After the nine months of pregnancy, the appropriate time came for Christ to be born. This took place in Bethlehem in Judaea, where Joseph and the Virgin Mary had gone in accordance with the order issued by Caesar Augustus that all the inhabitants of the Roman Empire should be registered.
St Luke the Evangelist refers to the fact that the Virgin Mary gave birth to her firstborn Son, wrapped Him in swaddling bands and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
“So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6-7).
St Theophylact comments that the registration took place so that everyone would go back to his home country, “and the virgin to Bethlehem, her own country, so that the Lord would be born in Bethlehem in fulfilment of the prophecy.”
The All-Holy Virgin gave birth to Christ in difficult circumstances, indicative of the state of humankind.
St John Chrysostom remarks that he knows that the Virgin brought forth eternal God, but he wants to honour the manner of the birth with silence. “I know that the Virgin gave birth today, and I believe that God begot Him outside time, but I have learned to honour the manner of the birth with silence, and I have undertaken not to enquire into these things unduly with words.” The same Father states: “I see her who gave birth, I perceive Him Who was born, but I cannot understand the manner of the birth.” This is because “Where God wills, nature and the natural order are overcome.” The event of the birth did not take place according to the laws of nature, but “the miracle is beyond nature” because “nature did nothing and the will of the Master acted.” “The Only-Begotten before all ages, Who is inapproachable, simple and incorporeal, entered into my corruptible and visible body.” He did this in order to teach us by looking at Him, and to lead us “to what is unseen.”
St John Chrysostom uses an example from created reality to describe the conception of Christ and His birth from His Virgin Mother. A craftsman fashions his finest vessel from the best material can find. In the same way, Christ adorned a living temple for Himself when He found “the holy body and soul of the virgin”. Having fashioned the man within the Virgin in the way that He wished, “He came forth today, feeling no shame on account of the ugliness of [human] nature.” She gave birth to Him “as the One Who was born wanted to be born.” This is the mystery. Such a birth was impossible in nature, so Christ the Master of nature “introduced a strange manner of birth”, in order to show that, even when He becomes man, He is not born as a man “but is born as God.”
There are points of similarity between the birth of the Son from the Virgin and the creation of Eve from Adam. As God created Eve from Adam’s rib without in any way diminishing Adam, so He fashioned a living temple within the Virgin without harming her virginity. Adam remained whole after the removal of the rib, and the Virgin “remained undefiled” after the birth of the infant.
St John Chrysostom goes on to say that Christ was placed in the manger so that “He Who nourishes all things might receive a child’s nourishment from a virgin mother.” For that reason the Father of the ages to come “accepts to be held in the virgin’s arms as an infant at the breast, in order that He might be accessible even to the Magi.”
Christ “lies in a manger, and He shakes the world. He is wrapped in swaddling-bands, and He will tear the bonds of sin asunder.” A mystery unfolds at the birth of Christ: “Behold, an infant is wrapped in swaddling-bands and lies in a manger. Mary is also present, a virgin and a mother.”
Everything that takes place in the cave and the manger is paradoxical. The central person is Christ, but also His Mother. The hymn-writer observes that the cave becomes heaven and the Virgin a cherubic throne:
“I see a strange and wonderful mystery: the cave is heaven, the Virgin the throne of the Cherubim, the manger the place in which Christ, the God Whom nothing can contain, is laid. We praise and magnify Him.”
The hymn-writer sees the Virgin Mary after the birth holding Christ in her arms, and thinks that she is like the Cherubim, who hold the throne of God.
“Like the Cherubim the Virgin makes a throne, carrying in her bosom God the Word made flesh.”
Another troparion extols the Virgin Mary for the birth of Christ the Saviour.
“Come, let us sing the praises of the Mother of the Saviour, who remained a Virgin after childbearing. Rejoice, living City of God the King, in which Christ dwelt and wrought salvation. With Gabriel we sing your praise, with the shepherds we give glory as we cry: Mother of God, intercede with Him Who was incarnate of you, that we may be saved.”
Iconographers portray the Virgin Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God, in two basic attitudes, expressing two theological teachings. Some depict the Virgin Mary half-lying and half-sitting, because they want to demonstrate the absence of labour pains and the fact that Christ is God. By showing the Mother of God in this position, they wish to oppose Nestorianism, which asserted that the All-Holy Virgin gave birth to Christ and not to God. Others portray Mary the Theotokos lying down as an expression of weariness after the birth. They do this to make the theological statement that the incarnation of God was real and not imaginary, and to oppose Docetism. In both cases the face of the Theotokos expresses the mystery, her regal majesty, her silence and respect for God Who became man. Her hands show that she is praying.
The Virgin Mary, the Most Holy Mother of God, lived through many mysteries at the birth of Christ. She heard the angels singing Christ’s praises. She saw the shepherds coming to worship the divine infant. “And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16).
As well as offering their veneration, the shepherds related everything that the Angel had told them. When they had seen Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger, “they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marvelled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” Whereas other people marvelled, however, “Mary kept all these things [rēmata – literally: words] and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:17-19).
St Theophylact, explaining what these rēmata ‘words’ were that the Theotokos kept and pondered in her heart, writes that some people think that the Most Holy Mother of God retained the words that the angel had spoken to her and everything that the shepherds had said, and “she compared them and found in all of them a consistent opinion that her Son was God.” However, St Theophylact believes that rēmata here means ‘things’ or ‘events’, because “once a thing has been said it becomes a word.”
Thus she did not keep in her heart the words of the angels and shepherds, nor did she compare them to find agreement that Christ is the Son of God, because she knew about His divinity, but she retained the events themselves, which proclaimed everything that she believed.
Mary the Mother of God was also present during the visit of the Magi, according to St Matthew the Evangelist. “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshipped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matt. 2:11).
St John Chrysostom remarks that the Magi did not worship and offer gifts because “the Virgin was notable”, nor because the house was “distinguished”, nor on account of anything else that they saw that was capable of surprising or attracting them, but on account of Christ Who was God.
At the Birth of Christ, Mary the Theotokos found herself at the epicentre of global history, at the event of the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, and she stood in silence, praying and glorifying God, as the Queen of heaven who had given birth to Christ the King.
extract from the book THE FEASTS OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
The icon is from the iconostasis of the main church of our Monastery.