St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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A Christmas Plea

Those who profess no religion may look upon believers as if we are starry-eyed dreamers, gullible folks who chew and swallow myths as if they were French Fries. Especially at Christmas we need to say, it’s nothing like that.  Faith is not a simple matter of imagination overcoming intellect.

We begin this life with no beliefs at all.  Our initial experience is trust in parents, who are the universe when we are little and helpless.  We grow in experience and at the end of life we grow in wisdom if we have paid attention to life’s lessons.  We only grow in faith if along the path we catch sight of a Truth that swallows up our little truths and gives them a shape and a cosmic setting.  Christmas has the power to do just that.

We construct our beliefs according to our own limited vision.  Faith is something larger than beliefs.  Faith is what sneaks up on us when we’re trying to figure out what we believe.

Christmas brings a stunning message that opens up one possibility for faith.  At Christmas the message is this: the God of Glory chose humility and condescended to become one of us.  This is not a belief we could have made up.  Who would belief it?

If you read – just one example – the Gospel of Mark, you will see that the Godliness of Jesus is hidden beneath of a cloak of humanity that is quite thick.  If his is God that fact is not very obvious.  Divinity is driven so deep into humanity as to be, for the most part, unrecognizable.  Only those who share some spiritual existence seem to see him in that Light.  Remember the hymn writer’s words: “veiled in flesh the Godhead see.”  Veiled: that means not apparent, not clearly visible, not seen except through a screen.

None of us has a predisposition to accept this unbelievable story.  I accept the Christmas story because it gives a shape and a setting to my life, which I could not give myself.  These days most of us are “educated” to think that we are nothing but machines or animals or hungry ghosts.  Christmas brings a different message that affirms my humanity as made in God’s image, remade in the image of Christ.  This affirmation of my humanity comes to me on the sly, when I’m not cynical or gloomy about the human condition.

The breakthrough of Christmas is the restoration of our humanity, whereby we see ourselves as whole and complete and thus worthy of esteem, respect, dignity.  God empties himself into the human condition, “taking upon himself our nature and our lot,” as an ancient prayer states.  By so doing, God raises us up to our potential to become fully human.     I don’t know if this fills the empty word “God” with meaning for you.  It does for me.  Jews and Muslims have a different, albeit similar, account of their encounter with God.  Christmas, however, is a major piece of the Christian story.  That’s why we celebrate it.  We see Jesus of Nazareth as Immanu-El: God-with-us.  Because God is with us, we are returned to God over all our objections, disbelief, and cynicism.

The more we advance in kindness, gentleness, peacefulness, and self-control, the more do we become – simultaneously – more fully human and more godly (which is our calling).  The closer we get to our full human nature, the more do we repent of traits that separate us from God: hard-heartedness, animosity, prejudice, and self-centeredness.

My plea is simple:  if you are looking for God, let Christmas be a beginning for your faith.

published 19 December 2008