We think of Christmas as a glorious time. We revel in the smell of the stars and snow from a freshly cut Christmas tree. We are delighted to sit in front of the warm fireplace in a heavy snowstorm. We cherish our time with close friends and family and welcome the opportunity to pause and reflect on things that matter. The bright lights of Christmas in the streets and the window shops please our eye. To some, even the mess in their living room on Christmas day is one of the most splendid messes in the world.
With so many nice things about Christmas, its joy is easy to recognize. Yet it is much harder nowadays to see Christmas as a miracle. In our rational world, we have become too accustomed to putting our every sensation to the test of reason. There is almost no room for the unusual. We might be open to one or two miracles in a lifetime, but not in a year.
So how can we begin to imagine the miracle of Christmas and the ways to live it? Perhaps we might start by putting ourselves in the position of the expectant parents. They had been hoping, pleading and waiting for many so many years that they almost lost hope. Now they know that their baby is coming, and their miracle has begun. They are going to live it every day, as they talk and sing to their baby in the womb, look their newborn in the eyes, to hold him and rock him to sleep. Raising a child is hard work, but it is also the sweet labour of love. It full with rewarding moments – their baby's first babble and first word, his first step and hearing from him for the first time, “I love you, mum. I love you, dad”.
Yet we might need to raise this miracle of the happy parents to the power of a million to appreciate even remotely the wonder of Christ's birth. The world had been waiting for it ever since man's falling from grace. God promised it to the people so that they would not lose hope. To keep the hope alive, he repeated the promise to the righteous forefathers of His chosen people, their kings and their prophets.
Christ was born when the world was perhaps at its lowest point. People were moaning its injustices and felt entrapped by its evil. They had little to look forward to but darkness, anguish, and suffering in eternity. There did not seem to be a ray of hope anywhere. As King Solomon wrote in his book of Ecclesiastes (9:12),
As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so people are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
Christ came, and he restored joy and hope. He brought to the earth the treasures of heaven – eternal justice, eternal truth, eternal love and eternal life. Son of God, he arrived as the son of man. Not only did he end the separation between man and God, but he made us the Sons of God and the co-creators of our salvation.
The Nativity wall-painting in church in honour of the Reigning Icon of the Mother of God, St Elisabeth Convent
His miracle was not one to be received, but to be lived. He called us to live in Him, to give up our earthly pride and ambitions, and to bear our offences in silence. Most found this miracle too uncomfortable and chose to ignore or oppose it. They were still clinging to their earthly riches and glory. The Sadducees and the Pharisees knew of Christ's nativity but pretended that it did not happen. The likes of King Herod were enraged. Most were ignorant or did not care.
The times have changed, but the human condition has not. Many more people are aware of Christ and His nativity, but most would rather not know Him or prefer he had not come. Like before, they are wary of being asked to give too much.
Amazingly, there are still many people with pure and innocent hearts who are ready to receive Christ with child-like joy - like the shepherds of Bethlehem, or the learned men from the East. We can accept and live the miracle of Christ’s nativity just by being more open and astute. We live the miracle of Christmas when we admire the clear sky at night and look for the star of Bethlehem among its many stars; when we see goodness and beauty in others; when we accept gratefully the love of God which He sheds on us through other people and when we pass it on generously.
God has given us Christmas because He was sure that we could understand and receive it. May we have the eyes to see its marvel, the hearts to accept it and the will to live it every day. May this bright day be your joyful reminder that amazing things can happen unexpectedly, and more often than we might think. Merry Christmas!
On the 11th of September, the Orthodox Christians that follow the Julian calendar commemorate Saint John the Forerunner by celebrating the feast day of his Martyrdom. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus Christ.
On 2 June, 2019, the church in honour of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco was consecrated. Among our guests was Bishop Emeritus of the Russian Church Abroad Michael (Donskov). He shared with us his childhood memories of St John.