To the Reverend Clergy, Parish Councils, Youth Organizations, Philoptochos Society,  and the faithful members of the Holy Metropolis of San Francisco

Beloved in the Lord,

“And this will be a sign to you: You will find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger,” — Luke 2:12

These words of the Gospel take on a totally different meaning when we read what Paul writes to the Christians of Philippi regarding the Son of God who emptied Himself and became man. He writes, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men.” Philippians 2:2-7

This is the ensign of our faith. The beginning of our holy faith comes from a manger from poverty and humility. It springs forth from a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, without any strength, power or force. It dawns from God Who empties Himself of His power and divinity and from a sovereign Lord He becomes a servant. From perfect God He takes the form of a man.

Our holy faith is established on the fact that the divine became human so that the human may become divine. This is exactly the mark that distinguishes our faith from every other religious conviction. All other religions and ideologies desire to see the human person as a servant. Our religious creed confesses a God who became a servant “obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Philippians 2:8   Our religion believes in a God Who constantly thinks of us, loves us, provides for us, Who does not wish to see humankind fall a second time after Adam’s fall. He is a God Who desires to restore us, to resurrect us, to make us His sons and daughters and thus “joint heirs with Christ.” Romans 8:17

This, then, is the sign, the message of the birth of Christ which we celebrate in our churches and in our homes with so much splendor. This celebration is filled with spiritual joy, hymns and carols, with warm embraces and spiritual offerings. All these traditions of the Christmas season are varied expressions of this message. But the message still seems to elude us. We do not see it. Yet it stands right before us. It tells us that if we can become innocent once again like newborn babes, it will restore the infant beauty of our souls. The message rings out to us to become once more what we must always be: images of God. Surely the Church proclaims this in joyful song during this holy season as She declares, “Christ is born to raise the image which has fallen.” Do we hear it?

Yet, what is our situation? We continue to view life very materialistically, as we increasingly descend ethically and morally, all the while thinking that we are elevating ourselves socially. By doing so, we are denying our very nature. Recklessly we allow this nature, this divine image to fall from its higher place and away from its destiny into a shimmery mire of greed or upon the twisted roads paved with hardened sin to break to pieces, the icon fashioned after God.

At a time when the commercialization of Christmas seems to surpass the true meaning of this wondrous holiday, we are especially reminded this year of the struggles facing our world.  Countries are at war. People have lost their jobs. Families struggle to pay bills and feed their children. This hardly seems a time for celebration. On the contrary, though, we must celebrate. We must rejoice in this season. We must give thanks to God for bringing us His Son. And we must put our trust and hope in Him, for “with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

This reality demands that we must allow this Christmas to show us the sign, the Babe in swaddling clothes lying in the manger, thus telling us about God Who “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, coming in the likeness of man.” Without this sign, Christmas will be just like any other day. It will be totally empty of all meaning and filled only by other mundane cares which will have no bearing on the welfare of our souls.

My prayer for you is that this Christmas be illuminated by the Sun of Righteousness and by the guiding star of Bethlehem, so that your footsteps may follow those of the shepherds. This way you will echo their words saying, “Let us now go to Bethlehem, and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15. Only then will you be able to know the divine Babe in the manger, and you will recognize Him Who emptied Himself, coming in the likeness of men. Then you will rejoice that He came to raise man to the Throne of God.

My wish is that you celebrate the great feast day of Christmas this year with such an experience which will bring joy and exaltation to your minds and hearts. As you do, sing out from the depths of your souls the glad tidings of the Angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Luke 2:14

With Love in Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco