How can the Orthodox Christian genuinely celebrate Christmas today?
What saddens sincere Christians, and particularly the Orthodox is the way Christmas has been hijacked. It has been stolen and given an identity that makes it completely unrecognisable to the early followers of Jesus Christ. Christmas for many people is nothing more than an exhausting time of indulgence, consumption and spending.
How did this happen? Isn't it natural, normal and appropriate to offer gifts and to use colour and sound to express joy and celebration? Yes, but it is wrong when in our minds and senses, the expression of celebration completely overtakes the event we are celebrating and commemorating.
The Church and all her members rejoice spiritually and express this great spiritual joy in worship, words, song, hymns, sharing of food, sharing of gifts, spending time together, and in the spirit of the early Church, in the offering of charity to those who have less. In fact, it is here that the tradition of gift giving started. The early Church, feeling a burning desire to express the love of God, sought to make offerings to the poor during these times of celebration. Christ said "freely I have given to you" and the Church responded loudly "then freely we shall give".
Sadly, eventually we forgot the poor and gave the gifts to each other. Then we forgot Christ altogether. Today, as Orthodox Christians, we must celebrate Christmas by ensuring Christ is at the centre. We will ensure that it is a spiritual time. We will make it a time for Christ's family, the Church. We need to prepare by fasting and increasing our prayer accordingly. We will attend the worship opportunities in the Church, listening and rejoicing in the beautiful hymnology. We will read the parts of the Gospel relating to the birth of Christ. We will attend confession to cleanse ourselves of all sin so as to prepare for this new beginning, when Christ came to Earth. We will offer charity by visiting the sick, feeding the poor, clothing the naked and housing the destitute.
Then having fully prepared ourselves to receive the newborn Christ, we will partake of the great feast which is offered on the day of Christmas, at the Altar, during the Divine Liturgy. The food will be Christ Himself, Holy Communion. Through our charity and Holy Communion, we will be joined to Christ, and through Christ to the whole of His creation, all around the world, celebrating today.
Our hearts will have become that special place where the newborn Christ is born. The joy will be untold! The peace, deeper than ever before! We will have a strong desire to share, and to embrace each other, to sing and to celebrate. This is Christmas as it should be. If this is the case for you, then truly it will be a Merry Christmas.
Fr. N. S.
This article first appeared in Lychnos in December 2008.