If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, then you've got to look a lot more redeemed.
We live in a fast-paced, hectic world where we rush through everything in our lives. We work hard and long to be able to get things that will help us relax and enjoy life, but even our relaxing has become rushed and stressful. We run to the latest mass-produced platitudes that will give us the secret to happiness and life only to go back to drugging our pain away instead. Even our trips to church are a mad rush to get everyone there for an hour of worship. Is it any wonder then that the celebration of the birth of the Saviour of the world has been reduced to a dreadful exchange of useless trinkets, excessive feasting and worthless chatter?
If we are going to move beyond our superficial understanding of Christmas by anaesthetizing ourselves with pleasures and distractions, then we must penetrate through our sentimental experience of love and expose our poverty to God's presence. Anthony Bloom describes this disposition when he writes:
Unless we are aware that we are outside the kingdom of God, that we need to knock at a door to be allowed in, we may spend a great deal of our lives in imagining that we are inside, behaving as though we were, and never reaching that depth where the kingdom of God unfolds itself in all its beauty, its truth and its glory.
As Christians we often adopt God as the provider of our needs and concerns. But God's purpose is not ours and his ways are not our ways. Jesus' way is that we free ourselves from our pride and follow his footprints to complete abandonment in the hands of God. Jesus' truth is that we stop searching for ways to capture God, and accept his gift to transform our lives. Jesus' life is that we stop worrying whether we live or die, but rather whether we are prepared to die for him who has the power to give life.
God became like us so that we might become like him. God did not descend as an unapproachable light, but as a weak and humble child. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9, NIV). Jesus exposed his omnipotence, and so magnified his power. He emptied himself of his omnipresence, and so fulfilled all things. He abandoned his omniscience, and so revealed the truth for us to see.
John of Kronstadt wrote "the Lord has become everything for you, and you must become everything for the Lord." Christ was born into our life, so that we might be born into the divine life of God. The purpose of Christmas is for the world to know that Jesus was born "to testify to the truth" (John 18:37, NASB). Jesus is the truth, the only truth, and everything about the Christian Church is about accepting that Jesus is God and to share this message with the world: "Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice," says Jesus (John 18:36, NASB).
Jesus was our witness to the absoluteness of God, and Christians are Jesus' witnesses to the eternal life that Christ was born into the world to offer to all humanity. In the Book of Acts 26:16-18 (NKJV) we read, "I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness...to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me."
A Christianity not reaching out to others is like the gospel without Christ. Christmas is about believing that Jesus is among us. That he was born in a dark, hopeless world to offer us the hope of abundant life. It is about letting Jesus be born under the trash of our lives to transform our despair into hope. Christians need to sing a new psalm of love and justice. The Church needs a new mission of reaching out to the whole world again.
Can we spare our sixth coat or umpteenth pair of shoes with those who have none? Can we live without the 42-inch television set, and instead share 42 sandwiches with the homeless downtown? Can we talk about Jesus for half an hour this Christmas, instead of half the day on the football and hockey games? Can we leave our apprehensions and fears behind and look for Jesus, hidden in the faces of the hurting, the rejected, and the broken?
We need to stop holding on to our stuff and depending on the substitutes of this life, because God can't offer his riches to hands that are already clutching onto mental or material possessions. We shut out Jesus, borne into weakness, exile and poverty and instead accept the illusion of our self-sufficiency as our new personal 'Jesus.' Maximus the Confessor's exhortation is to "cleanse your mind of anger, grudges and shameful thoughts. Then you will be able to know the indwelling of Christ." In order to see Christ in others you must first see him in yourself.
If Christmas is going to become a momentous event again, we all need to become meaningful followers of the Way: "Let your light shine in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16, NASB). Let us open our hearts and homes to those for whom God chose to live amongst. Let us reach out with our riches to those whom Jesus came as a pauper. Let us expose our poverty to the Christ who came to give us the kingdom of God.
John Lennon sang "And so this is Xmas/And what have we done," in his song Merry Xmas. The truth is by 'X-ing out' Christ what we have done is alienate ourselves from God and each other. We no longer believe, and so we do not see. The bond between God and us has become darkened and distorted, and our relationship to each other is hateful and violent. We have removed Him who is closest to us and in the process lost our redemption. The Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is about more than a mere ornamental display of piety. It is about becoming "all that he became for us," as Gregory Nazianzen says. We have been given the greatest gift in the history of mankind. Let us no longer be afraid. Our eyes have seen the coming glory of the living God. There is great and wonderful news to share with the world because God has come to us as a child, and he is Christ the Lord.
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.