His Eminence Metropolitan Gerasimos
Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
The year 2020 will be remembered as the year when everything changed. In an instant this past March, we began to live differently, to work differently, to send our children to school differently, and to worship and participate in the life of the Church differently. We also saw our nation gripped with social and political controversy, economic hardships and uncertainties, and environmental destruction.
However, what has not changed, what is not different, is that at Christmas we will welcome the same news that the Angels proclaimed to the shepherds centuries ago: “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12).
As we hear and contemplate the story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ in the Divine Services for Christmas, notice how few details are offered about the birth of Christ itself. The Scriptures state very simply that Mary gave birth to her Son. There is no elaboration. What we do hear, however, is the reaction to the event. The heavenly hosts sing praises (Luke 2:14). Shepherds go to Bethlehem (Luke 2:16). Magi travel with gifts (Matthew 2:11). Joseph protects the child from Herod’s plot to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:14). And Mary ponders all the events in her heart (Luke 2:19). It is all as if the authors of the Gospel want us to consider our reaction to the event.
The event of Christ’s birth is a great paradox. God Himself becomes man. As Saint Gregory the Theologian writes, “He who is comes into being, and the uncreated is created, and the uncontained is contained.” (Oration 38). When we open our hearts and minds and begin to wrestle with this mystery, our first reaction, our first response becomes offering praise to Almighty God and bringing the gift of our self and placing it before the babe born in Bethlehem. We offer our praise to “God in the highest” (Luke 2:24) in the worship services of our Church, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We encounter Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist.
Encountering the newborn Christ transformed permanently the lives of the shepherds, the Magi, and of course Joseph and Mary. But what about us? Once we have sung our carols and hymns, decorated our homes and given our gifts, what lasting effects will this Christmas have on us? This is the second response we can have to the Good News. Our transformation begins to come about though our response to the needs of the world that surround us are great. Our lives have been upended this year because of the pandemic, providing us with many opportunities to show our Christian love in meaningful and substantial ways. Our parishes offer many opportunities for you to share your many gifts with others. What could be better than working together as an Orthodox Christians to serve our neighbor in response to the Good News that the Savior has come into the world?
Sisters and brothers in the Lord, this will be a Christmas like no other in recent memory. We see the tragic stories about the effects of the pandemic on so many. We are being encouraged to celebrate only with those in our households. There are no Christmas pageants of children telling the story of the birth of Christ. But, we may still greet one another with phone calls and video gatherings. We may still sing the hymns of the Nativity and the beautiful Christmas carols of our culture. This year, bring the sights and the sounds of Christmas into your home, and celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with joyful and grateful hearts.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him! Χριστός γεννάται, Δοξάσατε!