This is the Festival of the virgin birth! Our address must be exalted therefore in accordance with the greatness of the feast, and enter into the mystery, as far as this is accessible and permissible, and time allows, that something of its inner power might be revealed even to us. Please strive, brethren, to lift up your minds as well, that they may better perceive the light of divine knowledge, as though brightly illuminated by a holy star. For today I see equality of honour between heaven and earth, and a way up for all those below to things above, matching the condescension of those on high. However great the heaven of heavens may be, or the upper waters which form a roof over the celestial regions, or any heavenly place, state or order, they are no more marvellous or honourable than the cave, the manger, the water sprinkled on the infant and His swaddling clothes. For nothing done by God from the beginning of time was more beneficial to all or more divine than Christ’s nativity, which we celebrate today.
The pre-eternal and uncircumscribed and almighty Word is now born according to the flesh, without home, without shelter, without dwelling, and placed as a babe in the manger, seen by men’s eyes, touched by their hands, and wrapped in layers of swaddling bands. He is not a spiritual creature coming into being after previously not existing; nor flesh which is brought to birth but will soon perish; nor flesh and mind united to form a rational creature, but God and flesh mingled unconfusedly by the divine Mind to form the existence of one theandric hypostasis, who entered the Virgin’s womb for a time. By the good pleasure of the Father and the co-operation of the Spirit, the Word who transcends being came into being in this womb and by means of it, and now He is delivered from it and born as an infant, not loosing but preserving the signs of virginity. He is born without suffering, as He was conceived without passion, for as His mother was shown to be above the pleasure of passion when she conceived, so she is above grievous pains when she gives birth. “Before the pain of travail came upon her, she escaped it” as Isaiah says (Isaiah 66.7 LXX), and she brought forth in the flesh the pre-eternal Word. Not only is His divinity inscrutable, but the manner in which He was united with the flesh is past understanding, His condescension unsurpassable, and the human nature He assumed divinely, ineffably sublime, and so far above all thought and speech, that it does not admit of any comparison with creation. Even though you see in the flesh the child born to the Maid who knew no husband, He is still beyond compare. It says, “He is fair in beauty beside the sons of men” (Psalm 45.2 LXX). It does not say “fairer” but simply “fair”, so as not to compare incomparable things: the nature of God Himself to that of mere men.
“God, thy God”, it says, “hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows” (Psalm 45.7). The same one is both perfect God and perfect man; the same God is both the one who anoints and is anointed. For it says, “God, thy God hath anointed thee.” It is as man that the Word from God the Father is anointed, and He is anointed with the co-eternal Spirit who is of one nature with Him. This is the oil of gladness, which is why, again, it is the same God who is both the divine unction and the one anointed. But although He is anointed as man, as God He has the source of anointing within Himself. That is why he who beheld things in a divine manner saw and foretold that all those anointed by God were partakers of His life. For it is the property of God alone not to partake of the lives of others but to be partaken of, and to have as partakers those who rejoice in the Spirit. Such is the infant born now in the lowly stable, and hymned by us as a babe in the manger. For He who produced all earthly and heavenly things out of non-being, when He saw that His rational creatures were brought to nothing because of their desire for something greater (Genesis 3.5), bestowed upon them Himself, than whom nothing is greater, and to whom nothing is equal or comes near to being equal, and offered Himself to be partaken of by those who so wished, in order that from that time forward we might exercise our desire for something better without risk, although in the beginning we fell into the ultimate danger on that account (1 Corinthians 15.26), and in order that each of us, in desiring to become God, might not only be blameless, but also attain to our longing. In a mysterious way, He abolished the pretext for the original fall, which was the superiority and interiority observable in beings and the resulting envy and treachery, as also the disputes, both open and concealed, which this caused. Because the author of evil did not want to be lower than any of the angels, but to be equal in excellence to the Creator Himself, he was the first to suffer the terrible fall before anyone else. Smitten by envy, he deceitfully attacked Adam and dragged him down to the abyss of Hades by means of the same desire. By so doing, he made Adam’s fall difficult to reverse, and it required God’s extraordinary presence, which has now been accomplished, to restore him. His own fall, however, he rendered incurable once and for all, because he did not acquire his arrogance from anyone else, but became himself the principle of evil and the fulness of evil, and made himself available to anyone wishing to participate in evil.
Now since it was God’s good pleasure to annul the pretext for that pride which brought down His rational creatures, He makes everything like Himself; and because by nature He is equal to Himself and equal in honour, He makes the creation equal to itself by grace and equal in honour. And how was this done? The very Word of God from God emptied Himself in an indescribable way, came down from on high to the lowest state of man’s nature, and indissolubly linked it with Himself, and in humbling Himself and becoming poor like us, He raised on high the things below, or rather, He gathered both things into one, mingling humanity with divinity, and by so doing He taught everyone that humility is the road which leads upwards, setting forth today Himself as an example before men and holy angels alike.
St Gregory Palamas