Among all the repetitious versions of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “White Christmas” (the latter being meaningless in the south) in the month of December, one particular radio station I was listening to decided to play “What Child is this?” After I had listened to it, I began to wonder how many of us who profess to be Christians would know Who the child was, even though we claim to belong to Him. St. Joseph asked, not “what child is this” but rather “whose child is this” until the angel appeared, but then dedicated Himself and intertwined His life with Christ’s life until he reposed.
Herod believed the child was the Messiah, which is why he felt he needed to get rid of Him. Herod could permit no rival king to supplant him, nor to mess up His life. Herod was supposedly a believer, a lover of God, but didn’t want to love him that much. It is dismaying to see many “Herods” today, who are satisfied being a nominal believer so long as the Christ Child doesn’t get in their way, that He doesn’t get in the way of “us doing what we want to do.” We still today have a slaughter, this time of unborn innocents, by those who do not want the children to mess up their lives, just like Herod. Other “Herods” in our day might simply abandon their children or neglect them so that they don’t disrupt their selfish interests and activities.
Then there are the wise men. In the Troparion for the Nativity, we read that by Christ’s Nativity “those who [previously] worshipped the stars, were taught by a star to worship You, the Sun of Righteousness and to know You the East from on High…” From this we learn that worship is not just “showing up.” The wise men gave up much time and monetarily rich gifts to give toward the Christ child, for “where you put your treasure, there will your heart be also.” They invested in every sense, including monetary gifts, in the Kingdom of God. We see far too few wise men in the Church (no pun intended but coincidences will happen). Instead, we have people who don’t want to give too much time or money because “times are tough.” But if the Church is the Body of Christ, us not giving to it is the same as us not giving to Him. When our Lord tells us that what we have failed to do for His Church we have failed to do for Him and that with what measure we have given it shall be given unto us, what consolation will there be for us when we have to face the consequences of our lack of investment in Him and His Church? --Even if it was under the guise that “times are tough.” Times are always tough, but the first 10% of everything we have according to Scripture belongs to Him. Only above that are we actually giving from ourselves, and even then we are giving Him His own from what is His own, as all of what we have goes back to Him in the end, and we are to voluntarily offer our whole lives to God as Christians in any case.
Then there was St. Joseph, who picked up his family and left his home and most of his possessions to go into another land and left what was familiar behind so that this Body of the child had a future. That Body became the Body that, due to the Spirit’s operation from Pentecost, engrafted you and I and all the faithful of every generation from then until now into the Incarnate God by the Holy Mysteries. How many of us would go into an unfamiliar land or be among unfamiliar people to ensure that there was a future for this Body of the Christ child?
But let us also look to the angels. The angels proclaimed a message of good tiding of great joy that “shall be to all people.” This message that a Savior has come to us, Who is Christ the Lord. Yet, for many of us, we would rather not be bothered by sharing this with anyone. The angel’s message--that this Faith and this Savior Christ, Whose Body lay in a manger but later was given for us to make us His members—thereby forming God’s Holy Orthodox Church—is, according to the angels, for “all people.” Christians were not expected to “become Jewish” nor the Jews to “become Greek” once the Church spread. Yet often we prefer the more comfortable position of only caring about “our people” (when we are not backbiting and speculating about some drama--perceived or real--in their lives), not seeking to incorporate others who might be willing into “our people,” indeed, His people.
Just as the angels directed the shepherds saying, “this shall be a sign to you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,” so also we should be pointing others to the Christ who once lay in a manger, but now lay in a Chalice upon the Altar, waiting to share Himself with all who will join His Body and faithfully approach. It is no mistake that some icons of the Eucharist have the Christ child in the chalice wrapped in swaddling clothes. It is also no mistake that we cover the gifts “wrapping” them in the veil covers. Therein we find salvation, and so might others, if we would only be like the angels, and invite others, and maybe even “dirty strangers” such as lowly shepherds--to “come and see the sign.” If we are doing this, we can truly with joy and without hypocrisy proclaim “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men.”
But perhaps if we are not ready to imitate the angels, we can imitate the Shepherds.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
Let us with them vow to go down to Bethlehem on the Lord’s Day (Sundays), and make haste doing it. Our God appears to us every Sunday in the Gospel and in the Sacred Mysteries. Are we like the Shepherds who arise with joy to go down and see this great sign given to us? In our case, the sign is even greater, for it is given perpetually, but perhaps it has become too ordinary for us. Like the children of Israel, who grew tired of the bread from heaven, we ourselves just hit the snooze button and say “well, Church will be there next week.” What if it is NOT there next week? What if we grow strangers to God and His Church, take this weekly miracle for granted, but then something happens, and the next thing we know we meet the Lord and He tells us “I don’t know you (οὐκ οἶδα ὑμᾶς) …depart from me…” (Luke 13.25; Matt. 25.41).
You see, what it means to be an Orthodox Christian is encapsulated in the account of the Nativity.
One thing the Nativity account makes clear—Christianity may be about comfort, but is not about “being comfortable.” It is work. It is being better people than we otherwise would be if we were just comfortable. It is making pilgrimages to Bethlehem (the Church) giving a great amount of our time and monetary gifts to the Lord for the building up of His Body and Kingdom. It is making pilgrimages out of the comfort of our neighborhood to bear the Christ to people who migh (Egypt), and then coming back with all who will follow. It is going out into “the fields” to gather even ignored or unwanted people to the Cave of our Salvation that they may be brought in share in the Grace of His Mysteries.
At every Liturgy, at the Proskomedia, the priest as he prepares the gifts puts what is known as the “star” representing the star of Bethlehem over the Lamb (the Bread to be consecrated) on the paten (the elevated plate). When he does this, he repeats the words from sacred Scripture: “and the star came and stood over the place where the young child was.” Later, during Liturgy, at the declaration of the angelic thrice holy, when the priest says “singing the triumphant hymn…” the priest clinks the star on the paten on four sides and removes it for the Oblation (the Eucharistic offering, remembrance, and calling down of the Spirit to consecrate the gifts). Just as the Holy Spirit formed in the womb of the Most Holy Virgin a human Body for the Lord that did not previously exist, so also this miracle happens every Sunday and Holy Day when He once again makes present this Body where it previously was not—the Bread from Heaven (Christ) from simple bread.
Let us hasten to Bethlehem as did the Shepherds, not only during these Holy Days, but every Sunday, and find the Savior of mankind setting the table before us. Let us journey there like the Magi with generous offerings of time and gifts for the Christ Child. Let us like the Angels sing joyous praises to our God and King, and invite others to come with us. Let us like Holy Joseph and the Most Holy Mary invest our whole lives in this Divine Person who became what we are, so that He might make us what He is. This Divine Person is the Incarnate Lord Jesus, Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit is worshipped and glorified, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Fr. Harry Linsinbigler
is Pastor of the Protection of the Most Holy Mother of God parish
in Dover Florida