The Cosmic Dimension of Christ's Nativity
For much of the ancient Church and for Eastern Orthodox Christians the birth of Christ heralded the restoration of a sanctified cosmos. The incarnation of God in Jesus was not simply to save the human soul. Rather it restored all creation -- in wonder and joy - - to the human being. Creation was seen again to be God's delight. The cosmos was not only created by God. It was, in the words of the patristic theologian Gregory of Nyssa, "the energy of God." That is why, in the images of the Nativity of Christ, we see human beings, animals and all of nature rejoice.
The Crucifixion and the Resurrection
The icons of the Crucifixion and the Resurrecton join the icon of the Nativity in summarizing the meaning and purpose of Christmas. In Eastern European folklore the Crucifixion of Christ took place on the burial ground of Adam and Eve. It is their skull and bones we see at the base of the cross. Since it is through Adam and Eve that death came to triumph over life, it is through the Cross of Christ (the Tree of Life) that Life comes to triumph over death. The "tree of the cross" is the tree of the restoration of paradise, a type of the medieval paradise tree. This dimension of the Christian understanding is extended in the icon of the Resurrection where we see Adam and Eve being called forth from the darkness of death by the risen Christ.