Today starts the Nativity Fast or the St. Philip’s Fast as it is less commonly known (coming the day after the celebration of the feast of St. Philip the Apostle). We now begin 40 days of fasting and increased prayer, but also joyful watching and waiting so that at the end we can sing
Make glad, O ye righteous! Greatly rejoice, O ye heavens! Ye mountains, dance for joy! Christ is born; and like the cherubim the Virgin makes a throne, carrying at her bosom God the Word made flesh. Shepherds, glorify the newborn Child! Magi, offer the Master gifts! Angels, sing praises, saying: ‘O Lord past understanding, glory to Thee!’
(First sticheron of the Praises, Nativity Matins)
Before we can rejoice in the culmination of this fast, we must remember how it started – with the Annunciation. The Archangel Gabriel’s pronouncement to the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-35) was a message not intended just for a young Gallilean girl 2,000 years ago, but was to become the most meaningful news for the whole of humanity.
26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. 30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.”
34 Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
35 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
The Theotokos spent the next nine months preparing for the birth of her son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t know if she fasted, but prayer must have always been with her. (As an aside, our modern fasting practices exclude pregnant women and nursing mothers, but this is the Theotokos we’re talking about, who had been miraculously fed during her young life in the Temple.) The purpose of prayer is to enter into greater communion with God and to live according to his will. It is amazing to think that a young woman who showed the greatest faith and reliance on the will of God, was now the bearer of God. She achieved the most perfect communion with God by literally being the Mother and bearer of God.
I wish everyone a blessed journey through the Nativity Fast and I ask forgiveness of anyone I have offended by my words.