Hopefully celebrating the birth of Christ will be a step in the way of knowing the source and cause of joy that transcends all aspects and rituals of the celebration. On the day of Christ’s birth, the glory of God has shown and great joy has entered the world” (Luke 2:9-12).
SYMBOLISM OF THE TABERNACLES FEAST
The celebration of the tabernacles Feast, in the Old Testament, is a clear symbol of the joyful celebration of the Nativity Feast. Its events and rituals express their longing for the coming of the Messiah and explain to us the meaning of the Nativity’s celebration.
The Feast of Tabernacles is considered one of the three Jewish pilgrimage feasts, Easter, Pentecost and Tabernacles. Jews celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles between the 15th of Tishri and the 24th of Tishri according to the Hebrew calendar, that is, in late September and early October. The celebration of Tabernacle lasts for 8 days. During the feast’s period, they live in tents [Tabernacles] made of palm leaves and tree branches.
The purpose of celebrating the feast is to tell the generations how they lived in tents in the wilderness, after their departure from Egypt until they reached Canaan (Leviticus 23: 33-43).
The “Feast of Tabernacles” is a clear symbol of the birth of Christ, in terms of living in tents. In the New Testament, Christ made His dwelling among us, according to St. John, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NKJV).
The phrase “dwelt among us”, used by St. John, is “ἐσκήνωσε ἐν ἡμῖν”in Greek. Its literal meaning is “tabernacled among us” or “pitched His tent in our midst”. On the other hand, the birth of Christ gave us the hope of glory. We are in the wilderness living in our earthly tents, our temporal residence. We long to settle in our eternal home, heavenly Jerusalem (2 Corinthians 5: 1).
On the last day of the Tabernacles Feast, the priests of the temple bring water from the pool of Siloam and pour it the temple, in the presence of the people. “Siloam” is translated as “the sent”, who is the Messiah sent by God (John 9:7).
Pouring the water symbolizes the knowledge of God that would cover the world at the coming of the Messiah, as it is written in the prophets (Isaiah 11:9, Jeremiah 31:34).
These prophecies and rites of pouring the water, in the Tabernacles Feast, have been fulfilled through the coming of Jesus Christ. On the last day of the Tabernacles Feast, the Lord Jesus presented Himself that He is the coming Messiah (John 7:37-38, NKJV).
The celebration of the Tabernacles Feast includes another feature. On the last day of the feast, the people light torches and place them around the walls of the Temple. For them, it is a sign that the Messiah would be a light for the world.
According to Isaiah, the Messiah would be “a light for the nations”, until the salvation of God reaches to “the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:2- 6). Malachi the Prophet called the Messiaا, the “sun of righteousness” (Malachi 4:2).
The true light has shone upon the world through the Lord Jesus Christ. On the next day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and while the light of the torches were around the temple, Jesus came to the temple and presented Himself as the light of life ( John 8:12). The Father shone His light, in Jesus Christ, on those were in the darkness and who sit in the shadow of death (Matthew 4:16).
JOY OF THE FATHER
The true joy of Nativity, goes beyond the joy for the visible scenes and the events of Christ’s birth. It increases, by the Holy Spirit in us, until it reaches fellowship with the heart of God the Father Himself, in his joy for the birth of His Son. “Our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3, NKJV).
God is spirit (John 4:24), and He is not just a mere power that does not have feelings. Rather, He is the “living God and an everlasting King” (Jeremiah 10:10). Many verses of the Bible describe Him while He rejoices and grieves, as in (Isaiah 62: 5, Genesis 6: 6). St. Paul the Apostle calls Him as “the blessed God” and also “the joyful [Μακαρίου] God”, as the Greek word “Μακαρίου” convey (1 Timothy 1:11).
1. JOYFUL AT THE BIRTH OF HIS SON
The day of the birth of Jesus is a day of great and unspeakable joy in the heart of the Heavenly Father. On this day, His own Son, the only begotten Son, was born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2, Matthew 2:1-2, Luke 2:4, Luke 2:15, John 1:18). On this day also, the Heavenly Father has begun to be called “the father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 1: 3, 2 Corinthians 11:31, Ephesians 1: 3, 1 Peter 1: 3).
How great would be the joy of an earthly father, if he knew how loving and obedient his baby born would be! The Heavenly Father knows His baby born, His love and His obedient before the foundation of the world.
Jesus is the Father’s beloved Son, who pleased the Father’s heart (Matthew 3:17, Luke 9:35). He is the Son who loved His Heavenly Father. Jesus said, “the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment, so I do” (John 14:31, NKJV).
Jesus, “who, existing in the form of God, did not consider being equal with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself by taking the form of a slave, by becoming in the likeness of people. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient [to His Father] to the point of death, that is, death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8, LEB).
How marvelous is the Father’s joy at the birth of His Son! On Nativity Feast, we celebrate with the Heavenly Father His happiness and joy at the birth of His Son.
Through His abundant love, the Father gave us, not only to share His joy, but also the subject of His joy, His Son Jesus Christ. The Father promised that He would give us a Son, as a sign, and He fulfilled His promise by giving us Jesus by His Holy Spirit and through the virgin St. Mary. (Isaiah 9:6, Matthew 1: 22-23).
In the Coptic Orthodox Church, all the the readings and rites, during the Coptic month Koyahk and the Nativity Feast, focus on uplifting the hearts of the people toward the joy with the Heavenly Father, at the birth of His son. He promised to give us His Son and He fulfilled His promise and Jesus was born of St Mary, by the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:22-23).
The Father draws us, by His Spirit, to His Son (John 6:44). He pours His love in our hearts His love and joy to His Son. “Whoever loves the father loves the one who is born of him again” (1 John 5: 1). He who loves the Son and keeps His commands, the Father and the Son love Him.
