We continue our preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth this week. Though consumer and familial pressures may try to push the Christmas season into a time of materialist consumption, we Christians know it is a season to make room and make time for Christ in our hearts and homes. Quiet time, prayer time, fasting, reading scripture, singing hymns are all part of the season for us. In Orthodoxy, the weeks before Christmas are not just connected to shopping, but are within the Nativity Lenten period. One of the many lists we might make and use this season is the list of what we need to say in confession to help us be true disciples of Christ. We must ask ourselves: Does it make a difference that Christ has come into the world? It should in our hearts, if we are in fact are Christians. If any atheist or non-believer could be doing exactly what we are doing in these weeks before Chirstmas, then perhaps we have not given Christ the place in our hearts and homes that He should have as our Lord and King.
Being a disciple of Christ requires conscious choice, discipline and hard work.
It does not come to pass so spontaneously as the development of the human personality of the innocent Adam on the fresh soil of human nature, but first of all through a conscious assimilation of Christ’s life or of Christianity; and then also through a mysterious penetration of the newly grace-filled nature of the Church into our personality. (Anthony Khrapovitsky, The Moral Idea of the Main Dogmas of the Faith).
Discipline and self-control, which we learn through fasting and abstinence, train us to be disciples of Christ. Our goal in practicing self denial and discipline is to train ourselves to follow the Gospel teachings of our Lord rather than to follow our own selfish desires.
The aim of the Christian life is not to free the soul from the body, but to free the whole person—body and soul—from sin. (Richard B. Steele, St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 52:3-4, pg. 418)
Being a disciple, following a discipline, are not easy tasks, but rather reflect the fact that we engage in spiritual warfare as disciples of Christ.
We need, then, to observe that the Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter…The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them. Jesus wept over the sins of others, over their bitter consequences in judgment and death, and over the impenitent city which would not receive him. (John R. W. Stott, The Message of The Sermon on the Mount)
There is a deep joy at Christmas which we experience and live through God’s gift to the world: the incarnation of His Son. Christmas places responsibility for our response to God on ourselves. Either we believe in the miracle of God’s Word become flesh and live accordingly, or we allow the Nativity of Chirst to be emptied of meaning by reducing the time of salvation to how much we spend or get during the winter festival.