Encyclical from Metropolitan Gerasimos for Christmas 2018
“And the angel said to the shepherds, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11
Beloved in the Lord,
The Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov wrote, “We prove God’s existence by worshiping Him and not by advancing so-called proofs.” At the Great Feast of Christmas, each one of our churches become a symbolic Bethlehem, carrying us to the manger where we find the newborn child, Jesus. In our Vigil and Liturgy we will sing praises to the Almighty God as we hear the story of the Birth of our Savior. The news that Christ is born, once again, will fill us with joy and hope and we will take this message from our parishes to our homes and the world around us. That is the proof of our faith! This is how the Birth of Christ makes a difference in our salvation; that we are able to share with action this wondrous message from above. In the Holy Liturgy during our celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord, we will receive Christ the Lord as we sing the Communion Hymn that teaches us the purpose of the Incarnation: “The Lord sent redemption to His people.”
In this cynical age when various pundits regularly question the existence of God, what better response can we offer than filling our churches with hymns of praise? When the world around us makes Christmas all about searching for “the right gift”, what better response can we offer than sharing the Good News that the Savior is born? When we encounter those who sow seeds of division and relish in polarization, what better response can we offer that working even more diligently to strengthen the unity of the Body of Christ? Arguments will not change hardened hearts. Only our faith, our love for our neighbor, and our compassion can soften them.
In the Nativity of Christ, the Kingdom of God enters this world and we celebrate that “God is with us”. He came humbly, as an infant, reminding us that the Kingdom of God enters in places and ways that are not always dramatic or revolutionary, but rather quite ordinary. The Kingdom of God is at hand in the ordinary activities of our lives: in our homes, at our family gatherings, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods. When we treat people with kindness, justice and compassion in our day-to-day activities, we bear witness to the Kingdom and grow closer to God. Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote, “God comes to live with human beings, that we may journey toward God”(Oration 38). Our journey to God begins with our journey to the symbolic Bethlehem, where we may meet the Savior, who “became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Then we can return to our daily lives filled with hope and begin to work to make all things new.
There is much work to be done. When we see the many sufferings of our neighbors, in the Alaska earthquake, the fires in California, as well as the ongoing injustices that continue to be perpetrated in our society, we must turn our minds and hearts to the Good News that the Savior is born and redemption has come to His people. We must ask ourselves how we will bear witness to the Kingdom of God in the face of these tragedies and the conditions of so many. Our first action should be prayer for those who suffer. Second, we can make charitable and philanthropic gifts to offer support. Third, speak the truth to those who are sitting in places of authority. Fourth, we can involve ourselves in the work of assisting those who have no voice and need help through our parishes and as responsible citizens of our country.
Beloved in the Lord, this Christmas Holiday is a new opportunity to go to our symbolic Bethlehem, see the newborn Christ, acknowledge Him as your Savior, and take His message of salvation into the world through your words and actions. Let us go to Bethlehem, the city of David, and meet Christ the Lord.
Beseeching the Blessings of our Almighty God upon you and your loved ones, I wish to all of you a Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with the Joy and Grace of our Newborn Savior.
With Love in Our Newborn King,
@ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco