I recall my first interview for an internship position as an undergraduate student. I was excited, as I was hoping to start a professional job over the summer. I went to a nearby Walmart to buy my first suit, and on the way back, I stopped by the barber for a fresh haircut. I spend the night researching the company, and I practiced all of the hypothetical questions that the interviewer might ask me. Then I made sure to print my resume on thick, cotton paper, and I prayed before and after the interview. The next morning, I asked my friend to give me a ride, so that I wouldn’t have to walk in my brand new suit. It was a memorable day in my life to say the least; I was interviewing for a professional summer job.
Typically, applying for a new job, or meeting a particular person of importance requires a step up from your daily sweatpants or messy hairstyle. Conversely, when God incarnated, He made meeting Him require a step down. He had no fancy home, friends in high places, elegant clothes, or even good food. His family was on the run for the first few years of His life. If we want to meet God, we need to imitate His Incarnation and allow ourselves less luxury, less food, less comfort, less prestige- and we certainly do not need to buy a brand new suit. The Incarnation of our Lord is an invitation to practice a simpler life. This simplicity is not only a matter of what we own, but it is a matter of the heart. Bitterness in poverty is not simple. Simplicity is a state in which I can say, “I am content, and thankful with all that I have.” The good news is that Our Lord took the lowest form, this way everyone is able to approach Him. We just need to step down, lower our voices, turn off the distractions, and sit with Him.
God is revealed in His simplicity
St. Athanasius proposed two reasons for the incarnation. One reason is to reveal the knowledge of God to humanity. After the fall, human beings had their sights only on bodily and material matters. God wanted us to know Him, but how could we know Him after the fall? If the knowledge of God was hidden after the sin of Adam, who then could take the responsibility of revealing the Father? God did not want to give up on His creation, because humans are honorable creatures. We have the theological gift of sharing the image of God. Therefore, God preserved us and decided to reveal Himself to us. The image of God was weakened and it was distorted, but it was never entirely lost. Because the creation couldn’t know the Father with this deteriorating image and ignorance of God, Our Lord was incarnate so that we may know Him.
When Christ, the image of the Father, came to the world, He revealed Himself to us through His beautiful attributes. Our Lord is merciful beyond the sand of the sea, He is humble under the feet of His creation, and is forgiving to those who sin against Him. God wanted us to know that He is simple. He is not attached to anything in the world, and He is willing to do anything for us. We meet God when we imitate His image and becoming willing to do anything for our neighbor. In His simplicity, our Lord used to pray overnight in secret. When one of His disciples wanted to sell Him, they sold Him at the price tag of a slave, and when He left the world, He had 120 frightened and doubtful followers. The wisdom of God is incomprehensible, but He made His knowledge accessible to the poorest of the poor, and the least educated. He does not require fame or millions of YouTube followers. His companionship is open to those who choose simplicity. Each time I complain about the food that my mom makes, the car that my dad drives, my old phone, or my unfashionable clothes, I am walking away from the simplicity of our Creator. I am walking away from the knowledge of God.
A Song of St. Ephraim the Syrian for the Birth of Christ
BLESSED be that Child, Who gladdened Bethlehem today!
Blessed be the Babe Who made humanity young again today!
Blessed be the Fruit, Who lowered Himself to our starving state!
Blessed He Whose tender mercies made Him condescend to visit our infirmities!
Glory to Thy coming, which quickened the sons of men!
Glory to the Silence, that spake by His Voice.
Glory to that Hidden One, Whose Son was made manifest!
Glory to that Living One, Whose Son was made to die!
Glory to that Great One, Whose Son descended and was small!
Blessed be He Whom free will crucified, because He let it: blessed be He Whom the wood also did bear, because He allowed it.
Blessed He whose changes purchased life for human nature.
God is Born Inside My Simple Heart
Simplicity means that nothing can be added or taken away from my inner peace and joy. Our Lord took the form of a servant, willingly, to raise us to adoption. God made us His children. “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you,” John 15:15. This adoption occurred by the dwelling of God within my heart. If God is within me, He calls me His child, and I hear His Voice in my heart… what more could I need? The presence of God in my heart is the real driving force of simplicity. I am content because of Who is within me.
You might be wondering: “how do I know that Christ is working inside of me?” The simple answer is that we know the work of Christ by the spiritual fruits in our lives. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” John 15:2. We must be fruitful as the children of God. Life cannot go on without any real, internal change. You might ask, “What are examples of spiritual fruits?” The fruits are the work of the Spirit within our lives that make us simpler, give easily, love thoughtlessly, refrain from anger, to be faithful and honest, choose the humble path, desire God- basically, to become Christ-like. The knowledge of God does not come only from observation of the life of Christ, but through Christ working inside of me.
The question becomes, “How can I allow God’s invisible hand to work inside of me?” There are two levels of this ever-growing union between Christ and the soul. First comes from being instructed by the Word of God with fear and trembling. “But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” Isaiah 66:2. All the saints of the church used to spend hours with the scripture. They did not seek an intellectual understanding only, but they allowed the Word to move them and change them and, more importantly, allowed them to transform their actions. They memorized large portions of the scripture because of the frequency of their reading.
When was the last time a verse moved me and pushed me to make changes in my life? Do I always rush to find an easier explanation, so I don’t have to carry a heavy spiritual load? Do I want the verse “pray without ceasing” to mean something different? Or do I want to seek God to help me pray without ceasing? Now, the scripture, read diligently, springs up the fear of God. God’s fear is realizing that God is present, and practicing His commandments makes a difference in my life. It is the force that motivates me to practice His commandments. I am running out of time, and I have wasted much of my past. The fear of God leads to detachment of the world, which is finding joy outside this world’s pleasure. The second level comes after the fear of God instilled in us. The psalmist said, “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant” Psalm 25:14. God reveals His secrets to us. The adoption of God becomes much more tangible. I know with certainty that I am His child, and His eyes are on me. He dwells in me, and He speaks to me. My prayers are connecting me with Him. I am praying with faith.
In this second step, desires are transformed to become Christ’s desires. I become selfless, always rejoicing, and enjoy my simple life in Christ.
The night of the incarnation is a pure night; the purist Being came here to make us pure; He came to make me His child. He came that all of what we are may become one in Him, “in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ” Ephesians 1:10. The goal of the incarnation is that we unite with God to become His children, “bringing my sons to glory” Hebrews 2:10. When I look at the manger, I ask myself how much am I truly willing to give up all while keeping a joyful heart? Am I ready to resist my own opinions and desires? Am I willing to delay my cup of coffee, or eat less of what I like, or think highly of others? Many of the things that we do bother the people around us, but they give us comfort. Am I willing to give up my comfort for the sake of my spouse, my parents, my friend, or my coworker? These are not just hypotheticals, but the characteristics of the new nature that unites us with God, “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace” John 1:16. It is not an act of kindness, but an actual new inner being, produced from uniting with God.
A Song of St. Ephraim the Syrian for the Birth of Christ
Blessed He Who sealed our soul and adorned it and espoused it to Himself.
Blessed He Who made our Body a tabernacle for His unseen Nature.
Blessed He Who by our tongue interpreted His secret things.
Glory to Him Who loosed us and was bound for us all!
Glory to Him Who gave the pledge and redeemed it too!
Glory to the Beautiful, Who conformed us to His image!
Glory to that Fair One, Who looked not to our foulness!
Glory to Him Who could never be measured by us!
Our heart is too small for Him, yea our mind is too feeble.
He makes foolish our littleness by the riches of His Wisdom.
Glory to Him, who lowered Himself, and asked; that He might hear and learn that which He knew; that He might by His questions reveal the treasure of His helpful graces!
Blessed the Shepherd Who became a Lamb for our reconcilement!
Blessed the Branch Who became the Cup of our Redemption!
Glory be to Him, who never felt the need of our praising Him; yet felt the need as being kind to us, and thirsted as loving us, and asks us to give to Him, and longs to give to us.
Let us praise Him, Who prevailed and quickened us by His stripes!
Praise we Him, who took away the curse by His thorns!
The Simplicity of the Virgin Mary
God looked from heaven and waited for St. Mary to be born in this world. If Christ was born in a manger, how humble and simple must be the womb of the Virgin that carried Him? The simplicity of the Virgin is loudest in her silence. She knew many of the secrets of the kingdom but kept them in her heart. She never had a proper wedding and wrapped her only child with cloth in a manger, but she was concerned for those who had no wine at the wedding of Cana. The Pure Virgin was detached from this world because she had Christ within her. Our attachment to the world reflects how blind we are to His presence, and how deaf we are to His Voice.
In her simplicity, St. Mary was tasked with the most incredible mission in human history. Who would entrust a young virgin to take responsibility for a baby, let alone the Savior? Sometimes, we feel that we are unworthy or unable to carry out specific spiritual tasks given to us by God. How can I tell my friends to stop the inappropriate jokes? Or ask my friends to read the Bible, or ask my family to offer praise on the feast day, or invite a stranger to our feast gathering? How can I tell my coworker that I am fasting, or that I love going to church Friday night, or my wedding will not have alcohol? We might feel that other people are more equipped to take these actions. But God is looking for the less capable and simple heart to carry His great work, “My strength is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9. Do not harden your heart when you hear His voice and accept His call to dwell in you. We are called to be a manger to carry God inside of our hearts.
In the midnight praises, we pray seven “Theotokias” or “veneration for the Mother of God,” for each day of the week. Many of the Theotokias were written by St. Cyril of Alexandria. In the Saturday Theotokia, we pray
“You became the second heaven on earth, O Theotokos. For He shone to us from you, the sun of righteousness”
Heaven, in the scripture, is the dwelling place of God. Heaven is God’s throne, and He reigns over and from heaven. “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool” Isaiah 66:1. Heaven also describes the transcendence of God, but at the same time, heaven is not large enough to contain God, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You” 1 Kings 8:27.
St. Mary became the second heaven. God was reigning over her, and from within her heart. Just like the angels in heaven praise God, the soul of the virgin “magnifies the Lord, and (her) spirit rejoices in God, my savior” Luke 1:46. The Virgin transcended the world through her child and savior, “for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name” Luke 1:49. The Incarnation is an invitation to transcend the world and to forget the earthly desires. A heart that is full of praise is close to God because He regions within. It is a heart that does not depend on human connection or abilities. The kingdom is within the heart of the Virgin and is waiting to enter yours. If my joy and happiness still rely on external circumstances, I still have not fully allowed God to reign inside of my heart. The simplicity of our hearts paves the way for His transcendence and sovereignty within us.
A song of St. Ephraim the Syrian to the Virgin
To Thy Mother, Lord, no man knew what name to give.
Should he call her Virgin, her Child stood [there]; and married no man knew her to be!
She was Thy mother; she was Thy Sister. She along with chaste women was Thy betrothed.
If she gave Thee to eat, it was because Thou wert hungry; if she gave Thee to drink [it was], because Thou wert thirsty; willingly if she embraced Thee, Thou, the coal of mercies, didst keep her bosom safe.
A wonder is Thy Mother. The Lord entered her, and became a servant: the Word entered her, and became silent within her; thunder entered her, and His Voice was still: the Shepherd of all entered her; He became a Lamb in her, and came forth bleating.
The rich went in, He came out poor: The High One went in, He came out lowly.
Brightness went into her and clothed Himself and came forth a despised form.
Who can stand against Thee? Thy Father is in Heaven, Thy Mother is on earth; who shall declare Thee?
If a man should seek after Thy Nature, it is hidden in Heaven in the mighty Bosom of the Godhead; and if a man seeks after Thy visible Body, it is laid down before their eyes in the lowly bosom of Mary.
The Incarnation of Our Lord leads us to a simple life. To meet God, I do not need to own or gain anything from this world, but rather, I need to give up and silence the world. The Incarnation is the path of complete dependence on God as we increase our knowledge of Him and unite with him.
Our Lord Jesus Christ appeared to St. Faustina (a Catholic saint) and told her:
“Yes, I will be with you always, if you always remain a little child and fear nothing. As I was your beginning here, so I will also be your end. Do not rely on creatures, even in the smallest things, because this displeases Me. I want to be alone in your soul. I will give light and strength to your soul, and you will learn from My representative (specific priest) that I am in you, and your uncertainty will vanish like mist before the rays of the sun.”