The Nativity and Our Witness to the Incarnate Lord Archpriest Daniel Kovalak
(Fr. Daniel is the founding pastor of Holy Cross Church, Williamsport, PA, a sought after speaker, as well as a lecturer in Pastoral Theology and Evangelism at St. Tikhon Orthodox Seminary. It is significant that he served as a Deacon at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Miami, Florida under His Eminence Archbishop Dmitri and our first Chancellor, Archpriest George Gladky in the late 1970's. We were blessed to have both him and Matushka Myra Kovalak as guest presenters at St. Barbara's last October for our 35th Anniversary and a Deanery Clergy Conference.)
"When Joseph first saw the mighty wonder, he thought he saw only a human child wrapped in swaddling clothes. But from all that came to pass, he discovered the Child to be the True God Who grants the world great mercy!" [Vespers of the Prefeast of the Nativity] Christmas tells the same wonderful story every year, the marvelous fulfillment of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It’s the timeless story of Emmanuel—God with us—that never changes. We, on the other hand, are changing all the time. Our relationships change, our circumstances change, our attitudes and ideas change. This reality makes the meaning of each Christmas uniquely relevant, for its message applies to us, “where we are,” today. It is into the midst of all the change in our lives that we proclaim “Christ IS Born;” that inspires our grateful hearts to sing “TODAY the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One.” He is mystically born in the fellowship, services and Sacraments of His Body, the Church: to abide in us, to dwell among us as surely as He was cradled in the Bethlehem cave by Mary and Joseph, wrapped in swaddling clothes, worshipped and offered gifts by wise men, and warmed by the breath of His creatures. How can we share this timeless story of “God with us” anew? How can we incarnate our faith in the Living God and give it flesh to convince others of its veracity? On a Saturday a few years ago, a young local college student ventured into our church for Vespers. As I spoke to her afterwards, she indicated she was virtually “blown away” by her experience in our humble church. She’d never before been exposed to anything like it. I asked about her personal religious background. She said to me, frankly: “I have no faith. My parents never went to any church. Now they’re divorced, living in different states, and I’m pretty much on my own.” “Well,” I said, “why not take this opportunity to ask yourself questions you never asked before: about your relationship with God, about faith, about Jesus Christ and what happens after death, because when you answer these questions, everything you see and experience here in this church will begin to make incredible sense?” Whether she took my advice or not, I don’t know. But it was somewhat troubling to me to encounter someone who told me straight out “I have no faith.” And I thought to myself, how many are “out there” who are like this student? How many are there like the desperate father in the Gospel who brought his afflicted son to the Lord and, when asked if he had faith that the Lord was able to help his son, replied, “I believe; help my unbelief” [Mark 9:24]? How many have never seriously thought through the most basic questions of faith? And how many more are perhaps “practical atheists” who claim to have faith, yet in reality have none? I was amazed to see a recent survey suggesting that among 18 to 25 year olds in America, over 20% say they have no faith! Our visitor is certainly not alone!
What can we say to them, as precious to God as the rest of us, to convince them that this Jesus Whose birth we celebrate is truly the Lord and Savior, Emmanuel, the Living God? Perhaps the apostle John can help us. He writes in his first epistle, “If we walk in the light as He is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another.” “He who loves his brother abides in the Light.” More than the material gifts we exchange at Christmas—more than the decorations and socializing, the music and menus—it’s really how we live that points to the reality of Jesus Christ as the Living God. It reveals to others in clear terms that “Christ IS Born! You can see Him IN ME!” “Christ IS Born! Walk WITH ME in His radiant Light!” “Christ IS Born! His love has wonderfully taken flesh in MY life and can do the same in YOURS.” In 2, 20 or 200 years, there will likely be those who ask, “Who is this Jesus and why should I have faith in Him?” or “Is there a God and does He give a hoot about His creation—about me?” May part of our Orthodox Christian witness today and our legacy to future generations make the response to these questions crystal clear—by our love, our words, our worship, and our deeds and by the way WE walk in His Light “by faith and not by sight.” May our faith in Emmanuel and the “comfort and joy” of our Savior’s birth truly fill our hearts, homes, communities and world—and help us to help others unbelief!