Sermon delivered January 7, 2020 by Archimandrite Maximos
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Christ is born! Glorify Him!
When preparing for sermons, you look at the writing of the Holy Fathers and they always begin a sermon on a Great Feast with a protestation of how daunted they are to write or to talk about such an important Feast. When I was young and I read this, the introduction always says, “This is a rhetorical device.” But when you start doing it you realize, it’s not a rhetorical device; it is overwhelming when we consider all of the significant things that happened in the course of this Feast.
We heard in the service, “He who is beyond being begins to be.” If that’s not a cosmic, metaphysical statement, I don’t know what is. And then we hear the very, very tangible description of the actual events surrounding the birth of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ. His ostensible father, Joseph, in those days having to journey back to the village of his ancestors to pay taxes, is heading to Bethlehem. He arrives at Bethlehem and as we know, there’s no room at the inn. He’s forced to take his child bride, and have his son born in a cave, lain in a manger of dumb beasts.
And this miracle of miracles, this God, the Son of God, becomes the Son of Man; He who is beyond being comes into being. This significant, cosmic, world-changing event is accompanied by the host of angels, shepherds, and then these mysterious Wise Men from the East, who represent all the nations of man. And they come bearing very symbolic gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The gold acknowledges this tiny baby’s kingship over the universe; the frankincense, His priesthood—because frankincense is symbolic of offering prayers to God; and myrrh, the burial spice—which represents the fact that this young baby will grow up to be a man, and He will sacrifice Himself for all of us.
We have the great power of love. We have the capacity to return the love that God gave us, back to Him, so that we may become sons of God; that we may, through this great gift, be transformed.This, today, is the beginning of our salvation.
This event, this world-shattering event, comes to pass in a manger of dumb beasts; we’ve seen in the icons, the animals looking on at the Lord of Creation—the Lord of Creation who came into being in a manner that transcends being, so He can restore us; not only restore us, not only lift us up to where we were before the fall, but raise us ever higher. Because unlike the animals, He has the greatest power. A cheetah can run faster than us; a horse is stronger than us; all the animals have particular powers greater than man.
But we have the great power, and it’s not only intelligence; we think it’s intelligence—it’s the power of love. We have the capacity to return the love that God gave us, back to Him, so that we may become sons of God; that we may, through this great gift, be transformed. This, today, is the beginning of our salvation. This is the day that, as we hear in the beautiful homily of Gregory the Theologian, all the old order is overthrown; everything that was, is passed; and the heavens are opened up so that we may enter into them with our God.
We have the opportunity to become great mirrors of God’s grace—not merely consumers of it, not merely absorbers of it, but transmitters of the grace of God.
As I said, it can be a very complicated process to discuss all of the various symbolism, and we can talk at length about the wise men; we can talk at length about the shepherds and the angels; there’s a tremendous amount of material there. But I think the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Galatians we heard today simplifies everything. This is about our adoption. This is about the transformation of our flesh. Dear brothers and sisters, God today adopts us; He begins the process of our transformation and our transfiguration. We are no longer servants, but sons of God. He is our family. We share flesh with God. Everything that we knew as a race prior, is of no effect. This is the great gift, the gift of adoption to sonship. This is the greater gift than the gold and frankincense and myrrh which mankind offered appropriately to the Lord.
So now we are given a choice. We, filled with this joy of the knowledge of the birth of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, must take that gift and glorify God. We must take that gift, that gift of Light. Because the shadows have fled; darkness is gone; light shines in the midst of darkness, through Christ. And through Christ, in us. We have the opportunity to become great mirrors of God’s grace. Mirrors of God’s grace—not merely consumers of it, not merely absorbers of it, but transmitters of the grace of God. This, dear brothers and sisters, is our calling. Because we are now Christians; that means “little Christs.”
We are the Church, all of us. There’s no greater, higher title or rank in the Church than Christian. One Christian of good will who allows himself to become a transparent communicator of the light of Divine Grace is greater than all of those.
We have the opportunity, we have the obligation, to transmit the Gospel message through our words, through our thoughts, through our prayers, and through our actions. We are the Church, not the patriarchs and the bishops and the archimandrites; they lead the Church, but we are the Church, all of us. There’s no greater, higher title or rank in the Church than Christian. One Christian of good will who allows himself to become a transparent communicator of the light of Divine Grace is greater than all of those. Dear brothers and sisters, on this glorious Feast of the Nativity of Christ, on this day when we can proclaim to the world that Christ is born, we can glorify Him. That is the response. Christ is born! Glorify Him! We glorify Him with our mouth, but we must glorify Him in our actions.
Dear brothers and sisters, today we begin our transformation. Today we begin the challenge of becoming Christians, of fulfilling the promise, and manifesting the love the Lord showed for us when He came down from heaven, and He took on flesh, and He suffered, and He was tortured, and He was buried and rose again. I cannot mention the Nativity without mentioning all the things the Lord did, because they’re one thing, and we break them down so we understand them. But the work of salvation is one. This will to be incarnate is the will to transform us. He becomes flesh so that we become God. Christ is born! Glorify Him!