Eyes on Christ While Focused on Life 

Christ is born!

Glorify Him! 

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If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2)

As 2021 comes to an end, we can ask ourselves what do we have to look forward to? St Paul’s advice would be the same as it was 2000 years ago: look to Christ, to God’s Kingdom.  We might remember St Peter walking on water and becoming terrified by the storm raging around him and he began to sink into the roiling waves.  Keep your eyes on Christ.  The world always seems to have some storm brewing and the tumultuous politics of our time might make us quite afraid.  Our faith is in Christ, not in princes or politicians. Even without the worrisome raging storms and surging seas of life, life in its calmer moments can still distract and disorient us.

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St Theophan the Recluse muses:

“The question arises: how can we hold the Lord in our attention while busy with various activities? This is how it can be done. Whatever your occupation, great or small, reflect that it is the omnipresent Lord Himself who orders you to perform it and who watches to see how you are carrying it out. If you keep this thought constantly in mind you will fulfill attentively all the duties assigned to you and at the same time you will remember the Lord. In this lies the whole secret of Christian conduct for one in your position, if you are to succeed in your chief aim. Please think it over carefully and adjust yourself to this practice. When you have done this your thoughts will cease to wander hither and thither.

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Why is it that things are not going well with you just now? I think it is because you wish to remember the Lord, forgetting worldly affairs. But worldly affairs intrude into your consciousness and push out the remembrance of the Lord. What you should do is just the reverse: you should busy yourself with worldly affairs, but think of them as a commission from the Lord, as something done in His presence. As things are now, you fail both on the spiritual and on the material level. But if you act as I have explained, things will go well in both spheres.   (THE ART OF PRAYER, pp 235-236)

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Most amazing words from an ascetic monk like St Theophan: We don’t serve the Lord by forgetting worldly affairs. Rather, we serve the Lord when we immerse ourselves in worldly affairs while simultaneously seeing these affairs as our God-given opportunities to practice the faith and serve the Lord. The world is not completely depraved.  It is God’s creation, fallen in sin, but still the very place where we can do God’s will and make the light of Christ present to the world.

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I wish each of you a blessed New Year.  May you always have the sense of God’s presence in your lives to give you hope and direction.  Let Christ be your light in the New Year and make yourself to be a lit candle  to drive away the darkness, which certainly offers more hope to all than any cursing of the darkness you might utter.

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Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 5:8)

Christmas and the Cross

Christ is born!

Glorify Him! 

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“God did not become human so that humans could avoid the risk of experiencing relationship with God; He did not suffer for love so that we could be freed from the responsibility and privilege real love entails. In Christ the world is offered a place in God’s heart, if we want it. We are invited to place ourselves on the altar with Him, sharing the cross because we know that is what gives life to the world and what restores our own life dead from sin. Avoiding the cross only makes the cross heavier for all those who choose to bear it with Him out of love for the sake of the rest.”   (Stephen Muse, BEING BREAD, p 186)

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God suffered for love so that we might share in “the responsibility and privilege real love entails.” We can share in God’s love and self-sacrifice on the cross by taking up our own crosses.  We “place ourselves on the altar with” Christ when we choose loving self-sacrifice rather than endeavoring to assert our own wills.  We need to think about these images of what it is to be a Christian when it comes to our political views on any issue.  Denying the self and taking up the cross is not just about religious practice and ritual.  We are to live this self-denial and bearing the cross in our daily lives, including applying it to political and social issues.  Don’t look at every issue as a political issue or through a political lens.  See each for what they are:  an opportunity for you to take up your cross, deny yourself and practice love towards others.  In so doing you help bear the cross for all.   “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”  (Philippians 2:3-4). What does Christ’s love require of me when it comes to issues related to covid?  What opportunities are given to me to practice self-denial and taking up the cross in the midst of a pandemic?

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:27)

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

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Slaughter of the Holy Innocents 

Christ is born!  Glorify Him! 

