What is Christmas truly about?

A Sermonette for a Younger Audience — Sunday of the Ancestors. Delivered in 2008.

Christmas is drawing near: just 3 days away. Can you wait? But let me ask you: what is Christmas about? Toys and presents, shopping, lights, music, singing, joy, and lots and lots of food and sweets and fun? Yes, I suppose it includes all these celebrations, but what is Christmas truly about? Let us find out, by doing what the shepherds and the Magi did: journey to Bethlehem! Let’s open up our Bibles to the second chapter of Saint Luke. We read:

“The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened’” (Lk. 2:15).

What is “this thing”? An angel had told them, “I bring you good news of great joy, for today is born for you a Savior, Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:9-11). “And they went in haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger” (Lk. 2:16). Then “they made known” what they saw and heard, and went back “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Lk. 2:20). The shepherds did not disbelieve, but told everyone around about the good news of Christ’s birth. They did not just forget it—how could they? And something else, very important: they praised and glorified God.

So here is what we learn about Christmas: 1) We believe that the One born is truly the Lord, God Himself, our Savior, 2) that this is an event of great joy, because thanks to Him we are saved, 3) that we should tell everyone about it, because we want everyone to share our great joy and be saved, and 4) that we should glorify and praise God, who loved us so much that He became like us, so that we can be like Him. If we do these things we truly celebrate Christmas.

The Wise Men instruct us

Now let’s journey to Bethlehem with the Wise Men (Magi), and see what answers we will find to answer our question: What is Christmas truly about?

For this we turn to the gospel according to Saint Matthew, chapter two. God allowed the Magi to find out, through the stars they were studying, that a king was born – a king unlike any other earthly king. Indeed, this King was so special, they did not just want to go and see him, but they wanted to find Him and “worship Him” (Mt. 2:2). And that’s exactly what they did. When they got to Bethlehem “they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him” (Mt. 2:11). Then they offered Him their presents, gold, frankincense and myrrh (Mt. 2:12).

So what do we learn from the Wise Men about Christmas?

  1. To believe in this King of Israel. (Saint Athanasios the Great says that “Israel” is the Church and through her the entire universe)
  2. To worship Him as our true and only God
  3. To offer Him whatever precious we have, which is what?: ourselves, our lives, our desires and hopes, our faithfulness, our love.

But the shepherds and the Magi are not the only people who approached the Newborn Christ. Many others have undertaken this journey.

  • Fishermen have come, and were transformed into “fishers of men” (Mt. 4:19).
  • Kings have come to prostrate before the King of glory.
  • Soldiers too have come to serve the Commander of the heavenly legions.
  • Servants have come to Him, and were honored by Him Who “appeared in the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).
  • Women, both mothers and virgins, have come to Him as well, whose status was elevated in the person of the holy Virgin who gave Him birth and yet remained virgin.
  • Children have come too, for God composed a hymn of praise “from the mouths of babes” (Ps. 8:3). They even shed their blood on account of Him.
  • Publicans and harlots, sorcerers and all sorts of sinners have come before this Newborn Babe, to be transformed by His radiance and become holy by His grace.

What then shall we do? Since we see that everyone who draws near Him recognizes Him as their Lord, and becomes transformed and full of spiritual joy, let us also draw near Him. But pay attention! We must approach Him with the eyes of our faith, not with the eyes of our body. Ready? Come along then!

What the eyes of faith show us

What do we see lying in the manger: a weak, powerless and helpless baby? Yes, but with the eyes of our faith we can see that He is also God almighty. Do we look upon a poor, homeless baby, born in a cave? Yes, but the eyes of our faith tell us that not even the heavens can contain Him, Who is the Ruler of the universe. Although a star guides the Magi to Him, we believe Him to be the Sun of justice, the Word of God, by whom the entire cosmos was created. They give Him presents, but we know that He is the Giver of all good things (James 1:17), and whatever we have to offer Him is His in the first place.

Who do we see in Him: God or a human being? The eyes of our body say, a human being! Yet the eyes of our faith say God. Actually, He is both—truly God and truly man. Think of it. Like us, He has a Father and a mother, but unlike us,

He was born of God the Father without a mother, and of a mother without a human father.

Yes, paradoxically today is born on earth He Who was born of the Father “before all ages,” for this Newborn Babe is the Word of God in the flesh, the One through Whom “all things were created” (John 1:3), “both visible and invisible,” as we recite in the Creed. Let us welcome Him then, offering Him our praise and glorification.

What do we do?

And now that we see Him with the eyes of our faith what shall we do? We shall strengthen our belief in Him. At the baptism ceremony the priest asks, “Do you believe in Him?” And our answer is, “I believe in Him as King and God.” We believe in Him as “the true light that enlightens every man that comes into the world” (John 1:9). We want to get to know Him better, although when He came into the world, “the world knew Him not” (John 1:10). We want to receive Him in our hearts and our lives, where “His own people received Him not” (John 1:11). For if we truly believe in Him, if we get to know Him as much as humanly possible, if we receive Him in our hearts with love and longing, He gives us the power to be what He is—children of God! (John 1:12)

My good children, and you older brothers and sisters: As Christ was born of God the Father outside of time as His eternal Son, yet He was born a second time as a human being, so we as also can receive a second birth, and be born “of God” (John 1:13), that is be reborn spiritually, and become by grace what He is by nature. If we do this, then we will see in this New Babe not just another, even extraordinary child, but with the eyes of our faith we will “behold His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).

The featured image shows Sarah from Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, as the Virgin Mary, holding the Lord. Photo from the annual parish Christmas play. Swansea, Illinois, 1995.

This then is what I urge all of us to do today, and in this period of our preparation for the great feast of Christmas, the Birth of the Son of God as a human being: As we journey towards Bethlehem, let us keep our gaze fixed on the Newborn Savior, and with great joy and anticipation welcome Him in our hearts, offering to Him in thanksgiving our renewed selves, transformed by His grace. And let us pray that we may receive “grace upon grace” (John 1:16), to be united with Him from this life, so that we may live with Him forever. Amen.

“Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Fr. E.H./12-14-08

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