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The Transformative Significance of Immanuel

 

By Monk Raphael Brown 

  

During this season of preparation and anticipation, we look with hope to the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God before the ages, who was born as a man of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever Virgin Mary. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:23). Our Lord Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully human. In Him, God is truly with us, sharing the full human experience, except for sin. Christ’s humble birth opens for each of us a special gift: the possibility to be content amid our circumstances. Contentment allows us to cooperate with Christ to become the persons we were created to be.  

St. Paisios the Athonite counselled a mother whose daughter had one eye with these words, “Try to help your child feel content that she has one eye.” [1]  As persons with a disability, we begin to grow in contentment as our understanding of our particular circumstances undergoes a change. As St. Paisios taught, “When they begin to see their disability as a blessing from God, then they position themselves correctly and are delivered from seeing their disability as a disadvantage.” [2]   

Following his encounter with Christ, the hateful persecutor Saul became the Holy Apostle Paul. This was a radical transformation. When he was well established in his life in Christ, St. Paul wrote, “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11). The Greek word translated “to be content” is αὐτάρκης , which means: “‘self-sufficient’ without the modern pejorative sense of independent, content.”[3]   

The words of the Apostle Paul regarding learning to be content occur within a discussion about giving and receiving. It might appear to some that a “giver” is in a position of strength while the “receiver” occupies a position of weakness and need. And yet, from a deeper examination, the relationship between giver and receiver is a great mystery. For example, St. John Chrysostom teaches, “I have oftentimes said that almsgiving hath been introduced not for the sake of the receivers, but of the givers, for the latter are they which make the greatest gain.” [4] St. John further elaborated on this mystery: 

How did they communicate? In the matter of giving carnal things and receiving spiritual. For as they who sell and buy communicate with each other, by mutually giving what they have, (and this is communication,) so too is it here. For there is not anything that is more profitable than this trade and traffic. It is performed on earth but is completed in heaven. [5] 

When persons with disabilities experience an unmet need, the generosity of people helping to meet such a need can be a great blessing. Even so, the relationship between persons with and without disabilities is more than a simple exchange of some material assistance. The world divides people into skewed categories: the weak and the powerful or the rich and the poor. In stark contrast, Christ calls us to look with wise discernment, to see all persons as unique and vital members of His Body.  

Oh, the great beauty of this mystery! God creates a person who is enriched with a variety of gifts to offer as a blessing to those around him or her. Therefore, may each of us seek the gift of joyful contentment within our particular circumstances. Our contentment is rooted in the love of God who created each of us with love. This same loving Lord seeks to dwell with us in our unique struggles while granting us the transforming gift of Divine grace at work in our lives.  

The fulfillment of a godly exchange of gifts between persons is realized when heading our Lord’s call to communicate the gift of love with each other. He invites us to trade and traffic our unique talents as persons created in His image and likeness. While our struggle is an earthly battle in a spiritual realm, let us not be discouraged because God who loves us is with us.  

Whenever obstacles may confront each of us and threaten to crush our spirits, then let us embrace the uplifting promise of the good news of the Gospel: Christ is born! The promise of Immanuel is fulfilled! God is with us! We are not alone. Let us live the gift of our life joyfully because the battle which we fight each day shall be completed in heaven. May God help us to grow in contentment as we live in faith, hope and love. Within the unique particularity of our circumstances, may we add our own voice to the song of the angels. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:13-14) 

  

  
 

[1] Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels: Family Life. Vol. IV.  Trans. Rev. Fr. Peter Chamberas ed. Anna Famellos and Eleftheria Kaimakliotis. (Souroti, Thessaloniki Greece: Holy Monastery “Evangelist John the Theologian”, 2014), 250. 

[2] Ibid, 249. 

[3] Max Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament. 5th revised edition. (Roma:  Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2007), 601. 

[4] St. John Chrysostom, Homily XV on Philippians iv 10-14. Trans. by Rev. John A. Broadus in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 13 First Series ed. by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (Buffalo, N.Y.: Christian Literature Publication Co. 1889 reprint: Hendrickson Pub Inc. Peabody, MA., 1999), 249. 

[5] Ibid, 251. 

 

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