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Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:16-18)

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Scripture scholar Dale Allison notes the parallels between the Exodus account of Pharoah wanting to kill all the male Jewish babies and King Herod’s wicked decision to murder all the male infants in Bethlehem in his rage to eliminate the Messiah king.

“In chapter 2 [of St Matthew’s Gospel] Herod’s order to do away with the male infants of Bethlehem (2:16-18) is like Pharaoh’s order to do away with every male Hebrew child (Exodus 1).  And if Herod orders the slaughter of Hebrew infants because he has learned of the birth of Israel’s liberator (2:2-18), in Jewish tradition Pharaoh slaughters the Hebrew children because he has learned the very same thing (Josephus, Antiquities 2.205-9; Targum Ps-Jonathan on Ex 1:15).  Further, whereas Herod hears of the coming liberator from chief priests, scribes, and magi (2:1-12), Josephus (Antiquities 2.205 and 234) has Pharaoh learn of Israel’s deliverer from scribes, while Jerusalem Targum on Exodus 1:15 says that Pharaoh’s chief magicians (Jannes and Jambres, the sons of Balaam) were the sources of his information.

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The quotation of Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 further evokes thought of the exodus, for in its original context ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son’ concerns Israel.  And then there is 2:19-22, which borrows the language of Exodus 4:19-20:  just as Moses, after being told to go back to Egypt because all those seeking his life have died, takes his wife and children and returns to the land of his birth, so too with Jesus:  Joseph after being told to go back to Israel because all those seeking the life of his son have died, takes his wife and child and returns to the land of his son’s birth.”  (Sermon on the Mount: Inspiring the Moral Imagination, pp 17-18)

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Martyred While Celebrating Christmas 

Christ is born! Glorify Him! 

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All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 3:16-4:4) 

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Today in the Church we honor the Martyrs of Nicomedia, including: Glycerius, Zeno, Theophilus, Dorotheus, Mardonius, Migdonious, Indes, Gorgonius, Peter, Euthymius, and the Virgins: Agape, Domna and Theophila, all who were murdered in 302 while in church celebrating the Nativity of Christ [some of the hagiographical literature claims thousands or even 20,000 were killed, but this is surely an exaggeration since that number might be close to the entire population of the city at that time and it is doubtful they would have had a church building large enough to hold that many people, and besides only 13 are named which is probably closer to the number martyred. Unfortunately, through history Christians didn’t resist the temptation to exaggerate about numbers and events in the lives of saints and martyrs apparently assuming small numbers and mundane acts were not miraculous or inspiring enough]. The martyrs remained faithful to the end of their lives, loving God more than they feared those who assaulted them.  We are reminded in these days following the Feast of the Nativity that it is not a Feast of nostalgia and sentimentality.  Christmas is serious theology: a matter of life and death and many have been asked to pay a high price for the ability to celebrate Christ’s birth. 

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“How can we imitate the martyrs? Here are two lessons from the martyrs for our everyday Christian walk: first, suffering should not be feared. Suffering softens the heart and teaches us to depend on God. In this we transcend ourselves and begin to experience the consolations of Christ, of the Spirit, of eternity, which sweeten the soul like no earthly success can. This does not mean that suffering will be easy. We may not ask for it and like St Paul we may not want it (2 Cor 12:8-9). But rather than looking to God and ‘religion’ for gain or ‘balance,’ St Paul teaches us that suffering loss can be a means of acquiring the power of Christ’s Resurrection. The Lord teaches the same thing (Mk 8:35). 

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The second lesson from the martyrs is to have an unwavering fortitude. The Martyrs endured to the end (Mt 10:22). We can strive for this fortitude in our daily walk with God, having our minds constantly in dialogue with the words and thoughts of God, ‘swimming’ in the Scriptures, as St Seraphim says. Christian spiritual life is built on consistency. Daily prayers and the Sunday Liturgy become non-negotiable not because of any obligation but because our hearts are on fire for God (Mt 3:11), speaking and listening to Him as the most intimate of friends, from whose presence we hope not to be separated even for a moment. 

