Word Magazine December 1958 Page 5/24
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRISTMAS
By FATHER MICHAEL BAROUDY
Archpriest, St. George Orthodox Church
The Christian world is about to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ, our Lord, a celebration in which we all indulge every year. People celebrate this memorable day in various ways, depending upon their own concept of the significance of the day. We have to admit that even here in Christian America, many celebrate the day in a manner that is foreign and even contradictory to the spirit of Christmas. It is becoming increasingly horrifying to any person who does any thinking at all that we are commercializing and paganizing the great Holy Day and have changed it to a holiday. Read, if you will, the paper the “day after Christmas and discover the number of drunkards and those who were hailed to court because the occasion was to them a period for dissipation and indulgence.
I want us to meditate upon the Christmas spirit and the significance of the day. Were we to reflect seriously upon the underlying purpose of Christmas, we would be awed to know that it involves some tremendous facts of world shaking significance. Let us concern ourselves with the facts surrounding the birth of the Savior so that we might become more appreciative and reverent.
Reverting to the Bible to discover the basis for the proper approach to a right understanding of the day’s significance, we find this statement in St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians 4: 4-6 with which the Epistle for this day begins, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons.”
When we analyze this statement, we discover that it sets forth three basic truths dealing with this most significant subject. Incarnation, Redemption, Adoption. Taking them in their respective order, we have first of all the birth of the Savior from the blessed Virgin Mary, which is called the “Incarnation”, that is, Jesus taking upon Him our form. This is one of the most staggering mysteries of all time—Jesus, the Son of God, assuming our form and our nature. “When the fullness of time was come, God sent His Son, make of a woman.” Is not that a pauser for all of us to reflect upon? Have you ever actually tried to think how great, deep, and immeasurable God’s love must have been, to consent to dwell in human flesh?
God, in time past, before the coming of Christ, revealed Himself to holy men by inspiring their thoughts to record something of this greatness. Righteousness, mercy, justice and redemption were some of the beau tiful attributes of God. Some of the prophets had a foregleam of the birth of the Savior. Micah, the Prophet, predicted the place—Bethlehem. Isaiah predicted that a Virgin would be the recipient of the high honor, bearing this wonderful Child. Inspired men throughout history had foregleams of some great revelations of God relative to His advent to humanity in a way we would understand, a way which we could not misunderstand. So “when the fullness of time was come,” when God’s clock struck the hour, He reached down to man, by being born as the rest of us, having human nature and flesh. As St. John the Divine aptly put it, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we saw His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Looking back upon what transpired at Christ’s birth, how many of the people living then knew the great significance of the Babe’s birth? How many knew that history will be divided in two, changed from before Christ to after Christ? How many knew that millions of people around the world would chant music and sing joyous hymns to commemorate the great event?
Usually people don’t take stock in realizing the potentialities invested in a child. Whoever thought that the events transpiring on that “Holy Night” would be enshrined in music and art, and that millions of cards would be used by people as a means to wish one another a “Merry Christmas” on His birth and that ministers, the world over, would preach and reach the story of the Holy birth, and choirs would sing his praises?
What is the purpose of His coming into the world? Well, the purpose is two-fold: Redemption and Adoption. Christ’s coming into the world was not accidental but rather purposeful. To the Blessed Virgin Mary, the angel said. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” He Himself said of His own mission upon one occasion, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” God’s redeeming love was at the very heart, and the main reason for His coming. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for its redemption.” This is the reason we call the story of Christ’s life the gospel, that is, good news. God’s tenderest love revealed itself in such a marvelous way to save humanity. Before Christ’s coming to human life, the world of human beings knew God as a terrible Judge, One on the receiving end to be appeased with gifts, a just God, who would exact from men the very last debit owed Him. They had then some foregleams of Him as a Redeemer, one who would show pity on men, but never as a God whose love knew no limitations to redeem fallen humanity.
Then, there was another reason—Adoption, to adopt believers into the family of God, making them sons and daughters of His. All human beings who would be willing to appropriate and appreciate the gift of God, and by faith receive Him into their lives, would become, by virtue of that fact, members of God’s family, having special attachments and privileges, inducted into the society of the Blessed, belonging to one Eternal Father, becoming one with the Elder Brother, and one with all believers of all colors, races and nationalities the world over.
“To as many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God,” was the way the Evangelist put it. As redeemed sons and daughters of God, who are empowered to live as becomes God’s children, may we seriously reflect upon God’s matchless gift to us, and be concerned to declare by our lives, no less than by our lips, the redeeming love of God to all men, of all colors and creeds. May this hour be one of new vision and dedication to a life of service and newness, of hope, faith and love.
Christmas is unique among all the holidays, holy days, and birthdays that we observe. The story of the first Christmas is so simple that a little three-year-old caught its spirit when she said, “I know what Baby Jesus wants for his birthday—a cradle.” In love, she wanted to give him what he did not have when he was born. Yet the Christmas story is so profound that it can be fully expressed only in the deep thoughts of the prologue of John’s Gospel.
The unique truth of Christmas is that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The unique outcome was that this marked the beginning of a new creation, a possible rebirth of humanity. God, through His Son, entered into our human life that we, believing in Him, might receive power to become “sons of God.” The Baby who had no cradle but a manger became the one Lord and Savior of mankind! Christianity is not a creed to be recited but a new life to be lived in Christ.
“Thy Nativity, 0 Christ our God, hath given rise to the light of knowledge in the world: for they that worshipped the stars did learn therefrom to worship thee, O Sun of justice, and to know that from the east of the Highest thou didst come O Lord, glory to thee.”