Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

The story of the nativity of Jesus Christ, the birth of our Savior, surrounds us. We have decorated our homes and churches with the signs and symbols of the feast. In the streets and the shops, the Christmas decor may try to avoid obvious connections to Christian faith. But those of us “in the know,” understand the meaning of a Christmas tree, a candle in a window, or an angel holding a trumpet.

Our churches offer Liturgical services that mark the Nativity of Christ. The Gospel lessons alternate between readings from the beginning chapters of Matthew and Luke, relating the story in part or in full, such as the Gospel for the Vespers of Christmas. The Gospel lessons tell us the events of the birth of Christ: the message given to the shepherds, the visit of the Magi, and Joseph’s dreams about the child and the family’s flight to Egypt to escape the persecution of Herod. As you read these lessons at home, or hear them during the services, you may notice that there are few embellishments of the events. The story of the Nativity is told simply and powerfully.

The riches of the events and their significance for us, are found in how the Church sees Christ in the Old Testament, especially in the prophet Isaiah. The hymns tell us even more through their poetry. In them all, we can see how the birth of the Messiah inaugurated the kingdom of God, inaugurating the reconciliation of man and God, or better, of man to God. As a hymn of Vespers says, “Your kingdom, O Christ God, is a kingdom of all the ages, and Your dominion is from generation to generation. You who were incarnate by the Holy Spirit and became man by the ever-virgin Mary, have shone on us as light, by Your advent, O Christ God. Light of light, the brightness of the Father, You have brightened all creation.” (Vespers of Christmas)

Our Christmas celebrations will begin with a reading from the first chapter of Genesis, reminding us that with the birth of Christ, the world is re-created, but also reminding us that the world as God intended was a world where creation and God lived in harmony. That harmony would be disrupted by human action, human sin. Humanity broke from God. And from that moment God labored to have us freely return to Him. Yet, we ignored or even rejected the invitation to reconcile. Finally, God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).

When Jesus was born, the angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men!” Jesus enters our world as a messenger of peace. He taught his followers to say, “Peace to this house” whenever they entered a home (Luke 10:5). At His resurrection, He greeted His disciples, saying “Peace be unto you.” (John 20: 19, 21) The Prophet Isaiah foretold this, connecting it to the Nativity, when he proclaimed: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called, ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom…” (Isaiah 9:5-7)

My beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord, when the peace of Christ, the peace that comes from Christ, arrives, all will be reconciled and all will reconcile to one another. As Isaiah also foretold, “The wolf shall feed with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf, the bull, and the lion shall feed together; and a little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6).

Our Nativity celebrations proclaim that the child born in Bethlehem is the Messiah, the Christ, and this child is God incarnate. As a hymn of Vespers beautifully states: “For the exact Image of the Father, the express Image of his eternity, takes the form of a servant, coming forth from a virgin Mother; and He undergoes no change. He remained what He was, true God; and He took up what he was not, becoming human in His love for humanity.” (Vespers of Christmas)

As we celebrate with our family and loved ones, take also time to reflect on this as a season when peace should prevail. Peace is not an abstract idea. It is the way we as Orthodox Christians are to live in the world. As His All-Holiness our Patriarch Bartholomew stated in his Christmas message, “Peace cannot be taken for granted; it is not self-evident. It is an obligation, an achievement, and an incessant struggle to preserve it. There are no automatic solutions or permanent recipes. In the face of ongoing threats to peace, we need to have vigilance and willingness to resolve problems through dialogue.” Consider how you will become an instrument of peace in the world, through your words, your actions, your interactions with family, friends, co-workers, fellow parishioners, and all that you encounter. Consider how you will become an advocate for peace in our world.

Christ is our peace. Christ is the Prince of Peace.

Christ is born! Glorify Him!

Merry Christmas! Καλά Χριστούγεννα! May God bless you all!