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Each of us is called to a form of witness or martyrdom for Christ. There is no other way to God except the one He Himself has therapeutically laid out: one must ‘deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.’ In following Christ we will find both Him and our true selves. This is the joy of the martyrs, a joy and a love with which they conquered the world, believing wholeheartedly the words of Christ: ‘In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ (Jn 16:33).”  (Hieromonk Calinic, CHALLENGES OF ORTHODOX THOUGHT AND LIFE, pp 72-73) 

 Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen

Christ is born!

Glorify Him! 

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In the life of the Church, through its long history, Christmas was never reduced to a sentimental and nostalgic event.  For God’s coming into the world incarnate as a human, is met with threats and danger from the beginning. Part of the Christmas story is King Herod wants to kill the baby Jesus and does end up murdering innocent infants in his insane desire to eliminate the Christ (an event also commemorated on the 5th day of the Feast on December 29). Today, on the third day of the Christmas Feast, the Church commemorates the first Christian murdered because of his faithfulness to Christ: the Holy Protomartyr and Archdeacon Stephen who was killed in 34AD. Tomorrow, on the 4th day of the Feast of Christ’s birth we commemorate the Christians slaughtered in Nicomedia in 302AD while they were in church celebrating the Nativity.  In the Church, we do not forget about the suffering of the world during the festal Nativity season, for it is precisely because there are wicked and violent people in the world, willing to murder their fellow human beings, that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ.  God became incarnate to deliver us from death and Hades, thus defeating the violent and murderous intentions of wicked humankind.

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St Stephen the first martyr said moments before his death: 

“Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.  (Acts 7:56-60) 

The Elder, St Porphyrios comments: 

“Remember Stephen the first martyr. He was possessed by God and, even while he was being persecuted and stoned, he prayed for his persecutors, saying, Lord, do not count this sin against them (Acts 7:60). Why did Saint Stephen behave in this way? Quite simply, because he could behave no differently. He was a captive of good. Do you think that it is easy to have a hailstorm of stones thrown at you? Try having one stone thrown at you! All very well, but when the stone hits you, you’ll start to shout and swear. That shows that we are overtaken by the evil spirit. And in this situation, how can Christ come and where can he find a place to remain within us? Every space within us is occupied. But as soon as we enter into the spiritual life, as soon as we enter into Christ, everything changes. If you are a thief, you stop stealing; if you are a murderer, you stop murdering; if you are resentful, you cease to think with malice… Everything ceases. Sin ceases and Christ lives in you. It is what Saint Paul said: It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).”  (WOUNDED BY LOVE, p 143) 

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The narratives of the martyrs are given to us to inspire us to remain faithful to Christ. We uphold their memories and recognize the difficulty of their feats.  For to honor them is one thing, but to imitate them requires a whole lot more from us, as St Porphyrios notes in his comment about what we would do if hit my one rock that someone through at us because we are Christian. 

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Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13) 

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit… (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19) 

Who is Christ’s Mother? 

Christ is born! Glorify Him! 

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Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)

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Jesus asks us some rhetorical question: Who is my mother?  Who are my brothers and sisters? He then proceeds to give us the answer: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”  His followers, His disciples, the faithful in the Church are to Christ His mother and sister and brother.  Who is Christ’s mother?  YOU!  How are we to understand this?  Especially in the Christmas season we might think quite highly of the Virgin Theotokos, yet we would be missing part of Christ’s own teachings if we didn’t realize that we are to share in her role as Christ’s mother.

“Jesus tells us that every person who hears the word of God and keeps it—whoever does the will of his heavenly Father—becomes, in a spiritual way, his mother. Yet, it is Mary herself who is our preeminent example for what this means. For, though she was a Virgin Mother, she was in other ways still an ordinary woman: she did not always understand where it was that the plan of God was taking her. And yet, in faith she listened attentively to the Word spoken to her in the silence of her heart: she followed this Word wherever it led her, even when she did not understand—even when it took her straight to the foot of the cross.

