Make ready, O Bethlehem: let the manger be prepared, let the cave show its welcome. The truth has come, the shadow has passed away...
On November 15th we begin the forty day period where we proclaim the miracle of God becoming man. This is the time in the Orthodox Church where our attention is drawn to the great mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We await his coming in anticipation of the great joy of His birth on Christmas Day. For our preparation the wisdom of our Church asks us to participate in a fast, with all the inconvenience and discomfort it may bring. If this is a season of such great joy, why is this the practice of Orthodox Christians around the world? Why are we asked to fast when we hear daily the hymn "Hark, the herald angels sing!" almost every place we go?
By our fasting we are reminded that this is not simply the birth of a baby, but God being united with man. It is the moment when the unchangeable is joined with the changeable, eternal life with mortal life, He who holds the universe in His hand and who created all comes in the flesh for our salvation.
Thou who has adorned the vault of heaven with stars has been well pleased to be born as a babe; and Thou Who holds all the ends of the earth in the hallow of Thy hand art laid in a manger of dumb beasts... (Sticheron of Third Hour, Eve of the Nativity)
This is an event that should make us tremble with awe and wonder, bring us to humility and desiring to offer thanksgiving. But are we not engulfed in the secular traditions of this holiday season with its focus on gifts and parties, where the significance of this great event is often less than an afterthought? Do we take time to think about why God was incarnated and became man? Do we reflect on the truth that it is through His becoming one with us that we can now become one with Him? Do we remember that before this event man was not able to overcome the fear of death, held in bondage to sin? The reality is that the Virgin birth of Jesus is the greatest miracle in the history of mankind. Now man can become like God and be united with Him in Paradise with eternal life. With a fast we are preparing for celebration of the beginning of the transformative journey He prepared for our salvation.