Meditation for Christmas

by an Orthodox Christian monk

We will interrupt the description of the Nativity services for a while so that we can reflect on some of the words from the gospels which the Church has brought to our attention during this feast.

The shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.' Let us, too, go even to Bethlehem In spins, let us climb that hill 'unto the hills, from whence cometh my help'. Climbing up to Bethlehem implies an effort; but shall we let such a great occasion slip by?

'Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child' It is no longer Caesar Augustus, but the King of kings who decrees that 'all the world should be taxed... every one into his own city'. Each person must declare sincerely which city he has chose, to which group he allies himself. Some will choose Rome; others Athens. Shall I choose riches, or power, or intelligence? No. Those cities are not for me. I shall not even choose Jerusalem, the place where God manifests his glory. During my earthly life, I wish to be a citizen of Bethlehem, and to have that humility and that poverty as my share; with Mary, with Joseph and with Jesus, I would like my name to be enrolled in that little town which may be despised or ignored by men, but is so great before God.

'Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy ... unto you is born this day a Saviour...' The birth of Jesus at Bethlehem is not a far-distant historical event which is of no concern to me. And, if it does concern me, it is not merely because I am a member of the great human collectivity. The message of Christmas is not addressed to humanity in general, it is addressed to each person in particular. It reaches each soul in a way that is unique and exceptional. This joy is announced to me in a different way than to any one else; it is to me and for me that a Saviour is born. Let us recognise the Nativity of Christ as a very personal gift. Let us receive this gift with faith and thankfulness.

'And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was'. The Magi followed the light which was given to them faithfully: being obedient to this light, they were led by it to the child. If I try to be faithful to the full measure of light that God has given me, if I have the courage to leave all to follow the star, if I decide to be true and obedient to my conscience (whatever may happen), and ready to 'bear witness of the Light... that was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world', the divine light will not fail, in spite of my ignorance, to lead me - not in any abstract way, but through all the concrete circumstances of life, and whenever it is needed - right up to the Child in whom I have placed all my hope.

'And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a mange; because there was no room for them in the inn'. This birth in a manger declares that Jesus wants to be counted among the poorest, among the most humble; he will be found among the disinherited, the sick, the prisoners, the sinners. I would rather be poor with Jesus than be rich without Jesus. I prefer to be in a cave with Jesus, Mary and Joseph than in the inn where there is no room for them. Then, too, we must accept the fact that, for those who love Jesus, there is no place in this world. 'The Son of man hath not where to lay his head'.

'And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes....' I seek a God and Lord, and I find a tiny child. The message of Christmas is a message of childhood: 'Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein'. God does not ask us to renounce the adult knowledge and discretion needed to accomplish our earthly tasks, but, in our relations with him, he wants us to return to the trusting simplicity of a child. The child has faith in his father; he walks hand in hand with him; he knows that his father will lead him where he needs to go, he knows that his father will protect him, feed and shelter him; he allows himself to be led by his father, eyes shut without the least anxiety. When he speaks to his father, he does not try to use any complicated formula, he says quite simply and affectionately what he wants to say. And this is what the little child of Bethlehem symbolises for us. Furthermore, Jesus' childhood is more than a model to be imitated; it is one of those mysteries of the Saviour's life which, although they are historical and transitory, also have an eternal reality; Christmas is a favourable time at which to honour the mystery of Jesus' childhood.

'They saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshiped mm: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.' Like the Magi, we offer our treasures and we offer the little child the most precious things we have. In spirit we offer gold, the sign of Jesus' sovereignty over all riches and all created things, a sign also of our own detachment from earthly goods. In spirit we offer incense, the sign of adoration, for Jesus is not only the king of the universe, he is our God. We offer in spirit myrrh, the spice with which we honour in advance the death and burial of Jesus and through which too, is represented our own renunciation of bodily pleasures. Lord Jesus, accept my offering.

'And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen...' Lord Jesus, before we leave Bethlehem, or come to the end of this feast of the Nativity, allow us to see something of what the shepherds saw, to hear something of what they heard, and to receive in our hearts the message which is preached to us from the manger.

'Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.' The feast of Christmas is the feast of the mystical Body, for it is through the Incarnation that men have become members of Christ. Whatever theological interpretation we give to this great spiritual and patristic affirmation of our incorporation into Christ, we must believe that with the Incarnation, an ineffable union- that passes all understanding- began, in human flesh, between Jesus Christ and men. Beyond the particular historical event which took place at Bethlehem and through which the Son of God took on a visible human body, another event took place that concerns the whole human race: God, in becoming incarnate, in some way weds and assumes the human nature which we all share and creases between himself and us a relationship which, without its ever ceasing to be that between the Creator and his creature, is also that between the body and its members. There is union without confusion. Christmas allows us to become most deeply conscious of what is our true nature, human nature, re generated by Jesus Christ.

'And the Word was made flesh'. These words summarise and express the feast of Christmas perfectly. If we give them their full meaning, we will understand that they do not only concern the mystery by which the Son and Word of the Father became man: this formula also carries an implication of a moral and practical order. Our flesh is often a source of temptation and sin to us. May the Word of God therefore become flesh in us, may it enter into our body. May the power of this Word (for there can be no question of its being an Incarnation in substance) pass from the exterior to the interior, and so, into our bodies; then the law of the Spirit will prevail over the law of the flesh. Christmas will have a true meaning for us only if our own flesh becomes transformed, changed and ruled by the Word made flesh.

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