Archpriest Daniel Kovalak
“Think not it is of small things you art hearing when you hear of this birth, but rouse up your mind and straightway tremble, being told that God has come upon earth” [Saint John Chrysostom].
Since October, we’ve been incited, with considerable help from corporate America, to think about Christmas. Store aisles of decorations appeared overnight, urging us to consider how we can create just the right ambiance to adorn and enhance our celebration. Countless colorful product catalogs and advertising circulars have been filling our physical and virtual mailboxes and newspapers for weeks, encouraging us to think about those “perfect gifts” for those special people in our lives. Grocery stores have been prodding us to plan impeccable party platters for our holiday entertaining. And no matter where we go, the sounds of Christmas fill the air; stirring us to persevere in our determined efforts to make this “the best Christmas ever.”
Then, the day arrives: “It’s Christmas!” It’s now time to experience all the happiness and merriment for which we’ve been preparing for so long, to see our myriad plans come to fruition, to savor the fulfillment of our considerable investments, and to taste the fruits of our labors while feeling the joy we’ve been envisioning for months.
But, to borrow a line from the popular classic, Twas the Night Before Christmas, “and what to our wondering eyes should appear?” The inflatable Santa in the front yard has succumbed to the elements and deflated, symbolic of how many will feel in coming days. The recycling bins and trash cans already overflow with the remnants of a season just beginning. That perfect gift of a power screwdriver, alas, has no power, and if we hear the song, “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” one more time, we’ll sue the radio station for harassment! Yep, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”
In the midst of all the commercialism, relativism—and dare I say paganism—that surrounds us these days, our Holy Church calls us to celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in worship, as our living witness to the Truth. What IS the Truth from which all things “Christmassy” flow, the Truth that has become so obscured as to be dissolved amidst the “holiday” wrappings and trappings, the Truth that historically hit the world with such force that its impact literally split time in two?
The Truth lies in our simple three-word greeting: “Christ is Born.” Though we say this a thousand times, we still fall short in comprehending this profound mystery. We know what it means to be born. The greeting also assumes we know Who Christ is. Is this a fair assumption?
We know Christ historically. Saint Matthew’s Gospel opens with Jesus’ human genealogy—His “family tree.” He was a real Person Who lived in real time in a real place. Even non-believers can’t argue this. We also know Christ theologically. Our Creed articulates our belief that He is “the Son of God… Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.” And we certainly know Christ liturgically and sacramentally. In every Liturgy we intimately “know” Christ “in the breaking of the Bread.” So our Holy Church cannot but bear witness to the Truth of Christ each and every time we gather for worship.
But history and theology can amount to little more than nicely packaged words without practical application. And worship services and sacraments can be little more than pious, ancient and empty rituals if separated from their Divine Source. The Truth of Jesus Christ is that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).
When we spiritually and enthusiastically shout our “Amen” to the Truth of Christ as manifested and announced in the Church, and live by that shout, we truly hear the song of angels, behold the brightness of the star, exercise the humility of the Mother of God, express the wonder of the shepherds, and give Christ the gift of ourselves, more precious than the gifts of the Magi. This is how we “give flesh” to the Gospel’s words that package the Christmas story. And in this, our joy becomes full, our hearts become glad, our souls rejoice, and our feasting becomes a spiritual banquet at the heavenly table of the everlasting Kingdom of God.
May we not, foolishly, settle for anything less!
(Archpriest Daniel is rector of Holy Cross Church, Williamsport, PA; Lecturer at St. Tikhon Orthodox Seminary; and a frequent contributor to the Williamsport Sun-Gazette and other publications).