Dear Friends in Christ,
Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Χριστός Γεννάται! Δοξάσατε!
Christmas is upon us again, the Nativity of Our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ! St. John Chrysostom, who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries, and for whom our most common Divine Liturgy is named, composed a sermon for this feast from which I will draw a few quotes upon which to reflect.
I behold a new and wondrous mystery!…All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein…He who is above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we, who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!
We immediately are struck by the wonder of the God of the universe, seeing our lowly condition, becoming one of us in order to restore humanity to communion with Him. The God who holds the Heavens in his hands, who created all reality with a word, did not simply wish us in to perfection, but undertook to come down and take flesh so that as a man he could restore us. He did not save us by proxy, but saved us truly himself, commiserating with his fallen creation, loving his fellow man. We are most aware of the three years of public ministry recorded in the Gospels, but he lived thirty in quiet obscurity, serving his stepfather and family faithfully, while all the while being the same God who controls the universe and is seated on the throne of glory. Thinking about this paradox is what provoked St. John to begin his sermon with this sense of awe.
But it is not just God who becomes man today; it is we who were lowly, who are given divine grace and exalted. The Apostles were given the power to perform great miracles, and to this day, holy people are raised up who witness to the great glory of God. Lives are changed by faith in Christ; our souls are cured. There is restoration of fallen creation, and all things are renewed! Holy Baptism is a new chance for man to die to the old, sinful ways, and be reborn anew. Order and sense is restored to the randomness of life.
Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and, in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Justice!
This new creation, which we call the Church, is a new age upon earth. The spread of Christianity improved the life of countless millions, both spiritually and in terms of earthly life. A brotherhood of those who believe in Christ united people from Ethiopia to Britain to Germany and even to China (where there were Orthodox bishops in the 7th century!) Bethlehem, a town like any other, becomes a spiritual Heaven, and today, two thousand years later, Eastern North Carolina becomes a Heaven for us. Our home is transformed in Christ.
All sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice! I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! But I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!
All are called to celebrate this feast, and to serve Christ the Lord. Only in the Church are mechanics, bankers, teachers, widows, youth, students, and every other kind of person brought together. All the divisions of this world are broken down when we come together to worship God. We sinners are given the chance to change our ways and become renewed.
This mystery cannot be properly understood alone! When Christ was born, the Magi travelled great distances to worship him, for they knew that the invisible divinity they worshiped had become material; God did not come spiritually but as a man, and this same God is calling us to come together, physically, to worship as one community, one Church, one people. If you have not been to Church lately, start anew. Make your New Year’s Resolution something that will give you lasting spiritual benefit.
For those who already are regularly attending the Orthodox Church, take this mystery and internalize it deeper. Really try to understand what it means that the God of all the Heavens loved you enough to become one of us. If you have thrown off your baptismal robe by sin, then restore it through confession. This is such a wonderful time of year, when we try our best to show our interior feelings of love to one another. Let’s not leave the love of our God out of the equation. St. John ended his sermon with this same message of hope:
For this is all my hope!
This is my life!
This is my salvation!
This is my pipe, my harp!
And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too, with the angels and shepherds, sing:
“Glory to God in the Highest! and on earth peace to men of good will!”
Merry Christmas! Καλά Χριστούγεννα!