On the Sunday after the Nativity, we continue reading the Nativity narrative, but a portion which is not part of the American spirit of Christmas: Matthew 2:13-23. This is part of the Nativity story we don’t have in our Christmas cards or carols and prefer to ignore because we like a sentimental winter story rather than one which exposes the reality of the world. This Gospel brings to the forefront a very worldly reaction to the Gospel: Herod decides to murder babies to protect his own interests. We see in the Gospel lesson why the Fathers often described self-preservation as a sin which leads to much evil. In this case Herod justifies the murder of babies by his concern for self-preservation. In the modern world, we justify letting refugee babies die to preserve our comfort and standard of living.
Christmas for us Christians is not just one day of the year which we can put away with our decorations, or throw out with all the wrapping paper, or take down with the tree. In the Church we continue to celebrate the Feast for a week which remembering the entire Gospel lesson, including the slaughter of the Holy Innocents.
Christmas is God’s Word to the world. In the Christmas narrative God sends word via the angels to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. Persian Magi receive a divine message through the movement of the strangest star they have ever seen.
Christmas is God’s message to us. It is not merely a human wish for good cheer nor just human hope for the world and for each other. Christmas is God’s word, God’s plan, God’s hope for the world.
Christmas is God, not just some people, telling us about peace, joy and good will. The angels proclaim it, not humans. And certainly when we read the Gospel, and not just some sentimental version of it, we see God’s message of peace and good will brought about a negative reaction in the world. King Herod is out killing children because of the Gospel.
Christmas is God’s Word coming into the world, it is not fake news, nor does it have a media spin to it. It was not created by Internet trolls.
In the Epistle (Gal 1:11-12) St Paul points this out clearly: the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul openly claims the Gospel comes to us by revelation from God. St. Peter says:
First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21)
Christmas is God’s message to us, not a human message. God actively takes part in the world, to be with us and to heal us, to speak to us, to reveal Himself and His will to us.
If Humans were composing Good News about a savior, we would no doubt follow a more Hollywood plan – a superhero with supernatural powers, armed to the hilt with weapons of mass destruction, who wreaks vengeance and death on his enemies.
However, it is God who composed the Gospel, and God’s Gospel is one of humility, God in Christ sacrificing Himself for the good of humanity. God’s message is one of reconciliation not rage and revenge. God’s message is one of forgiveness for wrongdoing, not payback time. Or as we find in Hebrews 1:1-3 –
In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high …
Christmas is God speaking to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, who comes as a baby into the world. Christmas is a divine message, God speaking to us and to the world about what God wants us to know about God’s plan.
It is a plan not created by military planners, nor by terrorists, nor by a government, nor by Hollywood, nor by American billionaires. All of them would create a savior in their image and likeness.
The Orthodox Church today as it has for 2000 years is still preaching this same message. Our purpose for coming here each Sunday is to listen to the Gospel so that we can share the Good News with others.
On this Sunday after Christmas, we are still celebrating Christmas in the Church, still proclaiming that Christ is born. We are still celebrating life, though in the Gospel we hear about how in the world King Herod is already issuing a decree that children must die, that he sees some children as unwanted in the world. This is his response to the Gospel.
For us on the other hand, Christmas is God’s message. We hear it as a feast of life, of God the giver of life.
Christmas, we Americans often think is for children. Let us as Christians give Christmas to all children of the world. Let us be the bearers of life for the world. Let us lend our support to those children in need, those children who anyone in the world declares to be unwanted and undesirable. There are many Herods in the world who want to get rid of somebody else’s children. Men and women who see someone else’s children as a threat to their lifestyle. We should not be those kinds of people. We are to be with God, pro-life and giving our full support to those children whom God has called into being. Christmas is a pro-life message, and as Christians we should be working for the lives of the children of the world, especially those who some have declared as unwanted, just like Herod declared Jesus unwanted, and the children around Bethlehem as undesirable, as threats to his way of life. We have a responsibility to protect life and to give aid and support to the children that others want to kill.
Christmas is about our salvation, but the Gospel is clear there are evil men and women in the world who are willing to kill even children because they don’t like them. We on the other hand are those who hear the birth of Christ as Good news, as life-giving news, and we are to be like Joseph protecting the lives of the children that are unwanted and who cannot protect themselves. We are not only to protect but to nurture the children whom some ruler or nation wants to kill.
May the newborn Christ who lay in a manger for our salvation inspire us to help Him and all such children who are unwanted by the world. Pro-life cannot be reduce to “anti-abortion”. Pro-life means giving our support to children in general, but especially to those children victimized by the Herods of the world. We are to protect all these children, for as our Lord Jesus told us:
‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:40)