by Fr. Basil Biberdorf
And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This is from God’s condemnation of the serpent at the Fall (Genesis 3:15), and is commonly known as the protoevangelium, the “first Gospel.”
Thus, from the beginning, the coming of Christ is anticipated. A descendant of the fallen man and woman would be the undoing of the one who tempted them. (And, oddly, the woman thinks she has birthed this savior herself—“I have acquired a man from the Lord”—although this child turns out to be not the savior, but rather the first murderer.) This One who would bruise the serpent’s heel would be awaited by all of God’s people (Gen. 4:1). It is this sense of anticipation that characterizes the entirety of the Nativity Fast. We think on the expectant people of God, characterized so well by the mournful Western hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” We think on the Virgin who bears the Creator of all in her very womb, and the One who will finally appear to us in the flesh.
We can consider the mystery of how a young woman, a “girl” in our own time, betrothed to an old man, who is great with child, trusting without faltering, as she and her husband make their way to their ancestral city. We can marvel that the Creator of all is born, not into luxury, comfort, and power, but into poverty and lowliness. The Son of God himself deigns not only to be carried in the womb of one of his creatures, but he consents to being born in a way, and into circumstances, none of us would desire for our own children. Yet this is the God we wait for. The difficulty in our time is that we want to skip the anticipation. We like instant gratification, not “good things come to those who wait.” We would rather live in the celebration right now—feasting and rejoicing—instead of making ready, and watching expectantly.
This is where the Nativity Fast comes in. Unlike the Great Fast, this fast doesn’t place the emphasis on repentance: our need to recognize our true state before God and desire that it be otherwise. Rather, the emphasis is squarely on anticipation. We eat less, and omit certain foods, so as to build the hunger in ourselves for the One who is truly needful. We focus our prayers on the arrival of that Christ who comes to save us from our sins. We recall the burning bush (Ex. 3), and Moses taking off his sandals because he was on holy ground, then marvel at the Virgin who touches and contains God. We recall Isaiah who was cleansed by the hot coal (Is. 6:7), then see the Virgin cleansed by Christ inside her. We, too, behold this Creator who comes united to human flesh without destroying it by fire.
As we journey in this season of the Nativity Fast, let us not be in a great hurry to reach our destination. Let us proceed slowly, savoring those wondrous anticipations we have been given to us in Scripture. Let us sing the hymns, making the anticipation of old our anticipation today. Let us forgo our favorite foods, not because we are sad, but because something—some One—greater awaits us at the end of the journey: God Himself, born as a child.