2. JOYFUL AT FULFILLING HIS PLANS
The Heavenly Father rejoices in fulfillment of His eternal plans and purposes. He said, “I am God and there is none besides me, God and there is none like me, who from the beginning declares the end, and from before, things that have not been done, who says, ‘My plan shall stand,’ and, ‘I will accomplish all my wishes” (Isaiah 46:9-10, LEB).
Before the creation of the world, the baby born in Bethlehem was the eternal word of God, who was with God (John 1: 1, Revelation 19:13). God the Father loved Him before the foundation of the world. The Father chose Him to be the Lamb “without blemish and without spot”, to “take away the sin of the world” (John 17:24, 1 Peter 1: 19, John 1: 29). The Heavenly Father chose us in Christ, before the world was established, to be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1: 4).
The Father revealed His plans and purposes to the prophets. After the fall, He promised Eve that Christ would come from her seed to crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). He also revealed the birth of Christ from a virgin (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23), and His birthplace in Bethlehem (Micah 5: 2, Matthew 2: 5-6). The Law, the prophets and the Psalms spoke many things concerning Christ, by the inspiration of the Father’s Spirit (Luke 24:44, 2 Peter 1:21).
At the birth of Christ, all the plans and the purposes of God the Father, revealed to the prophets, have begun to be put into action. When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (Galatians 4:4, John 1:14).
At the birth of Christ, it pleased the Father to see the fulfillment of His divine plans of sending His Son to the world.
The Coptic Orthodox Church do not focus on the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus, in the readings and the rites, during the Coptic month Koyahk and the Nativity Feast. for the church, the time of Christ’s birth of Christ is “the fullness of time” (Galatians 4: 4), in “the last days” (Micah 4: 1).
The Gospel reading , on Nativity Feast’s eve, is about the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2). The Gospel of the Shepherds’ visit (Luke 2) is read on the day before the Nativity Feast (the Paramoun). It is well known that the visit of the Magi took place about two years after the birth of the Lord Jesus.
The message of the readings, at the eve of the Nativity Feast, is not only to declare the nature of Christ represented by the gifts of the Magi, but also to declare that Christ is above time. He is the eternal word of God who became flesh, according to the plan and purposes of the Father. He also lives at all times forever (John 1: 1, Hebrews 7:25).
The divine liturgy, at any time, is a living celebration of the divine plan, the life of Jesus Christ and His second coming, through communion in Christ’s body and blood (Luke 22:19, 1 Corinthians 10:16, 1 Corinthians 11:25-26).
The texts and rituals of the divine liturgy convey this meaning as in St. Gregory liturgy: “Therefore O our Master, as we commemorate Your coming to earth, Your life giving death, Your burial for three days, Your resurrection from the dead, Your ascension into the heavens, Your sitting at the right hand of your Father, and Your second coming from the heavens, awesome and full of glory, we offer unto you Your gifts from what is yours, for everything, concerning everything, and in everything”
3. JOYFUL AT HIS WORKS
The Heavenly Father rejoices at all His works (Psalm 104:31). On the six day of the creation, He saw all that He had made and “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). He rejoices over Zion “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride” (Isaiah 62:5, NIV). He takes delight in His people and doing good to them (Isaiah 65:19, Jeremiah 32:41).
When it comes to the new creation, the Father rejoices at His great work with the birth of Christ, the firstborn of all creation, the head of all creation [according to the Greek origin] (Colossians 1:15).
The Spirit of the Father came upon the Virgin St Mary. She became pregnant without knowing a man by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35, Psalms 139: 13). The Father preserved the virginity of the Virgin before and after the birth of the child Jesus (Ezekiel 44: 2).
God the Father named the baby born, “Jesus”. In Hebrew, the name “Jesus” is “Yahshua”, which means “Yahweh saves”. The Father would save His people from their sins, through Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:21).
On the day of Christ born, the glory of the Heavenly Father shown around the shepherds. A great company of the heavenly host appeared, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2: 9, Luke 2:13-14, NKJV). To save the child from being killed by Herod, the Father sent His angel with His message to Joseph to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2: 16-21)
4ِ. JOYFUL AT HIS DWELLING
Before the creation of the world, the Father chose His elect. He has longed and desired to live in their midst. This is His resting place forever for He has desired them (Psalms 132:13-14). The plan of God the Father has been to make His people temples of His Spirit, in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:16).
The day of the birth of the Lord Jesus is a day of joy for the Heavenly Father because on this day he has come to dwell among his people, in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The joy and praise of the angels on the day of the birth of Christ was a reflection of the Father’s joy. He rejoiced for His coming to dwell in the midst of His people. According to Zephaniah, the Father came in the midst of His people, rejoicing over them with a song (Zephaniah 3: 16-17).
In Jesus Christ, the fullness of divinity dwells (Colossians 2: 9). The most debated statements of Jesus, by His enemies, were, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30), “the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10) and “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11). Jesus spoke of His body as the real temple of God (Matthew 26:61).
The Father who dwells in Jesus did the works (John 14:10). “The Spirit of Yahweh was upon Him.The Father has anointed Him to preach good news to the poor. He sent Him to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. He sent Him to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn (Isaiah 61:1-2).This was accomplished as written in (Luke 4:18).
Jesus is also called “Emmanuel”, a revelation of the presence of the Father with us, in Christ Jesus (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh” (1 Timothy 3:16).
The true joy of Nativity is not of this world, it is glorious (1 Peter 1: 8). It is the joy of the Heavenly Father and proceeds from Him. It is one of the Holy Spirit’s fruits (Galatians 5:22). The Father is called, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3, NKJV). The “joy of the Lord” is our “strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, NKJV).
Happy Nativity Feast!
Fr Abraam Sleman