Friday, December 25, 2009

A Reason to Celebrate

I have to say I really do enjoy living in the south. This year as I have been wandering the mall over the past few weeks I’ve noticed something. People are smiling and laughing as they pack the parking lots and squeeze into savings stores. One thing is clear; people this year are out shopping not to help the economy but to share the joy of Christmas with their family and friends. Every day I am blessed to hear “Merry Christmas” in almost every store I visit. People down here don’t mind using the name of Jesus and they haven’t forgotten that it is Christmas after all. In spite of all the depressing news about the economy, sexual affairs of our elected leaders, and a daily dose of prescriptions to cure our health care woes, the joy of Christmas is shining wherever you look.
Christmas truly is a joyous time of year. For weeks now many of us have been attending parties with friends and coworkers in between our trips to the shopping mall. And it all comes together in the great celebration of the Divine Liturgy. And it is no surprise because this is exactly what we heard just a few minutes ago from Saint Matthew’s Gospel. The Magi, bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, asked “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2.2) Ever since the very first Christmas people have been bringing gifts and worshiping God in celebration of His birth.

Have you ever wondered why Christmas is such an important celebration? It’s really quite simple. When God created humanity He didn’t finish the job. As Orthodox Christians we believe that humanity was created in the image of God according to His likeness. In other words, we were a “work in progress” waiting for completion by God. This completion begins with the incarnation of Jesus – His birth. In order for God to unite our humanity with His divinity He had to become “like us in all things” (Hebrews 2.17) to join our nature to His. In fact, the Church teaches that we are blessed to become partakers of the divine nature of God as a result of this gift. The only way God could be human in every way was to be conceived, born, grow up, and eventually die. Then and only then in His Resurrection could our nature enjoy unity with God.

Unity with God, or being in communion with God, is what life is all about. Communion with God is at the very center of our theology and has been the kernel of Christian doctrine from the very first days of the Church and we achieve communion by being baptized, chrismated and receiving Holy Communion. Jesus said, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in My, and I in him.” (John 6.56) We are joined to Christ in our Baptism and maintain that unity in Holy Communion.

There is no greater gift than being united to God but even that is not the entire story of Christmas. The Gospel tells us that after Jesus was born the Magi came with their gifts. They came to worship the King of Kings and usher in a new era when all people were welcomed, not just the Jews. In the celebration of Christmas we not only honor the birth of God, but give thanks that God has welcomed us into His House. Prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, only Jews were welcomed in the House of God. But thanks be to God that since He has come and Himself welcomed others, we too are invited to “become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1.4) and enjoy fellowship with God.

The Kontakion of Christmas says:

“Today the Virgin gives birth to Him who is above all being,
And the earth offers a cave to Him whom no man can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory,
And Magi journey with a star.
For unto us is born a young Child,
The pre-eternal God.”
Today we celebrate the birth of God my dear brothers and sisters and we have been welcomed into His House for all eternity. Today we celebrate with the Magi and bow down and worship Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Today God has saved us from the turmoil and oppression of a world that hates God. Today God has saved us from our sinful desires and granted us the blessing to become partakers of His divine nature. And that….is a reason to celebrate!
Christ is Born; Glorify Him!

3 comments:

Pr Seraphim said...

Dear Father: I read your blog as often as I can, as it is one of the "forty days of blogging" blogs.

I like much of what you say. But I feel strongly that you have gotten it backwards today. We Orthodox prepare for feasts with fasting, prayer, almsgiving, struggle and extra services. We do not celebrate before the celebration. This is not our way, although it is the secular way. I do not think it is appropriate to speak approvingly of Christmas parties before Christmas. I understand that there may be work or social obligations to go to parties, and of course, this is not a sin, but we should not seek out such things.

Perhaps you will think me legalistic and a fuddy duddy or scrooge. This would make ne sad, because it is so far from the truth. We pastors much teach our flocks about preparation for the feasts, and how to enter wholly into them.


Priest Seraphim Holland
Redeeming the Time: http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime
seraphim@orthodox.net

Fr. Athanasios C Haros said...

Fr
Taken in isolation you are correct about my words here. However two things you should be aware of. Since November I have been urging my congregation to prepare in an Orthodox manner for the feast. Also I am speaking here in regard to a society that is for the most part celebrating the birth of Christ albeit in a nonOrthodox manner. Further I believe when we are in the actual celebration of the feast talk of proper preparation is lost on those who do not practice their Orthodoxy daily. My words here are to emphasize the joy of His birth and the reality of our being able to commune with him.

Christ is born. Glorify Him!

Pr Seraphim said...

Dear Father: Thank you for your gracious reply. I did not take your comments only in isolation, and I pray that you do not take mine in isolation either. Teaching our flocks is very difficult, as they are infected with a secular spirit.

I feel that we have three ways we can influence our flocks.

Of course, we must try to live in a holy way. If we do not fast and struggle, of course, our flock will be lost, as they will being led by a blind shepherd.

We must publicly teach, and privately teach and encourage (for instance, I teach about fasting, and mitigate fasting privately, never publicly for those who cannot fast because of their spiritual weakness). I have respectfully disagreed with some statements in your post based on my “rule of thumb”. I have adopted the rule of thumb that I am stricter in the things I say publicly and more lenient and encouraging in the things I say privately. Of course, only those who confess with some regularity hear much privately!

I know you are doing these things, and we are fighting together. I will continue to read your blog, as I have often found it to be edifying and helpful.

Here is something from a sermon (http://www.orthodox.net/sermons) on the Great Supper, which we will read this Sunday. I think it encapsulates my thoughts about preparation.

I tell you, if you do not take this time today, and in the remaining days to prepare yourself for Nativity, you will MISS it. You may come to church, but you will miss the incarnation. It will not touch you. A man must be prepared for anything that is of value. You must prepare, so that you can inculcate virtue into your hearts, and know what it is that the Lord wants you to know. Now, we prepare not as the world prepares, right? The world prepares with frivolity, and partying. Now, they are already forgetting.

Btw, I am writing so much because the boy I care for (I work as a home care nurse) is asleep. It is a pity that I must work as a pastor, but it is good to earn extra money – this will compensate for the days I take off for Nativity and Theophany.

Priest Seraphim Holland
St Nicholas, McKinney - our new temple should be ready just before Great Lent!
http://www.orthodox.net/redeemingthetime