To the people, beloved of the Lord, of our Antiochian Archdiocese in Europe.
Greetings in the Lord, and blessing upon blessing.
Since we are at the threshold of the Divine Incarnation, with the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, we remember the words of hymn: "What shall we present unto Thee, O Christ, in thanks for Thy coming to earth as a man for our sake? Each of the creatures that you made brings Thee a thank-offering: the angels, praise; the heavens, a star; the Wise Men, gifts; the shepherds, adoration; the earth, the cave; the desert, the manger. But we offer the Virgin Mother. O Eternal God, have mercy upon us."
(From the service of Christmas Great Vespers)
We witness a new and wonderful sacrament - behold, the angels are singing, and the archangels are giving praise in harmony and order. All are united to honour that glorious feast, seeing God on earth and man in heaven. God, Who is above, descends and lives on earth for our salvation, and man, who is below, is raised on high by the divine mercies.
Behold how Bethlehem resembles heaven, as the angels' voices of praise are heard there because "The Word has become flesh and dwelt among us". The kings come to see the Heavenly King, the soldiers come to serve the Commander of the heavenly hosts. The women come, to glorify Him who is born of a woman, and the children come to worship Him, Who has become a little child. The shepherds come to the Good Shepherd, Who will sacrifice Himself in His work, the priests come to the High Priest, and the sinners come to behold "The Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world".
Today all are joyful, and I wish to be joyful with them also, together with those who celebrate His Nativity.
But I do not want my sharing in the joy to be by playing a guitar or the oboe, nor by carrying torches, but rather by carrying a child's cradle in my hands. This is my hope, this is my life. This is my salvation, this is my oboe and my guitar. I come so that I can carry it, and I gain the power of speech with His strength, singing together with the angels, saying: "Praise be to God in the highest, peace on earth, and joy to all mankind".
Why am I saying this, and why am I describing this Nativity to you? The Ancient of Days became a child, and He who sits upon the heavenly throne now lies in a manger. The Intangible and Incorporeal has come amongst men. He has taken on the flesh so that we can know His Word. He had taken on my flesh, giving me His Spirit to sanctify and redeem me.
Come, let us contemplate the feast. Come, let us glorify this exalted feast. Today paradise is opened up and sins are forgiven, and talk of love spreads throughout the whole world. The angels join with mankind without fear, and mankind speaks with the angels, all this because God descends to earth and man ascends to heaven. He has come to earth notwithstanding that He still occupies heaven, and He also ascends to heaven without diminution, remaining present on earth.
Today the Lord is born, Who is the life and salvation of all mankind. Today, divinity and humanity, God and man, have been reconciled. Today, man's path towards God has been opened, and the path of God towards the human soul has been opened. Human nature, which had died completely when distant from God, no longer bearing fruit, has today received the heavenly sowing that will bring forth the fruits of the Spirit.
The Wise Men gave the newborn Child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2.11), and these gifts have a symbolic meaning in the story of the Holy Nativity. Gold symbolises Christ the King, frankincense symbolises Him as a priest, while the myrrh symbolises His agony.
This gold, frankincense and myrrh, what would they mean to us today if we wanted to present them to the newborn Christ?
Gold is a precious thing, and symbolises the purity of the human soul, and this means that I truly give the most precious thing that I have to the Lord, which is my pure heart. Frankincense is an incense which symbolises priesthood and worship, and this reminds me that my prayers rise before Him like incense in its perfume and warmth. As for myrrh, which is a perfume and represents pain, it reminds me that I am a witness to the Lord and recognise Him in my life, and this means that, with the newborn child, I am bound to the crucified Lord, whose face is raised towards the cross. This is what the gifts of the Wise Men represent: His suffering, dominion over the entire world, and He who, like a priest, gave Himself as a sacrifice on the Cross for the salvation of all mankind.
So let us all make our way together with the Wise Men to the cave of the Nativity filled with light and joy, and sit with them with the Child born for our sake, and let us reap the life to come with the blessings and love of our Lord Jesus Christ towards mankind, for His is the power and the glory, for now and forever. Amen.
A Happy Christmas, a blessed New Year and a sanctified Holy Epiphany.
May you be well all the year.
15 December 2010-11-25
† John, Archdiocese of Europe
Author: Metropolitan John (Yazigi)