What Christmas Means to Me?
by Fr. Theodore Ziton
This message is sincerely sent to give you a deeper insight on the "Mystery of Christmas" and what the "Incarnation," i.e., the union of Divinity with humanity in Christ, should carry in our minds and in our hearts.
Curiosity is a sign of good mental health — I mean, the proper type of curiosity of course — that which seeks to discover more in order the better to love and serve a worthy cause. We all appreciate meeting, or leastwise seeing even though from a distance, any individual who has accomplished a heroic feat of some kind or other. The case of astronauts such as Gagarin or Schirra is a point in fact. We were all anxious to hear about the details of the Mercury capsule; we were all eyes and ears during the first launching of a manned spacecraft from Cape Canaveral; we followed intently the first orbital flight and the recovery operations as relayed by television. A complex communications system had been set up to keep us informed on all phases of the project. We were even introduced into the living room of the astronaut's home to share personally the hope and tension of the cosmonaut's wife and children. We just had to know all about this history-making event, because we felt that man in space meant man taking possession of another bit of this vast universe.
But are we now completely satisfied with what we've learned of outer-space? Have all the wonderful discoveries of modern science set our minds at rest? Let's be frank; we are still looking ahead, searching for new frontiers, ever anxious to learn more and more about the world around us. Our curiosity will never be fully satisfied. In fact, in spite of our fantastic progress in all fields of scientific achievement, in spite of the tremendous amount of human knowledge accumulated over the centuries, we are still seeking God; we want to possess Him; we remain intent on grasping the implications of the spiritual in our lives and would like fully to grasp the intentions of the Almighty regarding our salvation. To be sure, "no one has ever seen God."
According to certain "down-toearth thinkers" who claim to be "realists," this is precisely where the difficulty lies, because they fail to realize that the unique Son of God was made flesh precisely to acquaint us with the heavenly Father. Christ is the on-the-spot camera that has picked up the picture of the Father for us. He is the One Who has revealed Him to us. And the sequences of God's intimate life of love for us and of God's mysteries have been recorded by Christ to be re-telecast by the world-wide network of the Church. God's picture is therefore continually beamed to all corners of the world for all men to see in the portrayal done by Christ. The Church is there ever alert to make sure the picture comes out clear and sharp.
We would be mistaken in believing that Christmas is but the anniversary of an event long past. The truth of the matter is that the Advent of Jesus is spiritually re-enacted every year, through the shedding of His grace. Hence we are quite right in claiming that on Christmas Eve Christ truly comes anew to visit the earth and again lifts men up to the dignity of being and becoming the sons of God. However, it is no longer into the stable of Bethlehem that He descends, but in the souls of all of us. Our hearts then become like so many living mangers that must be carefully prepared for His coming.
How will you greet the Christ-Child? The way the Jews did? Yes, history repeats itself. Even among the Christians-members of the select lineage of Christ-there are still many who are so fully engrossed in mundane pursuits, that they no longer take pains to reserve a nook in their hearts wherein to welcome the Divine Guest. And like the Jews, they reject the grace offered to them seeking after the world and its gifts.
By the time you read this message, the high-pressure advertising campaign which in late years has been timed to promote Christmas sales will probably have induced you to purchase a number of gifts you intend to send your friends for the holidays. Now, mind you, I do not in the least mean to write against gift-giving on the occasion of Christmas. However, what I am driving at is this: Commendable though may be the custom of presenting gifts at Christmas, it will easily degenerate into a camouflaged commercialism based on the principle of profit from exchange, unless it is subservient to the true spirit of Christmas. There is no sense in offering a friend or a relative a gift at Christmas, if we are not in a position to simultaneously Give Christ to him. To Give Christ does not require a purse, well garnished with savings, for you cannot buy Him at the novelty shop and have Him packed in a bright, crisp wrapper. Christ does not sell that way. We must possess Him beforehand in our hearts and in our minds and then our actions of love will follow accordingly.
How will you greet the Christ-Child? The way the beast of the stable did. Those who consider Christmas merely as a wonderful opportunity to make merry and to revel are likened to the beast of the stable to which the coming of the Child meant an orgy, because for days on end the beast of the stable feasted on the peels of the fruits brought to the stable; but the beast's satisfaction never exceeded the level of its stomach, and the beast never suspected the marvel that had just occurred.
"Let us go over to Bethlehem" by an actual visit to the crib . . . Our Church. . . not merely as a reminder of a blessed event that took place twenty centuries past, but also as a hallowed spot where we can benefit by an increase of grace in our souls on the condition of humbling ourselves and accepting on faith the mystery of the Incarnation. "Unless you become like little children" and kneel in anticipation at the "Crib" much of the spirit of Christmas will escape your grasp, and much of its entrancing mystical sense will remain as a mere nothing to you. Here, wrapped, in swaddling clothes, is a Divine Person embodied in human flesh sent to reunite us with God and to restore us to eternal life.
"Let us go over to Bethlehem," the Sacramental-Bethlehem where the Christ-Child awaits our visit. The shepherds forsook their flock, the Magi left behind the security of their homeland and the angels flew down from Heaven to go to Bethlehem. And all we have to do is to go slightly out of our way to pay an occasional visit to Christ in the Sacrament. What is more, Him Whom they came only to see, we can have and hold in Holy Communion!
Yes, have, give and keep Christ in and with Christmas. . . making sure you possess Him beforehand.
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
pp. 4, 9