READINGS FOR CHRISTMAS
By Archpriest Paul Ziatyk
Each year there is an excitement in the air in the weeks preceding Christmas. There is the hectic preparation for the feast — the gift buying, planning, food preparation, card writing, decorating. etc. to name a few of our activities, as wel1 as making time for our children’s Christmas pageant, watching our favorite Christmas programs on TV, and of course the office Christmas Party.
This heavy involvement in preparing for the feast often leaves us tired, irritable and short-tempered, and searching for the meaning behind what we frantically do. There is little joy and peace experienced and we feel that something is wrong with us. It is even common to hear people saying the day after Christmas, “I’m glad it’s over.”
What can we do to change all this which gives so little long term meaning to our lives? It is in understanding Christmas — what are we celebrating —that meaning can be found in what Advent is all about.
WHAT IS CHRISTMAS ALL ABOUT?
Christmas is the commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is the celebration of God’s Son taking on flesh and becoming a man, i.e., the Incarnation. It is one of the central events in the history of our salvation. The Incarnation is foretold in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah 9:2-7: “The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Mid’ian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.
We also read about the Word becoming flesh in the Gospel of John 1:14, 16-18: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth: we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through .Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God: the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”
In the Creed which we recite or sing at every Divine Liturgy we confess our faith in, Jesus Christ, the Son of God — “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.”
In the Gospel of Luke 1:26-38 we learn about the announcement to Mary by the Angel Gabriel of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This feast is related to the Nativity of Christ.
EMMANUEL — GOD WITH US
God so loved the wor1d that He gave us his Only Begotten Son (John 3:16). And so it was that “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4) God sent forth His Son to take on flesh from a virgin woman named Mary. This we read about in the Gospels of Matthew 1 and 2, and Luke 2. Following are the events as recorded in these chapters. Take time to read them in the weeks or days preceding the feast and use them as brief meditations.
Mary and Joseph Betrothed: In the Galilean town of Nazareth, Joseph and Mary were betrothed to one another. She was a young virgin woman: he an elderly carpenter who took Mary to be his wife, and before they came together she was found with child. (Matthew 1:18)
The Annunciation: The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in the Temple and told her that she would conceive a child and His name shall be called Jesus. (Luke 1:26-35) This event is celebrated each year on March 25.
The Angel and Joseph: The angel also appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him that the son to be born was the long awaited Messiah. (Matthew 1:20-25)
The Census: The Roman Governor of Palestine ordered a census to be taken of all the people. Therefore, Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem, since they were of the tribe of David, in order to be registered. (Luke 2:1-5)
Birth in Bethlehem: Because of the crowds who came to Bethlehem, there was no room in the inn and the Virgin Mother gave birth to Jesus Christ in a cavern. (Luke 2:6-7) This Nativity of Christ is celebrated on December 25.
The Shepherds: An angel appeared to the shepherds who were caring for their flock in the field and announced the birth of the Savior. They hastened to the cave to find Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger. (Luke 2:8-20)
The Circumcision: According to the Jewish law every male child was circumcised on the 8th day and so it was with the young Christ child who was given the name Jesus. (Luke 2:21) Our Orthodox Church commemorates this event on January 1.
The Ritual of Purification: Again according to Jewish law every male child was presented to the Lord on time 40th day. Jesus’ parents brought him to the temple of Jerusalem on the 40th day where He was received by the righteous Simeon. Simeon blessed God and prayed what is known as “Simeon’s Prayer.” This prayer is sung or recited at every Vesper Service. (Luke 2:22-38) This feast is celebrated on February 2.
The Magi: Magi or Wisemen came from the East, being guided by a star to Bethlehem. And when they found the child they presented gifts and worshiped him as “King of the Jews.” (Matthew 2:1-2, 9-12)
Slaughter of the Innocents: Herod, the ruler of Palestine, hated the young child and feared him for He was a threat to his throne. Herod ordered all male infants two years and younger in Bethlehem to be killed in the hope that Jesus would be among them. (Matthew 2:3-8, 16-18)
Flight: In a dream Joseph learned of Herod’s scheme, therefore he took Mary and the child Jesus and fled into Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-15)
Return to Nazareth: After the wicked Herod died, Joseph took the child and His Mother to Nazareth where Jesus was raised. (Matthew 2:19-23)
Who is this Jesus whom we speak about? Is He God, is He just a man, is He two persons? What is the Church’s teaching about “who Jesus Christ is?” He is the Son of God who has a divine nature as the eternal Son of God and who took on a human nature from the Virgin Mary. He is One Person with two natures. How are we saved by Jesus Christ? Give this considerable thought. Discuss it with your family, friends. If you are not sure, speak to your priest.
At the Christmas Vigil, we sing: “God is with us.” In what manner is this understood? Just as Christ was born in Bethlehem of old, so Christ is born in our hearts, minds and souls, if we make room for Him. Advent is that season of 40 days before Christmas which is set aside by the Church in order to help and guide us in preparing ourselves for the birth of Christ within us. This time before Christmas is a time for repentance, fasting, prayer, the confession of our sins and the reception of Christ in the partaking of His flesh and blood. It is a time to come out of the everyday rush of life and to realize that man cannot live by bread alone. Only as we do this will God’s promise become flesh in our lives. When we direct the attention of our hearts to God, the dimness of our eyes will fade away. We discover purpose in our existence and in everything we do. How different is such preparation for Christmas than what the world offers. One leads to God, life, peace and joy — the other to that darkness of soul and restlessness of heart which continues to gnaw at the heart until they find their rest in God.