Archdiocese News - GETTING READY FOR CHRISTMAS [English/Arabic]

[Arabic Version]

  “What Shall We Offer You, O Christ”

Now time to start thinking about the holidays, the decorating, the baking, the events on the calendar, parties? Who is coming, or where are you going? When? How long? Which side of the family? Tired already? Depressed? Lonely?

It would be easy to decry the commercialization of Christmas, its materialistic, hedonistic attempt to find meaning in stuff, and overdoing it with food, beverages and parties. We who call ourselves Orthodox Christians are not immune from the season’s temptations. That is why we can be ever grateful for our Mother, the Church that gives us a better way to prepare for the celebration of our Lord’s Nativity. In the midst of the commotion of this world, we get the Nativity Fast.

The season known in western Christianity “Advent” is their purposeful and liturgical way of preparing for the coming of Christ, both the celebration of his birth and the calling to mind of his second coming. The word Advent itself means “coming”. Some Orthodox rejects that term for our fast, but we are preparing for the celebration of Christ’s coming to us in the flesh, his total manifestation as “God with us”. So if it helps us be more mindful, I am not against using the term!

What exactly is the goal of this season of fasting that begins on November 15, that leads us to the celebration of Christ’s coming? I suggest that it is to prepare us to offer him the only gift he desires: “Ourselves”. The only thing we can offer is ourselves, our lives, and our love, given back to the One who created us and loves us more than we can ever fathom. I find the notion in the heart of a hymn in the Vespers for the Nativity, the first line of which is the title of this article. The complete verse is:
What shall we offer You, O Christ?
Who for our sakes has appeared on the earth as a man?

Every creature which You have made offers You thanks.
The angels offer You a song;
The heavens, their star;
The wise men, their gifts;
The shepherds, their wonder;
And we offer You a virgin mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!

For the Nativity, all of humanity offered the Virgin Mary to be the mother of the eternal Son of God, Himself becoming a real human being. Celebrating that event today, the only thing you can offer as the right gift for Christ is yourself. We are the ones who have chosen, through our baptism and chrismation, to accept Christ into our very being. Our relationship with Christ means that, by our very lives, Christ’s presence is made manifest in the world every day.

Calling to remembrance our all-holy, immaculate, most blessed and glorious Lady Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary, with all the Saints: Let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.

How are we Orthodox taught to prepare ourselves for that calling? What are we supposed to do with all the demands of the world this time of year? Maybe demands, and not let the demands manage us. It might begin with coming to a decision with our families, those living under our roof, about how we are choosing to make the journey to Christmas. That has to be a deliberated decision, and it will probably be tested every day! If we don’t choose to make an effort, why would we be surprised to arrive at December 25 totally drained and too tired to greet Christ? That is why we need to rely on the basic teaching from Christ that fasting, doing acts of mercy (the ubiquitous “almsgiving”), and praying are the backbone of our life. During any season of preparation, too - maybe this one especially - we take the level of our endeavour up a notch or two!

This is a great time of year for spiritual exercise! Even ten minutes a day spent reading and reflecting on the “reason for the season” will help us to keep it in mind during all the rushing. A brief meditation on a saint can remind us of those who can encourage us, because they have shown us it can be done! These seemingly small pieces of work allow us to keep Christ before us and with us each day of the journey to Bethlehem.

Aren’t we not worth the effort? Don’t our tired and weary selves deserve a little bit of reading to feed our souls? How else are we to keep getting ready for Christmas from overwhelming us? If we don’t make this little bit of time to prepare our heart, soul and very being to greet Christ at the celebration of his birth, what kind of gift will we be? Think about it. Then maybe we can find our way to becoming more of that gift!

                                                                                           Merry Christmas

 The articles from our Late Metropolitan Paul.

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