Christmas Message from His Eminence Archbishop Gabriel of Comana
‘Today the Deity has imprinted itself on humanity, So that humanity might itself be conformed to the seal of Deity’ Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on the Nativity, 1:99
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When Christ is born in Bethlehem, he offers us access to the kingdom of God. The Creator reveals his humble, gentle, loving and compassionate heart! It is in this way that the Lord wants our joy to be perfect, according to the words of the angel sent to the shepherds: ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, for today a Saviour is born for you, who is Christ the Lord’ (Lk 2:19). This birth creates in us an immense joy and a profound peace: ‘Peace on earth and goodwill among men’ (Lk 2:14). Our hearts expand to become the human receptacle of divine love!
For a long time the people of Israel waited for God’s salvation. In patience and in tribulation, in exile and cruel chastisement, hope for the Messiah remained present in human hearts. The prophets constantly announced the coming of the kingdom and of its liberator King. But, dear brothers and sisters, how is all that realised today? What do we see?
The palaces of princes are generally impenetrable, surrounded by ramparts and soldiers that make the powerful of this world inaccessible. But today, it is a stable that protects the King of kings: instead of guards watching over him, there are animals whose breath warms the little child-God. The heavenly gift is made accessible to all: the angels and a star lead both small and great to the Saviour of the world, who looks at his visitors with the fragile simplicity so characteristic of a child. That is how salvation is offered to the world. As Father Matta el Maskeen (1919-2006) once said: ‘Take the child Jesus in your arms to find out how light the Kingdom is with its yoke and its burden.’
How can we live this event today? How can we integrate it into our daily life? A liturgical feast is not just a simple pious commemoration: it is an utterly concrete reality, transcending time, which is important for the salvation of each one of us.
As the Jews travelled towards the Promised Land, they were confronted by human weakness - their own and other people’s. The corruption of conscience was an overwhelming reality. Their leaders collapsed, and the people rebelled or made themselves idols, returning to paganism. All of this brought about suffering, fear, anguish, and despair: ‘They wandered in desert wastes; they walked in solitude’ (Ps 107:4).
This description could be used to describe our situation today: human beings are still weak, corrupt and often abominable. The uprightness of conscience becomes weak, immorality spreads abroad ... Yet ‘in their distress they cried to the Lord, and he delivered them ...’ (Ps 107:6).
We, too, we also cry out. Our prayer is ceaselessly raised to the Lord: ‘ Holy God, holy and strong, holy and immortal, have mercy on us!’ But are we sufficiently attentive to this prayer that gives our services their rhythm? Are we sufficiently possessed by our supplications, by our repeated ‘Lord, have mercy?’ Do we carry in our hearts that cry of humanity to which we are ontologically bound? Yet that is how each and every Christian should live, and, while doing this, receive the divine and saving response that is manifested for us today.
Yes, salvation has been given to the world! Yes, love gives itself to all! Yes, the poor and the humble of heart who have cried to God have been heard! We no longer live in the shadow of death. The doors of the kingdom of God are open in front of us - or, better still, as Christ said to us: ‘The kingdom of God is within you!’ How is this possible? Simply because the kingdom of God is God himself, and because ‘God became Man so that Man might become God’ (St Athanasius of Alexandria). Through the Incarnation of the Word and only Son of God, our flesh is transformed into a receptacle for the kingdom of God, and finds itself divinised!
The child lying in the stable is ‘the Prince of peace’ (Isaiah 9:6). He whose nativity on earth we celebrate today has become approachable. We can, like the shepherds and the magi, fall at his most pure feet. Our misery, our suffering and our tears will become, in the eyes of the Newborn, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh ... In return we will receive the precious inheritance of mercy. We will partake of the divine love. This is not only an event that took place two thousand years ago: we are ceaselessly given access to salvation. Every day that we can let God wipe away our tears. At every moment that we can hear him say to us: ‘Come to me, you who are heavily laden, and I will give you rest’ (Mt 11:28).
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, let us take in our arms the infant Jesus, and we shall be consoled by the divine love and in the divine love! Let us make our own the words of Simeon the Elder, who also took Christ in his arms, and let us say with him: ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to they word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel’ (Lk 2:29-32).
May our Lord Jesus Christ, whose birth in the flesh we celebrate today, be our joy in everything, and may he cause the grace of salvation to descend upon us. Amen.
Paris, Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky
25 December 2008 / 7 January 2009
+Archbishop Gabriel of Comana,
Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch