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November 21, 2010 Luke 16:16-21 "The Rich Fool: A Life Lived on False Presuppositions Results in Meaninglessness"21Nov2010Homily.WMA
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October 10, 2010 Psalm 33 "Seek Peace and Pursue It" How to Acquire a Spirit of Peace as seen in the Life of Elder Moses of Optina10Oct2010Homily.WMA
September 19, 2010 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1 "Temples of the Living God"Homily19Sept2010.WMA
August 22, 2010 I Corinthians 16:13-15 "Watch, Stand Fast in the Faith"Homily22Aug10.WMA
August 15, 2010 Dormition of the Theotokos "Honoring Our Parents As Christ Honored His Mother"Homily15Aug10.WMA
August 8, 2010 Matthew 18:23-25 "Parable of the Debtor"Homily8Aug10.WMA
May 2, 2010 Sunday of the Samaritan Woman John 4:5-42100502Homily.WMA
April 25, 2010 Sunday of the Paralytic John 5:1-15100425Homily.WMA
April 18, 2010 Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women Mark 15:43-!6:8100418Homily.WMA
March 21, 2010 Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt Mark 10:32-45 "We Want to Sit at Your Right and Left Hand"21March2010Homily.WMA
March 14, 2010 Sunday of St. John of the Ladder, Mark 9:17-31 "This Type Comes Not Out But by Prayer and Fasting"14March2010.WMA
March 7, 2010 Sunday of the Cross, Hebrews 4:15-5:6 "A Friend in High Places"7March2010.WMA
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February 7, 2010 Last Judgment: Matthew 25:31ff100207Homily.WMA
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January 17, 2010 Sermon on Zacchaeus17Jan2010.WMA
January 10, 2010 Sermon on Christ's First Command: "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!"2010Jan10.WMA
Janaury 3, 2010 Sermon on the First Antiphon (Psalm 102/103)2010Jan3.WMA
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Putting Christ Back into Christmas?
A Christmas Homily
Fr. Justin Frederick
At this time of the year, we often hear about the need to “put Christ back into Christmas.” This means remembering “the reason for the season”—why there is Christmas at all. The feeling behind is that that Santa, toys, gifts, goodies, snow, sleigh bells, and TV specials—not to mention stress— have pushed the thought of Christ out of the celebration of His birthday, in Bethlehem so long ago.
Of course, Christ never left Christmas. His name is enshrined in the very word. And that is why the word “Christmas” has been dropped in public discourse and replaced with “holiday” or “season”, supposedly to avoid offending those of don’t care for Christ. It is worth fighting against this anti-Christian bigotry and exposing the rampant hypocrisy of those who speak of tolerance but have none for Christians and their Christ. But is it enough to restore the common use of the word “Christmas” in this overwhelmingly Christian country? Is it enough to be able to have manger scenes in public places and Christmas carols in schools?
There can be no one question on one level that we are an “overwhelmingly Christian nation.” Clearly the large majority of the citizens of our land identify themselves as Christians. But on another level, with a land full of divorce, abortion, murder, abuse, pornography, unfaithfulness, lies, manipulations, excessive consumption, greed, gluttony, drunkenness, drugs, blasphemy, a multitude of addictions and dysfunctions and much more, we can well question whether we are Christian at all, even were we all to speak of “Christmas vacation” and we could see public manger scenes in every town. How much really does our way of life have in common with Christ and the way of His Gospel commandments?
A manger scene once was a common decoration of Christmas both in the home and in public, a display which bears witness to the meaning of the holiday. It includes a collection of animals, sheep, cows, a donkey, a camel, maybe goats or a dog; it includes a couple shepherds, three wise men, a star, perhaps an angel; and of course, it has Mary, Joseph, and a manger, and a little baby in the manger. When I was young, we had one that was set up like this, and we kept the manger empty all through the advent season; when we woke up Christmas morning, that manger was no longer empty.
Christmas is about the babe in the manger, whom his mother Mary named Jesus. But who is this baby Jesus? Why do we still celebrate His birth 2000 years later?
The only proper reason to celebrate Christ’s birth “away in the manger” is because of who He is. If this were just another human birth, we’d not get so excited about it, put so much effort into it, or care. . . But He is different. He is more.
Here is who we hold Him to be, why we celebrate Him. He is the “one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages; Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father; by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man. And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures...”
He is God made man, the God-man, Emmanuel, “God with us.”
Why do we believe this? There are many reasons. But we’ll give one simple reason: the empty tomb. Jesus died publicly before all; his death was certified by a Roman solider who knew death when he saw it to the governor. He was buried in a sealed tomb, guarded by Roman soldiers. Yet on the third day, that tomb was empty. Where was the body? Then the reports of seeing Him began to come in. . . Because of His resurrection and empty tomb, we know Him to be no mere man. In the light of the Resurrection, we understand the rest of the Scriptures about Him and His life: and hereby we know him as the God-man.
This is why we fast before Christmas. We put aside sinful behavior, and we cut out or back on things that tend to stir up sinful behavior. This clears our spiritual sight that we may see Christ for who he truly is, not a cute baby in a manger surrounded by animals, and warm traditional part of our Christmas. No, we see here the eternal Son of God who put on our nature for us. This is what we usually don’t see, really see, even if we believe it. We take it for granted, pay lip service to it, and go about life as though it made little difference.
But world is still at war with Christ. It doesn’t want God interfering in its affairs. God entering human time and space as man is a dreadful intolerable interference. It changes everything. Emmanuel, “God with us”, means it can’t be simply ‘business as usual’. God with us demands a response. And for many today, the response, which they are free to make, is to turn their backs, or even to rage against the babe born in Bethlehem and blaspheme Him.
So we can now see the real matter before us in the question of putting Christ back into Christmas. It is not that we need to put Christ back into Christmas. He never left it. We need Christmas to put Christ back into us. We need to contemplate that babe in the manger, see Him for who He is, and begin to realize the implications of God becoming man. That God has become one of us and dwelt among us changes everything. It means that God has drawn near to us, is accessible, and waits for us to turn our hearts and faces to Him. It means we have no more excuses for not acknowledging and knowing God and offering Him thanks. It means that we have hope for enduring joy, for peace among men, for eternal glory in an eternal kingdom. It means that in Him man overcomes death. It means that human nature is forever joined to the life of the Holy Trinity, to the Divine Nature and has been seated at the right hand of the Power on high. It means that through the One born in Bethlehem, we can become partakers of that Divine Nature. This good news truly understood can only result in joy to the world and the beginning of peace among men.
Christ is forever in Christmas whether we want Him there or not. We need not worry much about making efforts to “put Christ back into Christmas.” But we desperately need Christmas to put Christ—the Light, the Truth, the Way, the Life—into us. This is the point of Christmas, and this is where our efforts to reclaim the season from its commercialized corruptions need to be focused—in how to get more of Christ into the inn of our hearts where too often there is too little room for Him to lay His head.
Preached 17 December 2006, since edited for posting
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