Posted by: Fr Chris | December 26, 2022

Christmas 2022

Christ is born! In the book of the prophet Micah, chapter 5, verse 2, we read: But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,     who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me  one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old,   from ancient days.

The Messiah of course is Jesus Christ, who is the ancient of ancients, existing before time as the eternal Word of God and then being incarnated in time in the womb of Our Lady, and born for us in little Bethlehem. 

Bethlehem actually has two meanings. In Hebrew: house of bread but in Arabic: house of meat. Both names lead us to the Eucharist, the life-giving body and blood of the savior of the world. Under the form of bread, we have the flesh of the Lord Himself. Ephrathah means fruitful. So, we have the messiah incarnated, born in the house of bread and the house of meat,  in the fruitful region. He will give us spiritual fruits, fruits which we still benefit from.

Jesus laid in the manger – the feed trough for the animals which is transformed into the feeding place for people who worship Christ. Luke emphasizes the location three times in the span of ten short verses, that the infant is laid in a manger by Mary; the angels announce he is the manger; and the shepherds themselves find him lying in the manger, in the presence of Mary and Joseph. The shepherds are invited to worship him, to adore him, in that feed trough. We are preparing now for the coming of Christ, as he does in every liturgy, to descend to the altar through the holy spirit, and he comes in answer to our petitions and prayers. Every altar, at every liturgy, becomes Bethlehem.

The Child will be our food spiritually and physically – the icon of St John the Baptist at the south end of the iconostas shows the Child Jesus resting on the diskos, in place of the bread, as a constant reminder to us of just what happens to the bread placed there before the liturgy during the rite of preparation. Saint John points to the Child as he proclaims “behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This little baby whose birth we have prepared for over the last forty days, this speechless child who is the eternal word of God, is the Lamb of God. The sheep and lambs in the shepherds’ field produced the wool for the vestments of the priests of the temple, but here we have the true High Priest. The spring lambs would be sacrificed for the Passover feast, but here we have the true Paschal Lamb, who will be sacrificed on the cross. No lamb can take away sins, only this lamb born of the Virgin Mary can take away the sins of the entire world.

Chrysostom preached that “Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, but His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.”

Jesus proclaims throughout chapter 6 of John’s Gospel the importance of eating his flesh and receiving his blood  – he emphasizes that if we don’t do that, we won’t have life in us. And of course, he came to give us life, the opportunity to have the fullness of spiritual life and abundant eucharistic union with him that gives us a taste of eternal life.

Being here is a privilege, as I have said repeatedly this year. It is an enormous gift from God that we can come together to spiritually be in Bethlehem, at the cave, to be like the shepherds and come to worship the new-born King of the Jews, the true messiah, our savior. In Communist China, no one under 18 is allowed into the churches. In occupied Ukraine, all of the Latin and Byzantine Catholic priests have been expelled by the Russians or are in the jails of the secret police. In much of Africa, Siberia, and Latin America, because there are not enough priests, people gather not for the holy sacrifice of the Mass but for a service led by a reader, and maybe they can receive Communion. In many places this weekend in America, the storm has closed churches.

We are privileged to be able to come to church and be present at the Divine Liturgy; we are privileged to share in the Catholic faith; we are privileged to be given the fullness of God’s revelation through the teachings of the Catholic Church in the magisterium; we are privileged to have a pastor who came from far away to serve with such devotion; we are privileged to have produced two nuns, one monk, one seminarian and four priests from such a small parish; we are privileged to have a parish with so many children and young families; we are privileged to have active ministries to college adults and high school students; we are privileged to see a future ahead of us, lit by the fires of faith and devotion; we are privileged to have older parishioners who guide us through their fidelity; we are privileged in so many ways. The Mother of God has watched over this parish since 1974, and her Son whose birth we celebrate has been the core of this parish’s spiritual life.

This Child Jesus is a free offering, a gift of salvation that is wrapped in that little baby boy lying in the straw of the manger on that unique holy night. The gift continues in every celebration of the Divine Liturgy, in every offering of the Catholic Mass. Tonight is the night that is different from every other night, the night when God pierces the division between heaven and earth so as to reunite us, so that we can walk with Him and be with Him, and flourish with Him, and conquer with Him over the forces of darkness. The Child born at midnight in piercing cold in the cave of Bethlehem is the true light of the world, especially now in a world that faces so much darkness and pain.

Presents are great, but they are not eternal. Cards are lovely, but they are not eternal. Human bodies can do many things, but eventually they fall apart. The only thing we have of ourselves that is eternal is the soul, and later on the glorified body that we will receive at the resurrection of the dead. Christ came into the world to die, so as to open the door for the soul to live eternally with him after our own deaths, and for us to live body and soul with the Holy Trinity forever after the end of the universe. Let us enjoy being in Bethlehem, and let us rejoice in the privilege given to us in faith, and let us above all commit ourselves to Christ on this holy night, and serve Him always. Christ is born. Glorify Him. Have a Merry Christmas.

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