossible to separate our astonishment before the mystery of God from our astonishment before the mystery of man. All true prayer directed at God unites us with people of all the earth and even of all times. And all true service to man rises to God as the most precious praise, a spiritual fragrance.

The nativity of Christ is an absolutely unfathomable mystery, a free gift of God’s grace. No human effort, be it the greatest and most noble, can force God to descend from the heavens. We can only receive Him as the grace He offers. In the Mother of God this was not only received by the heart, but also sealed by her entire being. That is why she is a Virgin in both soul and body. She so gives herself to God that in her, through her is made perfect the absolutely free gift of the eternal God to the human race—“Unto us a Son is given,” the Lord in our flesh. He is not of this world, but from above (Jn. 8:23), and she is therefore Ever Virgin.

We must bring worship to the mystery of the Nativity of Christ, and not investigation. If we do not know the way of the spirit, nor how bones do grow in a mother’s womb (Eccl. 11:5), even less so can we know how the Most Holy Lord was woven in the womb of His Most Holy Mother. The Nativity of Christ was from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, as we confess in the Symbol of Faith [the Creed]. It was announced by the Angel and preached in the Scriptures. The Gospel of Matthew cites the prophecy of Isaiah: “A virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” The teaching of the virgin birth of the Savior is a God-revealed truth. Having created the world, the Holy Spirit now creates the Savior of the world. The Creator of the world, Who blew across the waters and confirmed life at the dawn of creation, He Who acted in the creation of the first man, works a miracle of all ages that is called the Incarnation. God, Who created man out of nothing, Who created woman from the man without the participation of woman and man, now creates Jesus of Nazareth without the participation of a man. The holiness of these words is comprehended only through the activity in us of the Holy Spirit, Who has wrought the mystery of the Incarnation.

The Angel of the Lord, Who appeared to Joseph, tells him to name the Child Jesus—the Savior. “He shall save His people from their sins,” from the guilt of sin by the gift of His death on the Cross, and from the reign of sin by the gift of the grace of Pentecost. Saving us from sin, he saves us from death. The name Emmanual, meaning, “God is with us,” is the assurance that He will always participate in our lives. It is also a reminder of the Paschal mystery of the Gospel of John, where we learn that “The Word was with God”—in the Divine Trinitarian Unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit—from eternity. He left the glory that He had before the foundation of the world in order to be with us.

What shall we bring to the Infant God born in Bethlehem, so that we might be with Him? Usually we speak of the shepherds’ praise along with the angels and of the gifts of the Magi. But from today’s Gospel telling of the Nativity of Christ, a ray falls upon Righteous Joseph. He is a chosen one of God and chosen of the Mother of God to be the guardian of her virginity. It was meet that the birth of the Most Pure Savior be protected by marriage and justified in the eyes of a blind world. Not one daughter of Eve was so magnified by God as the Most Pure Virgin; nevertheless, she was threatened with being accused of one of the worst of crimes. It was said of Joseph that he was righteous. But didn’t his thoughts go further than righteousness? His righteousness is as inalienable from his mercy as truth is from love. True righteousness is not legalistic self-assurance that wants to be correct at any price, no matter who might suffer from it. His deep desire is that goodness and rightness, love and truth would triumph together. And we see the obedience of Joseph to the angel—unconditional and quick. His faith is perfect trust, perfect obedience, perfect resolve to do everything that God says. True faith is in this—in faithfulness to God’s will. Everything that he does is for the sake of forestalling the possibility of scandal and finger pointing. And he withstands this firmly, hoping more in God than in people, showing true dedication under circumstances in which the majority of us would try to avoid responsibility.

Righteous Joseph is the last in the genealogy of the Savior, because he lived by faith and hope that “all is possible to God.” And we have much to learn from him. If the demands of the Gospel can seem to some of us to be too lofty, we can begin at least with this—with the Old Testament, with this man who showed such courage and faithfulness to God before seeing the Resurrection of Christ, before entering the New Testament. He goes further than the limitedness of the Law and allows Christ, the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, to come to us. We believe in the one Lord Jesus Christ, Who was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, thanks to her perfect faith. But haven’t we also become through the gift of Christ a new creation in a new birth—Baptism and Chrismation—from the Holy Spirit and our reciprocal faith? Don’t we know that the beginning of our new being in Christ is the power of the Holy Spirit and the intercession for us by the Mother of God?

“Fear not,” says the angel to Righteous Joseph. “Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy,” says God through the angel to all people, “for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord.” Up till now you were sorrowful, because you were dying. But now, rejoice, for life has appeared, so that you would live in eternal joy with God. “Unto us a Child is born,” He belongs to us, He is given to each of us. All the saints became saints because they accepted this gift. However, God offers Himself not only to the chosen ones of God, but to all of us. He accepts us as we are. We only need to accept Him. We need to see Him, recognize Him, to believe in Him and come to love Him. God has come to dwell among us. The Son of God has become a man, so that we would become sons of God in Him.

Archpriest Alexander Shargunov
Translation by

6 января 2015 г.

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