Traveling around the countries of Eastern Europe this time of year, you will not hear the very familiar greeting of Merry Christmas. Rather, people will say Christ is Born, to which the response is Glorify Him. This greeting calls to mind why we take this day out of the year as the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We say these words because this is what we are celebrating, the birth of the One who came to save us and to restore the image that we have tarnished.
There is a story of an old church -- I cannot remember exactly where this church is -- but the church was undergoing a restoration. The entire interior and exterior of the church was to be redone to make it new again. It had long since fallen into disrepair and was in desperate need of a touch up. During the restoration, images started to be made clear on the walls of the sanctuary. As they carefully removed decades upon decades of grime from these walls, the images of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and the saints became visible and very much alive. The grime was cleaned away and the image was restored to its former beauty.
Humanity had the same problem. It was in desperate need of restoration to the image it was intended to have. This is the blessing of this season of the Nativity. No longer do we have to face uncertainty; no longer do we have to face a life coated with grime, for Christ was born to save us from all of that. The image that was tarnished in paradise has been restored through the birth of a baby.
The 4th century writer Gregory Nazianzen, also known as Gregory the Theologian, had this to say in his Oration of the Nativity of Christ;
Christ is born, glorify Him. Christ from heaven, go to meet Him. Christ on earth, be lifted up, sing to the Lord, all the earth. Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, because of Him who is of heaven and is now on earth.
This is the blessing of all of us this Nativity Season -- that we will have the opportunity to know Jesus Christ and to celebrate all that He has done for us. It is not simply about us giving gifts to others but to recall the greatest gift of all, that which was born of man. God became man so that man might become God!
It is difficult for 21st century Americans to even consider the notion that we have all sinned. We are rugged individualists and really do not like it when someone tells us what to do. Recently I was engaged in a conversation on Facebook about shopping on Sunday. I remarked that in my opinion, shopping on Sunday is not something that a Christian should be doing. The response back was a very curt: "Don't tell me what I can and cannot do!" The funny thing is that response came from someone who was not even in the conversation. But it is emblematic of what is happening in America today.
The story of humanity begins in the Book of Genesis with its very creation. Not long after that creation we see humanity, through its own pride, disobey the one who created it and is cast out of paradise. Now we can spend time going into the reasons for the fall, but that is not important to this particular essay. The point is we have been estranged from our creator and we need to find a way back.
Just like the church that needed to have its images restored from years of neglect so too we, humanity, need to have our image restored to its former beauty. Many prophets were sent to show us the way and they were rejected. So a tiny baby that would light the way for us and bring us back to that former glory was born in a stable.
The celebration of the Birth of Christ is more than celebrating the birthday of a baby; it is the celebration of the freedom of humanity from its utter destruction. The celebration of the Birth of Christ needs to be about more than the gifts we share with one another. It needs to be about the gift that was shared with all of us. The celebration of Christmas needs to be about more than lights. It needs to be about the light that has shown us the way. No longer is death the end but only the beginning. No longer is humanity held captive by sin but it has been freed. That is the true meaning of Christmas.
As we continue to celebrate this Nativity Season, I wish you every blessing and I also pray for your good health and happiness in the coming New Year.