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We, too, do not always understand the path on which God is leading us. We do not always see the purpose behind the suffering which at times may break in upon our lives. We do not know all the details of the Lord’s plan for our future. Like Panagia, we are given the choice: to trust in Jesus, to say ‘yes’ and follow him even through the darkness, or to go on our own reckless way.

God does indeed give each of us personally a word by which to direct our lives—a word to nourish us and give us life. But this word—the Word of God as it is given to us in the concrete situation of our lives—is not an insurance policy which we can buy once, forget about, and then collect later. Rather, God’s Word to each of us is precisely like that manna which he gave the Israelites in the wilderness: it must be gathered daily.

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Human life is but the life of a day,’ says St Gregory of Nyssa. We need reconciliation from God every day. ‘The Lord’s mercies … are new every morning’ (Lam 3:22-23). Like the Israelites in the desert, we need to gather the food of the Word in new installments every day. And like the Theotokos, we need to treasure that word and ponder it in the silence of our hearts. Let us, then, ask Panagia to teach us to hear as she did, that we too may be open to receive that manna in the midst of our desert, the daily bread—the word which the Lord is indeed seeking to give each of us this day.”  (Matthew Baker, FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING, pp 249-250)

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The manna God provided Israel in the desert did not miraculously appear on their dinner plates as they sat at their dining table.  Rather, they had to go out, find and collect it.  So too, we have to seek out the manna – God’s word – in our spiritual sojourn and bring it into our homes, lives and heart, and allow it to nourish us even in the midst of a spiritual desert.  God makes His word available to us in the lives of the saints, in the sacraments of the Church, in the liturgies and hymns, in the Bible, and yes even in our parish communities.  We need to have our eyes open; we need to anticipate that the manna is going to be given to us each day. We seek it out with hope and bring it into our daily lives to make it part of our quotidian routines so that we might bear the spiritual fruit that God seeks from us. Thus, Christmas is not only about what God gives to us, but what we can give to God and neighbor. And in obeying Christ, we become to Him, mother, sister, brother.

The Nativity of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ (2021) 

Christ is born!

Glorify Him!

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…an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

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St Ephrem the Syrian in one of his many poems on the Nativity of Christ, notes that the Son of God sets aside His natural divine glory when He chooses to become incarnate as a human.  In so doing, He brings glory to humanity, an entire treasure-house of blessings which we experience in the Feasts of our Lord, such as His Nativity. Ephrem writes in verse:

“… In a manger

the Lord of the universe reclined for the sake of the universe.

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Behold, O Bethlehem, David the king

clothes himself in fine white linen. The Lord of David

and Son of David (Mark 12:35-37) hid His glory

in swaddling clothes. His swaddling clothes gave

a robe of glory to human beings.

On this day our Lord exchanged

radiance for shame, as the Humble One.

For Adam exchanged truth for evil

as a rebel. The Gracious One took pity;

His upright [deeds] conquered those of the perverse.

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Let everyone chase away his boredom

because it was not boring for that Majesty

to be in the womb nine months

for our sake and to be thirty

years in Sodom among madmen.

Because the Gracious One saw that the human race

was poor and humble, He made feastdays

as treasure-houses …

Behold, the First-born has opened His feastday for us

like a treasure-house. This one day,

the [most] perfect in the year, alone opens

this treasure-house. Come, let us prosper

and become rich from it before it is closed.

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Blessed are the vigilant who plunder from it

the spoils of life. It is a great disgrace

if one sees his neighbor

carrying away treasures, yet in the treasure-house

reposes and sleeps to come out empty-handed.

(HYMNS, pp 106-107)

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St Ephrem invites us to see beyond the gifts under the tree for the true and valuable riches of the Feast, which are the theology of salvation given to us in Christ.  If all we get from Christmas are things that come in wrapped boxes, we are missing the most important gifts that God is offering us: salvation, union with God and eternal life. It is God who is offering us the priceless gifts at Christmas. The Feast of the Nativity opens this treasure house to us.

