As a Christmas Gift, I would like to give you the first part of St. Gregory’s Oration 38 (translated by Fr. George D. Dragas). This section is an exhortation to the proper celebration of the Feast. The second part is a theological discussion of the Incarnation, with refuations of the pagans and heretics. If you would like to read the whole text, please go to http://www.saintjohnthebaptist.org/articles/GREGORY_NAZ.htm.
I. Let us Celebrate Christmas.
Christ is born; glorify Him. Christ from heaven; go out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the earth (Ps. 96:1,11); and (to join both in one word) Let the heavens rejoice; and let the earth be glad for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh; rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope. Christ of a Virgin; O you Women live as Virgins, that you may be Mothers of Christ. Who does not worship Him Who is from the beginning? Who does not glorify Him Who is the Last?
II. Why we celebrate Christmas.
Again the darkness is past; again Light is made; again Egypt is punished with darkness; again Israel is enlightened by a pillar (Ex. 14:20). Let the people that sat in the darkness of ignorance see the Great Light of full knowledge (Is. 9:6). The old things are passed away, behold all things have become new (I Cor. 5:17). The letter gives way; the Spirit comes to the front. The shadows flee away; the Truth comes in upon them. Melchisedec is summoned to appear (Heb. 7:3). He that was without Mother becomes without Father (without Mother of His former state, without Father of His second). The laws of nature are overcome; the world above must be completed. Christ commands it, let us not set ourselves against Him. O clap your hands together all you people (Ps. 47:1), because a Child is born to us, and a Son is given to us, Whose Government is upon His shoulder (for He took it up through the Cross), and His Name is called “The Angel of the Great Counsel of the Father” (Is. 9:6). Let John cry, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (Mat. 3:3): I too will cry out the power of this Day. He Who is not carnal is Incarnate; the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ the Same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever (Heb. 13:8). Let the Jews be offended, let the Greeks deride (I Cor. 1:23); let heretics talk till their tongues ache. Then shall they believe, when they see Him ascending up into heaven; and if not then, yet when they see Him coming out of heaven and sitting as Judge.
III. The Meaning of Christmas.
Of these on a future occasion; for the present the Festival is the Theophany or Birthday, for it is called both, two titles being given to the one thing. For God was manifested to man by birth. On the one hand Being, and eternally Being, of the Eternal Being, above cause and word, for there was no word before The Word; and on the other hand for our sakes also Becoming, that He Who gives us our being might also give us our Well-being, or rather might restore us by His Incarnation, when we had by wickedness fallen from well-being. The name Theophany is given to it in reference to the Manifestation, and that of Birthday in respect of His Birth.
IV. Let us Celebrate Christmas In A Godly Manner.
This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating today, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth (Eph. 4:22,24), or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God – that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ (I Cor. 15:22), being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him (Col. 2:11). For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so the more blissful must come out of the painful. For where sin abounded Grace did much more abound (Rom. 5:20); and if a taste condemned us, how much more does the Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.
V. Let Us Not Celebrate Christmas In A Pagan Manner.
And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches, nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, nor enchant the ear with music, nor stimulate the nostrils with perfume, nor prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin; let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness, nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold (Rom. 13:13), or the tricks of color, belying the beauty of nature, and invented to obscure the image of God; Not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled, I know well, in fornication and wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil; or rather the harvests of worthless seeds are worthless. Let us not set up high beds of luxury, making shrines for the belly of what belongs to debauchery. Let us not toast with fragrant wines, the specialties of cooks, the great expense of perfumes. Let not sea and land bring us as a gift their precious refuse, for it is thus that I have learnt to estimate luxury; and let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance (for to my mind every superfluity is intemperance, and all which is beyond absolute need),-and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner.
VI. What is The Difference Between Pagan And Christian Celebrations.
Let us leave all these to the Pagan Greeks and to the pomp and festivals of the Pagan Greeks, who call by the name of gods beings who rejoice in the stench of sacrifices, and who consistently worship with their belly; evil inventors and worshippers of evil demons. But we, the Object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories; especially such as are the origin of this Feast; that our luxury may be akin to and not far removed from Him Who has called us together. Or do you desire (for to-day I am your entertainer) that I should set before you, my good Guests, the story of these things as abundantly and as nobly as I can, that you may know how a foreigner can feed the natives of the land, and villager people of the town, and one who cares not for luxury those who delight in it, and one who is poor and homeless those who are eminent for wealth?
St. Gregory’s strictures on celebration might be considered somewhat strict, but I think his point is well taken. How can we celebrate with luxuries and gold, when there are people who have nothing to eat and no place to live? He condemns the intemperance of the celebration; a truly temperate celebration would include using the money saved to help those in need.