Today God came unto sinners; let not the righteous man exalt himself over sinners!
Today the Most Rich One became poor for our sake; let the rich man invite the poor to his table!
Today we received a gift which we did not ask for; let us bestow alms to those who cry out to us and beg!
The present day has opened the door of heaven to our prayers; let us also open our door to those who ask of us forgiveness!
Today the Godhead placed upon Himself the seal of humanity, and humanity has been adorned with the seal of the Godhead!
-St. Ephraim the Syrian
Some 2000 years ago, the pre-eternal Son of God mystically entered the world as a newborn. The modest scene of his birth in a manger in Bethlehem, in certain respects, was similar to that of many babies. He was bathed, swaddled, and fed. His family received visitors bearing gifts for the Child. The nature of the gifts offered, however, points to an extraordinary event! Gold, frankincense, and myrrh—symbols of Jesus Christ’s divine and human natures indicating His being as King, God, and Lamb. In His Incarnation through the Holy Spirit and the agreement of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ accepts every human trait—including subjection to death—for the salvation of the world.
As we enter into the season of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s Nativity, we pray that our hearts would be fitting mangers—containing the Christ Child to experience the true joy and peace that comes from His birth. Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
Shopping for Jesus: Nothing Wrong with Re-gifting!
While many ‘celebrate’ Christmas, is Christ Himself at the forefront of the festivities? Is His coming into the world—with all of its magnificent consequences—pondered, bringing joy into the hearts of those who confess Him as Lord? The period can easily devolve into an annual excuse for lavish get-togethers and opulent gift exchanges—basically, celebrations of hollow excess. When we confess, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16) we understand that any gift-giving during the season should be in the spirit of God’s never-ending philanthropy. Anything we ‘give’ was first given to us from God. Therefore, we are simply re-gifting the blessings we’ve received! Like the Magi, we are also to offer gifts to the Savior in ways particular to our capabilities—remembering the family member, the friend, the stranger, and—especially—the least of our brethren through loving gestures of prayer, goodwill, and material generosity. Christ tells us, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) and in reflecting His love at Christmas, we give back to His Church, His people, and His creation, offering ourselves as loyal subjects of Him—the newborn King! At the Vesperal Hymns of Christmas, we hear:
What shall we offer you, O Christ?
Who for our sake appeared on earth as a human?
Every creature made by you offers you thanksgiving,
The angels offer you a hymn,
The heavens, a star,
The magi, gifts,
The shepherds, their wonder,
The earth, its cave,
The wilderness, a manger,
And we offer to you a Virgin Mother.
Together, make a list of all the things that God has blessed your family with. Consider how you can use these gifts to give back to Him this Christmas season. This can involve using your time, talents, and treasures as loving, humble offerings on behalf of Christ the Lord. So what will you give? Keep us posted at #WhatWillWeOffer.
Family Challenge: The 12 Days of Christmas
The 12 Days of Christmas refer to the period of December 25 – January 5. It is a primarily a festal time, spanning from Christmas Day until the Eve of Epiphany (or Theophany), which is the only day where fasting is observed. Download the parent companion to the zine "For to Us a Child is Born", which features suggested activities for celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas as a family, but you can also create your own! The most important thing is to not let a day go by without marveling at the transformative gift we received in Christ’s Nativity. Are you ready to take the Challenge?
Baptized in Christ: Looking Toward Epiphany Day
The definition of the word epiphany is “a manifestation or showing of” and leads us to the event of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan River as described in the narratives of the New Testament’s first three gospels. What exactly is being manifested or shown? It is the revelation of the Holy Trinity in God the Father’s voice proclaiming His pleasure with His Son, and the Holy Spirit appearing in the form of a dove. How can we, as Orthodox Christian families, celebrate the feast day with a greater appreciation that comes from a better understanding? Here are some ideas to get you started:
- As a family, prepare for Epiphany by observing the short, strict fast the day prior (January 5) to receive Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. If it’s been too long since you and your family’s members have gone to the sacrament of Confession, consider going to seek reconciliation with God and humanity through the Church.
- Come together to study the feast day’s gospel reading (Matthew 3:13-17) prior to attending the Divine Liturgy.
- Learn the apolytikion (dismissal hymn) for the feast day.
Lord, when You were baptized in the Jordan, the veneration of the Trinity was revealed. For the voice of the Father gave witness to You, calling You Beloved, and the Spirit, in the guise of a dove, confirmed the certainty of His words. Glory to You, Christ our God, who appeared and enlightened the world.
There is tremendous theological richness within the hymnography of the church. You can listen to examples at the Online Chapel. Add the seasonal hymns in Greek and/or English to your morning and evening prayers, as well as when praying at the beginning or conclusion of a family meals.
- This is the traditional season to have your parish priest bless your home or business. Take advantage of the occasion, and invite as many people—parents, children, relatives, and friends—as possible. Practice Christian witness by asking those that have been out of the Church’s ‘loop’ to be present. Tell them you’d be honored to have their presence for the blessing. Such a gathering may serve as a spark in kindling such a person’s reconnection to the Church. Sometimes a sincere, heartfelt invitation is the greatest evangelization tool!
- Epiphany is an appropriate time for family members to remember their own baptism—what it means to, as the Apostle Paul says, “put on Christ” and carefully consider their spiritual state. For a godparent, also, it may inspire contact with a godchild and vice versa. The godparent in the Orthodox Church is a vital role, having a significant influence in the spiritual development of the “newly illumined” member of the church. Being a godparent goes well beyond the purchase of gifts for birthdays and holidays. Frequently assess your position as a godparent, regardless of your godchild’s age.
- The Epiphany season also affords us the opportunity to honor John the Baptist and Forerunner and to remember his esteemed position in the Church. His ‘synaxis’ (the gathering of the faithful in his honor) is observed on January 7.