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[Just a side comment: St Ephrem tells all of us to chase away our boredom, which perhaps is a most appropriate comment for modern times, since many modern people hate or fear being bored more than they hate sin or fear God.  As we lament: ‘bored to death.’ For those who imagine God saves us in just one second (by dying on the cross), Ephrem points out God the Word dwelt in the Virgin’s womb for 9 months – and He did this for our salvation.  God had to be patient in order to save us, and it didn’t take just a minute or a second, but a human life time (as Ephrem describes it:  “thirty years in Sodom among madmen“).  We may want instant salvation, but God takes as much time as is necessary to achieve our salvation.  Instead of boredom, we might be awed by the timeless and eternal God taking years of His time to save us. He derives no benefit from His taking time, we do. Christmas, among the many things it is and reveals, is the Feast of God taking and blessing time.]

The Festival of the Virgin Birth 

47926733273_22b8d8838c_w51724901554_c04e60a4a2Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”  (Luke 2:8-14) 

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St Gregory Palamas joyously comments on the Feast:

“This is the festival of the virgin birth! Our address must be exalted therefore in accordance with the greatness of the feast, and enter into the mystery, as far as this is accessible and permissible, and time allows, that something of its inner power might be revealed even to us. Please strive, brethren, to lift up your minds as well, that they may better perceive the light of divine knowledge, as though brightly illumined by a holy star.

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For today I see equality of honor between heaven and earth, and a way up for all those below to things above, matching the condescension of those on high. However great the heaven of heavens maybe, or the upper waters which form a roof over the celestial regions, or any heavenly place, state of order, they are no more marvelous or honorable than the cave, the manger, the water sprinkled on the infant and his swaddling clothes. For nothing done by God from the beginning of time was more beneficial to all or more divine than Christ nativity, which we celebrate today.

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The pre-eternal and uncircumscribed and almighty Word is now born according to the flesh, without home, without shelter, without dwelling, and placed as a babe in the manger, seen by men’s eyes, touched by their hands, and wrapped in layers of swaddling bands.” (THE HOMILIES, p 477)

God created the world as a place for Him to dwell with us humans. And yet when he enters creation, He is confronted with an inhospitable world in which He has no place to lay His head (Matthew 8:20).

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He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:10-14)

Our task as Christians is not only to provide Christ a place to dwell in the world, but to become His dwelling place as we unite into one Body and make Him present in our daily lives and the life of the world.  Those somewhat worn phrases do have meaning for Christians: put Christ back in Christmas and put Christmas back in Christ.  Christmas may also be a family day, but our task is to make it a godly day.

Christ is born!   Glorify Him! 

The Birth of Christ and Death 

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The will of the Father before all ages;  

The mystery foretold by the prophets  

Is brought to light in the latter days:  

God is made man, taking flesh from the Virgin.  

The uncreated One is pleased to create us anew.  

Behold, Christ the King of Israel draws near!

(Hymn of the Forefeast)

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The hymns of the Forefeast of the Nativity celebrate the mystery which is at the heart of Christmas: the incarnation of God in the flesh. God became human in Christ.  The hymns do accept the theology of the incarnation, understanding that already at the birth of Christ, and long before His crucifixion, the plan of salvation was being enacted and embodied in the person of Jesus the Messiah.  This does not deny the importance of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, but brings to the forefront that Christ’s death is significant only because of who He is: God in the flesh.  Theodoret of Cyrus (5th Century) comments:

“… the only-begotten Word of God became man and in human flesh destroyed sin, fulfilling all righteousness while incurring no blame from sin and as though a sinner he endured the death of sinners and brought a charge of sin’s injustice in handing over to death a body not subject to death. Yet it was this very act, you see, that destroyed both sin and death: as one not subject to death (he had not committed sin, after all) and still accepting it through sin’s unjust verdict, he became a ransom for those justly held in death’s grip, while himself free among the dead.”   (COMMENTARY ON THE LETTERS OF ST PAUL Vol 1, p 88)

