by H.G. Yuhanon Mor Meletius
A group of shepherds, resting at night outside the cave where their flock was kept, received a message and went out to check it out. They saw to their amazement "… Mary and Joseph and the babe lying in a manger" (Luke 2:16). They were not so much surprised at the sight because the message they received had told them, "you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger" (Luke 2:12). What they went out to see was a new born child in a most pathetic, wretched and poor environment. However, they heard the angels glorifying God for giving this child to the world. They realized that the situation in which the child was born was not a cursed or negative, rather a blessed one.
This, as a matter of fact, was the beginning of a new chapter in the history of humanity guided by God. God initiated the history of the world in creation hoping that it will steadily progress in the manner God wanted it to be. But human, with his greed, set the pace in a distorted direction. What God wanted was a history of humans in participation with God. God wanted to be with people, his creation, guiding them through all stages of development and take it to culmination of perfecting God’s image and likeness in them and thus, in the words of our ancient fathers, ‘make them like God’.
But human who could not wait for that process, rather wanted to jump over several stages in one step jeopardized God’s purpose. They, by their act went away from God’s presence and hid themselves behind a tree and found protection under it instead of finding it under the caring and guiding hand of God. So God had to keep them away for a while ‘lest they eat the fruit of the tree of life and live permanently in that distorted path’. God irrespective of human rebelliousness continued to work through selected individuals to bring his people back to his fold.
This is what we see in the life of Abram and his journey from Mesopotamia and later in Moses and his flight from Egypt. God walked with Abram and with Moses and his people. God provided Moses and his group with freedom from political and religious slavery, led them safe through hostile environment, provided them with food, water and passage, and was with them as a source of comfort and hope. He, of course, corrected them when they went wrong; but never left them alone for the mercy of the wilderness. God was a ‘God with us’ for those who left Egypt. The people recorded it in their history (Deut. 6 and 26). However, they lost that first step somewhere on the way further in history. David, out of his political ambitions made God his personal property and entombed him in his private chapel (see, 2 Sam. 6:1-5, 10 ff.). Thus he made God unapproachable and distant for the people by bringing the symbol of the presence of God in their midst, the ark in to his personal property, Jerusalem. His son later built a temple and enslaved God. The temple he built was magnificent and was an expression of not only his wealth, but also of his enslavement and hard labor levied on the people of God. Though it was interpreted as according to the will of God, later God himself used foreign kings to destroy it. Still they did not learn. When they came back from exile in Babylon, they built another temple which Jesus talked about saying, "… not one stone shall be left here upon another that shall not be thrown away" (Matt. 24:2).
God wanted to correct the distracted history. He wanted to be with people, not through intermediaries, not through gatekeepers, but directly in the most simple and pure way (when I say this some may raise their eyebrows thinking I am against intercession of saints and mediation of clerics. No, to an orthodox believer saints are those who share the caring love of God toward his people and who stand with the faithful praying along. Priests (bishops included) are the shepherds and not gatekeepers who control people’s entry in to the presence of God, rather help them go further in their relation with God. Recently a term ‘bhadrasanadhipan’ is being used for bishops of our Church. This is totally wrong to my understanding of the office of Bishops. Rather they are chief shepherds and presiding person in worship of the congregation and can only be called ‘Bhadrasana Metropolitan’).
When God’s plan did not get worked out, he chose to do it by himself while he tried it earlier through his chosen ones, prophets and leaders and found unsuccessful. That initiated a new chapter in the history. He was born as the Son of David in the same city where he was enslaved in the thick darkness of the temple built with wood and stone, God’s own creation, by David. However, he was not born in the palace or in the temple, rather was born as any other poor and miserable human being of that time as a genuine human child. David was a shepherd before he became king and an enslaver. God took flesh and was born among sheep and the first who came to see him was shepherds. Seeing all these corrective measures fathers of our Church, starting with the Apostles, called him ‘God with us’ or Immanuel. They called a boy who was born in the most pathetic environment God. This is so wonderful (see the repeated phrase in our Yeldo liturgy ‘ithu atbhuthamakunnu’. The shepherds went to see God incarnate in the most primitive and crude environment.
Now the questions before us are, where do we look for God’s continued incarnation and presence? Whom do we consider divine? I would humbly say, we Christians took the history back to where it went in the other direction whith Adam’s act of haste and greed. We took the child in the manger and put him in an artificially created golden crib. We set guards for God, just like David did, that no common man could approach him easily. We set laws and statutes claiming that we are protecting the interests of God and people’s faith in him. We sent intermediaries between God and human that we can issue permits and entry pass receiving fee and donation. We did the same mistake David did in Jerusalem. We built palacious buildings claiming that God resides there eternally. We today see such buildings in Europe and America being converted in to restaurants and clubs (I saw one of them recently in Iowa, USA, on the bank of Mississippi river). God does not pull them down any more, he gives them to people for better purpose (some times, of course, not so better purpose. God’s mysterious ways!!).
On the other hand, we failed to see sons of men still being born in pathetic situations. We look for divine presence and God’s blessings in wealth and riches. We invoked God’s presence not in areas that require salvation and redemption, rather to affluence and luxury. Greed and fancy continue to control our lives. We look for how much we can spend to further our luxurious life style, not how much is required to change the lives of those living in pathetic situation. We made God owner and custodian of wealth and riches. With that we took him away from among the people. We look for our God and his presence not in manger, rather in palaces and wealthy places just like those wise men of the old. We get easily attracted by what is called ‘prosperity Gospel’ of the time. We consider the divine as someone who prefers to live far from human situations. The great fathers of our Church confessed and proclaimed "un-assumed are unsaved". Our Lord assumed our poor and wretched situation not to make us materially wealthy but to make us whole (shalom) and happy, leading a peaceful life participating in God’s salvific work. He assumed our nature that it shall be a resurrected nature, not slavish any more. But look at us, we are still enslaved by consumerism and greed.
The message of Christmas is that, we need to see God’s saving presence in the pathetic environment where humans are being born and are living in. Until we see no more birth and life in such situation we have no right to look for luxury and lavish lifestyle. This is what Paul talked about when he said in Rom. 8:22, 23, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies". Our distorted lifestyle only will make lives of people more miserable. We see the effect of our greed in the present ‘global economic crisis’. So let us look down to the mangers and where sheep are resting instead of to palaces and to where kings and nobles are making merry.
I wish everyone a blessed Christmas that would help us set your lives on the right track and in line with God’s plan about you, along with a New Year of God’s promises fulfilled in you.
The Nativity Sermon
by Saint John Chrysostom
Homily on Gal. 4:4-7 for the Nativity of Christ
Sermons on the Feast of the Nativity of Christ
by St. Leo the Great
The festival of Christ's birthday
by St. Gregory Nazianzos
Meditation for Christmas
Malankara World Supplement on Christmas (includes articles and sermons on Christmas)
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