The Nativity of Our Lord
by Fr. Anthony Yazge
(Originally submitted to the Tribune Star for publication in the Fall of 1995)
Christmas is such a remarkable season of the year! People find a kinder, more generous side to themselves, unless they are a Scrooge who is yet to be converted! Many places put on a cheery look. The world of tinsel and lights gives the appearance of brightness and joy. But somehow, from an Orthodox Christian perspective, all of that by itself is quite hollow. Why are we celebrating? Whom are we celebrating? For how long are we celebrating? Somehow, in this post-Christian era, we wish to reassert the source and cause and destination of all this joy: the birth of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
“God became man so that man might become (like) god.” These words are strong words by St. Athanasius of Alexandria. They emphasize the main theme of his treatise “On the Incarnation.” There was no way for God to redeem the world and save His creation except to have His Son born in the flesh as a man. By this act, humanity — created in God’s likeness — was then again capable of entering back into the presence of God in His kingdom after falling from grace so long ago. As the prophets proclaimed and history recorded, no mere human was capable of giving anyone eternal life. No mere human could bridge the gap that men and women had forged between themselves and their God.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) For this reason Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, was born in the flesh. He came to us as a little child, embodying our humanity while still remaining divine. He came into the world in a very humble manner — born in a cave and laid in a manger. Although these surroundings were most simple, all of creation came to kneel before Him. The incarnation in the flesh of the Son of God opens the opportunity for us to be granted salvation. This child was born to bear the sins of the world, an act completed in His death on the Cross and third-day Resurrection. This is the basis and starting point of the Christian faith. For Orthodox Christians, it is the starting point of the life-long journey toward becoming more and more like God again.
This tremendous act of love by God is the focus of much of the world’s attention in the coming month, or at least so we would hope. Unfortunately, the joy of the feast is often lost in the hustle and bustle of Christmas shopping and parties. Instead of being consumed with festivities, the Orthodox Church teaches the need to contemplate and come to an understanding of the magnitude of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as an innocent baby born in a cave. Company parties and neighborhood gatherings shouldn’t take precedence over preparation to receive the “Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
We need to remember that the celebration of Christmas, the Nativity in the flesh of Jesus Christ, was set on December 25 (January 7 — Julian Calendar) to replace a pagan feast! Instead of being consumed by the commercialism of the season, the Orthodox Church teaches preparation for the feast in prayer, fasting and charitable acts. We have a Lenten season for Advent! It’s a time for spiritual housecleaning and repentance, in the hope of being worthy to approach the Christ Child with the gift of our lives. These are in keeping with the true spirit of the season.
Once the feast arrives then we begin the celebrating. The celebration continues for twelve days — the historical celebration of the 12 Days of Christmas! Then and only then, is there time and the appropriateness for rejoicing, because it is at that point that “God is with us” as one of the hymns of the Orthodox Church tells us. We are to be like the wise men and the shepherds who came to worship Jesus Christ. We are to be like the angels and the multitude of the heavenly hosts who praised God saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14) We are to offer thanks to God for this great act of love. This is the significance of this season.
For Orthodox Christians, there is the reality that our worship of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior should not be limited only to a couple of holy days or seasons a year. Our praise to God is to be given everyday. If we make these practices a regular part of our lives, then we will be better prepared when Christ comes again — this time not as a child but as King and Judge. His second coming is impending. We know not whether it will be today, tomorrow or years from now. We do know that there will be no mistaking His second coming. The world as we know it will end. The final judgment will be determined as we are all questioned about the manner in which we lived. Christ the judge of the world will execute judgment on us all based on how we lived and believed and acted — those who believed to “the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:26-29).
Orthodox Christians around the world attempt to grow in a life in Christ (to become more and more like God) so that we may be counted worthy on the day of judgment, and be granted the resurrection of life in the kingdom of heaven. We also pray for peace on earth and good will toward men each and every time we gather as the body of Christ in worship.
On behalf on the entire parish family of St. George Orthodox Church, we pray that you may have peace in your life, Christ in your heart, and good will toward men, and women, and especially children! We invite you to come pray with us and ask that you pray for us. May each and every day of your life be filled with the joy of our Lord Jesus Christ’s birth that you may share God’s love and blessings and receive the resurrection of life eternal in God’s kingdom. If you have any questions or would like more information about Orthodox Christianity, please contact St. George Orthodox Church at 232-5244.