Christmas: Mystery and Giving

“God’s sacrificial gift to mankind is the basis of the Church’s emphasis on charitable giving during the Christmas season. Yet much of the Christmas message has been turned upside down in our contemporary world. Noticeably absent is any mention of the real Mystery of the feast.

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Often Christmas is little more than a celebration of celebrating, a sad reflection of the spiritual bankruptcy and materialism of contemporary life. We Orthodox, too, can be tempted to teach our children that Christmas is about receiving (presents, etc.) rather than giving or sharing. We too can get so ‘busy’ that any sense of the transcendent Mystery is lost. How to celebrate Christmas thereby becomes a challenge. Family togetherness and merriment have their place, but it is not noise and bustle but a quiet joy that characterizes Christmas. For this reason the Church calls us to fast in order to prepare for it. Contrary to contemporary practice, Christmas is a feast that should be celebrated joyously and yet quietly. In such a manner the Son of God entered the world: born in the silence of midnight, while the busy world which did not care was asleep.

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Only a few shepherds keeping vigils and the speechless animals could hear the joyous angelic singing. In this quietness the heavens were opened and the ‘Joyous Light’ of Christ’s presence was manifested. In this silence God’s gift is revealed and only in this silence can we approach Him to offer our gifts. Preparing for Christmas presents a twofold challenge for Orthodox faithful today. On the one hand, it is a time for quiet reflection on God’s complete gift of Himself to us. On the other, it is an opportunity to apply God’s standards to our own giving, returning His gifts with our gifts, and His Gift with the gift of our whole life. The most important thing to give Him is our heart. All else follows. As St. Gregory the Theologian puts it: ‘Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become gods for His sake, since He for ours became man….Let us give all, offer all…but one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming  for His sake all that He became for ours.’”  (Hieromonk Calinic, Challenges of Orthodox Thought and Life, pp 168-169)

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