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Theodoret points out part of the significance of Christ’s death on the cross is that He was sinless, not guilty of any sin, and so Death had no legal claim over Christ. For Theodoret, the fact that all humans die turns out not to be justice, for death’s claims on us result from our sins.  But when one man lives and doesn’t sin, and yet death claims Him, it exposes the injustice of insatiable Death which cannot be part of the just God’s plan for humanity.  Death is not just or carrying out God’s justice; rather, Death is an evil usurper who undoes the justice of God.

47926730278_13f945bf91_wIn the Feast of Christmas we are being given the essential key to understanding salvation or redemption in Christ. From the moment of His conception at the Annunciation, Christ in uniting humanity to divinity is beginning our salvation.  This idea has not always been acceptable to some Western Christians.  Roman Catholic scholar Louis Bouyer for example notes how some Protestant theologians downplay the significance of the incarnation in salvation:

We should understand this to mean the idea that the redemption was brought about, not by the death of Christ, but by the fact of the incarnation alone. In consequence, the redemption would not be conceived, in the biblical way, as a victory over sin but as a victory over death, that is to say as a ‘divinization’ …”   (THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT AND THE FATHERS, pp 230-231)

Orthodoxy certainly conceives of salvation as theosis (‘divinization’) AND as a victory over sin and death.  Death is the final enemy to be destroyed by Christ in God’s plan to save humanity (1 Corinthians 15:26).  It is because Christ is God incarnate that He is able to destroy both sin and death through His own death and resurrection.

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Earth, behold My descent as God and rejoice!  

The magi bear their gifts to Me;  

The heavens bear witness by a star;  

The hosts of angels glorify in song;  

The shepherds from the fields marvel;  

The cave, as a fiery throne, receives Me;  

My Mother rejoices exceedingly to behold Me! 

(Hymn of the Forefeast)

Living Christmas 

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Word of God without beginning, 

The Virgin lays You in the manger of dumb beasts: 

You choose to begin in the flesh 

In a manner beyond understanding! 

You are come to loose me from the fetters of evil 

With which the envious serpent bound me;  

Lover of mankind, You are wrapped in swaddling clothes, 

Tearing to pieces the bonds of my countless sins. 

Therefore I joyfully praise and worship Your holy birth,  

For You came to set me free. 

(Hymn of the Forefeast)

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The Feast of Christ’s birth is packed with theological meaning.  A fact that is given to us through the hymns associated with the Feast.  Christ comes to undo the consequences of Eve and Adam’s sin.  The Church Fathers frequently noted the parallels between Eve / Adam and Christ / the Virgin Mary. For example, St Justin the Martyr writes:

[The Son of God] became man through a Virgin, so that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same way it had begun. For Eve, who was virgin and undefiled, gave birth to disobedience and death after listening to the serpent’s words. But the Virgin Mary conceived faith and joy; for when the angel Gabriel brought her the glad tidings that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her, so that the Holy One born of her would be the Son of God, she answered, ‘Let it be done to me according to your word’ (Lk 1:38). Thus was born of her the [Child] about whom so many Scriptures speak, as we have shown. Through him, God crushed the serpent, along with those angels and men who had become like the serpent.”   (MARY AND THE FATHERS OF THE CHURCH, p 47)

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Christmas is not only about theology and salvation.  It is also about how we Christians are to live our lives: not just for one Feast Day or for the Christmas season, but daily throughout the year.

Fulfilling the commandment of love, 

let us be brothers and sisters in deed and truth 

Let us make peace with one another; 

let us learn together the wisdom of charity. 

Christ the Giver of peace, brings good will to humanity, 

saving those who sing, 

Praise the Lord, all works of the Lord! 

Exalt Him throughout all ages! 

(Hymn of the Forefeast)

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