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Christmas message, 2004


Brother Concelebrants and beloved children in Christ who is born,

As we are all aware, there are two major saving events of divine Providence which we celebrate every year with appropriate gratitude and vigilance: Christmas and Easter. These two are justifiably the climax of the Church year; and they are by no means unrelated to each other. The former is the presupposition of the latter. And the latter is the steadfast goal of the former.

The Incarnation of God that we celebrate at Christmas would remain unfulfilled, and we could say unjustified, if it did not culminate in the Crucifixion and Resurrection of the only sinless God-Man, who is Christ. He came to earth exactly as the Prophets had foretold: "behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29).

Of course the image of the Lamb, namely the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (cf. Rev. 13:8), appears to be more suited to Holy Week and Easter. This is because the Cross of Christ expresses more fully and clearly the meaning of the redeeming sacrifice for all of humankind. However, as we shall see, the 'spotless lamb' is the central motif in the mystery of the divine Incarnation. It expresses the love of God, which can never be reciprocated. We can appreciate this better by remembering the basic attributes of the Lamb.

The first attribute of the Lamb is humility - As far as we know, there is no other animal in all of creation which is more good-natured than the lamb. When sheared, it offers no objection. When led to the slaughter, it follows without protest, as if without suspicion about what lies ahead. This is precisely why the loud-voiced Prophet Isaiah, foretelling the 'utter humility' of Christ who was to come, found no image from the created world more expressive of the 'divine-human' ethos, than the manner of an innocent lamb:

"He was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth"
(Is. 53:7).

The second attribute of the lamb is purity - if we recall the comparison made in the Gospel between sheep and goats (at the Second Coming of Christ), we will notice an underlining of the fact that, while goats have an untamed and rebellious nature, the sheep always remain peaceful, which comes from their deep innocence and tranquility.

It is clear that both the mentioned attributes of the Lamb are strong symbols of the 'utter humility' of Christ on the one hand, and His 'absolute sinlessness' on the other. However, these two features of Christ's divine and human person did not appear for the first time just before the Cross and death. They were in fact the constant characteristics that testified to the mystery of 'self-emptying' divinity from the very beginning of the Incarnation and throughout His earthly life!

Even when He took the whip to drive the merchants from the Temple, His anger was not hatred. It was rather the Love that educates and saves. Even in that moment of 'head-on collision', He remained unchanged in His divine essence. This was also the case when Christ had the most pointed confrontation with the hypocrisy and disbelief of the people of the Law, expressed with the repeated 'woes' recorded in the Gospel (cf. Matt. 23:13-39). For, it was an indisputable truth which He proclaimed to all: "…learn from me, that I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:29). Exactly the same thing occurred when Christ felt the need to reveal the height of His love for humankind when consoling and supporting the weak and disheartened, saying those completely unexpected words, "for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world" (John 12:47)!

After briefly 'deciphering' some of the meanings of the Lamb both at Christmas and at Easter, we can perhaps better appreciate the difference between the 'silence' of God and the 'noise' of the world.

Here, then, is the 'picture' that this year's Christmas places before us:

The 'silence of the Lamb' contains all the power and wisdom of God - that which St Paul called "the mystery that was kept secret for long ages" (Rom. 16:25). By contrast, the film 'Silence of the Lambs' made by a modern Director implies, or rather dramatizes, the cunning, distortion and tragic dead-ends of people who have grown weary 'without God'.

In the past, the pious (regardless of which religion they belonged to!), also showed love to their fellow human beings. They would try to seek out the 'ways of God' and follow them at least as much as they followed the laws of nature.

Today, however, those who are impious are offensively inhuman. They jostle with each other on the world stage to see who will discover and 'secure' first the 'petrol routes' (and soon those of water as well!). This is not only to control them, but also to monopolise them. Nevertheless, the Lord lives. And divine justice will not be delayed!

However, the salvation, which Christ brought to the world, is never based on an 'ideology', nor is it a conventional 'religion'. It is another manner of existence. A 'strange mystery', literally. It is the inexpressible miracle of the 'Word' in 'silence'! Of the 'fullness' that is 'emptied'! Of 'strength' in 'weakness'! Of 'wisdom' in 'foolishness! And indeed the 'foolishness of the Cross' (cf. 1 Cor. 1), which grants life through 'death' alone.

To God the Word who was incarnate and born as a baby in a manger for the sake of all people, be glory and worship unto the ages. Amen.

With fervent prayers to the Lord
Archbishop S T Y L I A N O S

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