by Archbishop Mor Clemis Eugene Kaplan
Dearly beloved faithful,
The eight Sundays which come before Christmas Day, were preparation Sundays or a time to know the stages that mankind went through, and who the Holy New-born Child, of Bethlehem is. The first Sunday [Sanctification of the church] and the following Sunday [the renewal of the church], represent the whole story of the love of God to mankind, how God created the man, and when man sinned how God planned to renew him.
“For unto us a Child is born, unto 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 peace. There will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice. From that time forward, even forever.” Isa 9:6,7.
When it comes to Child and why the world celebrates His birth, a question perhaps arises, “What child is this who is laid to rest on Mary’s lap sleeping?” Why did a birth that took place in an animal cave or stall in a backwater town of Judea, in a corner of the Roman Empire, in a town of no more than around five hundred people make a mark on the world’s history, impacting even the calendar many use today? After all we are describing an event that takes place commonly around the world literally all the time.
When we turn to Luke’s gospel, it does not take us very long to see why Jesus was different. Even before He was born, there were signs this child would be unique. The babe that Mary bore had come through an angelic declaration of divine creativity.
Can you see the announcement? “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Listen: you will become pregnant and give birth to a Son, and you will name Him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called Son of the Most High and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will never end.”
When Mary asks how this could be since she has never “known” a man, the angelic reply follows, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the Child to be born will be holy; He will be called Son of God.”
To this young teenage girl came an announcement of nativity. This Child was born for God and born for man. The Son of God to be born through a teenage girl, male through female by the hand of God, just as God had designed it back with Adam and Eve.
Luke has more than an angel to tell us about Jesus.
• In Luke chapter one, the father of John the Baptist Zechariah, upon the naming of his son utters a hymn known today as the Blessing.
The hymn starts with praise to God: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, because He has visited and has redeemed His people, for He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.”
God has made a visit to the world with this child. That visit has a purpose, a goal, a “born to” purpose that explains the child’s arrival.
Later in the same hymn, Zechariah proclaims that this Child will be like the dawn of the morning breaking because of God’s tender mercy, “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79-80).
• This Child was born to bring light, born for God to show us new views about how to live in light and of how we were created.
A little later in Luke, angels appear again to shepherds in the fields. The glory of God shone around the angel as he came to the shepherds in the night to announce the light.
Again the announcement tells us all we need to know.
“Do not be afraid, listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people: Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.”
All births have one thing in common: they lead to death. However, most of us who are born do not come into life with the goal of dying. The birth of Jesus knows better. The birth of Jesus shows better.
Jesus would be the Savior. He would choose to die for others. Jesus would die for sin, not His but ours. In being born to die, Jesus shows that by giving on behalf of others, rather than seeking to possess power or to take from people, there is reason for life.
Jesus’ life was different from every other Lord who has walked the earth. Lordship is about power and keeping it for oneself.
Lordship for Jesus is about serving and saving. There was only His love, His service, and His sacrifice. A king with a peasant’s beginning, a birth in a manger, a throne for a different kind of king with a different kind of a message.
Follow my example He says, you were born to serve (Mark 10:35-45).
Listen again to what the Babe who became King says to some of His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— just as the Son of Man (the babe’s favorite name for Himself) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)
In a final word to those shepherds the angel had one final note of joy. He told those sheep herders they would find this king laying in a feed trough for animals, a manger.
Here was a king born among the people, the people He had come to serve. Here was the Son of God, not hidden away in elite isolation nor entering the world with the splendor of many heirs to a throne.
Despite the simplicity of His royal entry, somehow the entire creation knew why He had come. For with the end of the angelic announcement the entirety of the heavenly host rang out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:14). In the Holy Bible, when creation speaks, humanity has to listen.
This angelic benediction is for those who benefit from His coming. It is not those who celebrate a holiday, as fun as it is. It is not those who just know the story, and can tell it. Not even those who contemplate the story and are inspired by it.
This is a story about God meeting human need with blessing coming to those who embrace that need and turn to God so He can meet it.
This is Christ the king, for whom shepherds laud and angels sing. This is a story about a king sent from God — One who was born for God, born to bring light, born to die, born to serve, and born to bring peace to those who embrace the Birth, the Nativity.
Luke tells us the creation and those who appreciate His coming know why this nativity is different than all others. That creation even sings out in praise of His coming — in praise of His calling and work. The heavenly host knows why He came. Do we? Yes, birth is about beginnings, but what about the life that follows it? Will our lives identify with His coming and embrace why He came? That is the question raised by the Nativity.
On this blessed occasion of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ, in flesh, we offer our warmest felicitations to our highly esteemed holy father Mor Ignatius Zakka I, Iwas, Patriarch of Antioch and all the East, supreme head of the Universal Syriac Orthodox Church, and His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, asking the Lord to keep them healthy and prolong their life, and we congratulate all prelates, clergy, deacons, parish councils, institutions, parishioners, and our whole faithful of the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch all over the world.
May the Holy Babe shower His blessings upon you through His Birthday [Christmas], and may He bestow upon your upcoming feasts and New Year His joy, health, and peace.
May His grace be with you all.
Mor Clemis Eugene Kaplan
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