The great feast of the Nativity of Our Lord draws near – very near. It is 1430 hours on Christmas Eve. I am guessing that some little children in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan or China are now wondering if they can really wake up their parents at 0500. Even in non-Christian societies, Santa Claus and Christmas buying have made their impact. Giving the gifts in the spirit of the Magi who gave presents to the Infant Jesus now sustains our retail economy every year. But a lot of the gift-giving is not as selfless as the Magi’s. Many people are pressured into giving presents because “you have to, look at what s/he gave you last year” or in piling on the toys for children.
Well, we don’t have to do that.
Really, we don’t.
I’m not kidding.
It is not our patriotic duty to sustain the US retail economy with our present-buying. Or to amass piles of presents.
Really, we’re not!
We are of course mandated, ordered, directed and in fact commanded by our Infant King to do this:
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Jesus ordered us to do so at the Last Supper, that historic meal on which history turns, when the Son of God, the God-Man born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, gave Himself completely under the forms of bread and wine and prepared Himself and His disciples for the ultimate act of love by dying for us on the cross, the cross which He willingly ascended, out of love for us.
George Weigel writes eloquently today about the topic of theosis, the great gift of divinization which Jesus created for us by being born in that cave among the animals and being laid in the feed-box filled with hay to keep Him warm, the manger. The Fathers of the Church wrote often about this gift, which is a result of us following the command and living it out: loving each other as Jesus showed us to do. When we do that, we are further along the road of theosis.
Giving presents out of love for each other, because we are loving in the Name of Jesus and in imitation of Jesus, will help us to walk further on the journey of becoming god-like: by becoming holier through love of each other and at the same time love of God, we are closer to being divinized by the energy of God, His grace.
Christmas Eve is still a day of strict fast and abstinence for all of the Eastern Churches. The Roman rite gave it up in 1917, although ethnic recipes from Europe for today still call for fish and meatless dishes for today. It is a day of penance – while shopping/ cooking/ gift-wrapping – to remind us we must always give up that which holds us back from God, and prepare for the great feast.
We are invited to celebrate the birth of our Infant Redeemer, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! We are also invited by Him to take new steps in becoming holier, more perfect, in imitation of Him, to experience what St Maximos the Confessor calls “total participation in Jesus Christ” while still remaining fully human, unable to partake of God’s substance, His essence. But we are invited, to unwrap this great present: to become closer to Jesus, to live in Him, and to get rid of the things which hold us back.
Give to Jesus this great gift: our willingness to throw away sinful behavior and thoughts, in order to be closer to the Infant Lord!
Christ is born! Glorify Him!