In a matter of days, we’ll be celebrating again the great feast of the Nativity of Christ: Christmas. We’ve spent weeks preparing for this day, sometimes with the stress that the holidays bring, but all the while saving room for Christ.
For those of us in the colder parts of the Northern Hemisphere, Christmastime reminds us of snow, ice-skating, hot chocolate, and evergreen trees. It’s a time of joy, a time of family, and a time for giving.
And with all of these ideas of what Christmas is about, Orthodox Christians in America struggle against the commercialization of it all, to “keep Christ in Christmas” and yet to “keep the Mass (liturgy) in Christmas” too.
As fun as it might be for some to argue about how we celebrate Christmas, I’d like instead to focus here on what Scripture provides – mostly what Christ says Himself – as the reasons for His coming into the world.
One reason that Jesus gave for His coming, was to fulfill the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). One message we see repeatedly from the Prophets is that God would shine light in the darkness of this world. Isaiah says, "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone" (Isaiah 9:2). When St. John the Baptist was born, his father St. Zachariah said, "the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79).
But who would be this great light for us? The Prophets Isaiah and Micah say that God Himself will be our light. "The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory" (Isaiah 60:19). "When I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me” (Micah 7:8). Jesus says that He came into the world at Christmas so that He might be our light:
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. (John 12:44-47)
When light shines in the darkness, it reveals the darkness. St. Paul tells us that "at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light" (Ephesians 5:8). At Christmas, we are reminded that we have the gift of Light – of Jesus Christ – so we don’t have to live in darkness anymore.
During the Christmas season, we’re often tempted to feign perfection. We’re going to be with family, talking about our work, school, or family life and we want to look good. We want to make the best meal, buy the best presents, and show up at work or school afterwards with the best new clothes or gifts. We try so hard to keep up appearances, that we forget that Jesus didn’t come at Christmas so that we can look perfect. He came to call and save us.
Jesus tells us, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13). “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mark 2:17). That means that Christmas isn’t about us being perfect and put together. At Christmas we don’t need more self-righteousness Christians, but more humble followers of Jesus. St. Paul tells us plainly, “the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first” (1 Timothy 1:15). I am the only sinner I need to notice or call out.
At Christmas, I’m reminded that Jesus came into the world that I might be healed. But more than that, He came to renew all of my life.
Our world tells us to live it up – you only live once! – to get the most out of this life. But Jesus tells us that He is Life (John 14:6). He says of the world, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). Jesus came at Christmas that we might have life, that we might have Life Himself, that we might live our life most fully through our relationship with Him.
The Church, as the Body of Christ is where we encounter Christ and live in union with Him. St. Paul asks us, “Don’t you know that you all are God’s temple, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). We as the Church have this opportunity to be part of Christ because He first came to be part of us. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).
Christmas matters because God came to live with man so that we could live with Him. How could life be more filled, more abundantly lived, than by being lived with God?
As Christians, we have a God who wasn’t content with leaving us in the dark. He desired to fill up our world with His own presence, His Light. He came at Christmas so that He could call us from sin to Life and that we might live life abundantly. God gives of Himself to be our gift at Christmas.
How is Jesus a Light in your life? What might He be calling you to change in your life? How might you live life more abundantly in the New Year?
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Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages and good coffee.
Photo Credit: depositphotos