Emmanuel - God is With Us
Long ago, there ruled a wise and good king. He loved his people and wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to understand about their hardships and struggles in daily life. So this king would often dress in the clothes of a beggar, and go into the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited knew that he was their ruler.
One day he visited a very poor man who lived in a simple hut. He ate the same coarse food the poor man ate and experienced the difficult life that this man faced each and every day. As the king passed the days with the poor man, he always spoke cheerful, kind words to the man, sharing his love in concrete ways. After a number of days, the king-in-disguise left, only to return weeks later surrounded by his soldiers, in all his glory and power.
When the poor man realized that it was his king that had stayed in his home, he was amazed. The king thought that the poor man would surely ask for some gift or favour, but he didn't. Instead the poor man humbly commented, "You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the course food I ate and slept under the same roof as me. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you may offer your rich gifts, but to me you gave your very self!”
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“And his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God is with us”
The feast of Christmas proclaims something that is inconceivable to the human mind: that the Creator of the universe came to dwell among us. He came to be united with the human race, to taste our struggles and to share our pain, in order to lift us up into a new reality. All world religions may point to people searching for God, but only Christianity offers the completely different and unique story that Almighty God became one of us in order “to deify us”. Christmas is about this shocking reality!
Jesus did not come as an angel or a prophet who simply spoke the word of God. God become one of us, “and lived among us.” He entered into humanity with a real birth from the Virgin Mary in order to remain eternally “one of us” - like us humans in every way except for our sin. Jesus Christ became an integral and eternal part of our human family.
The Good News of Christianity begins with this assurance that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” The Christmas story summarizes the incarnation of God with this one name, Emmanuel, for God is with us forever. Too many people think of Jesus as a person of the past and not as Emmanuel, the living Christ who remains with us even in the present. Many people believe more in an absent God than in the eternally present Lord. Many, even among us, rest and feel greater security in the thought that “money is with us, power is with us, the protection of the powerful is with us,” than in the belief that He who is with us is God. This is the deception of the world today.
On Christmas, the Church firmly proclaims that Christ remains perpetually with us. This living feeling of His presence and the organic union with Him is made sure through the celebration of the holy Sacraments, the Mysteries which begin with our Baptism and culminate in our participation in the Divine Eucharist. The Church reminds us of the promise of our Lord after His Passion and Resurrection “And I will be with you all the days of your life.” Christ is not with us only during our hours of prayer and peace, but even more so in our turbulent days of doubt and weakness, in our hours of fear or uncertainty. The awareness of our Lord Jesus Christ’s presence should strengthen and inspire us at all times.
“And His name shall be called Emmanuel, which means God is with us.” The feast of Christmas invites us to strengthen this feeling of God’s continuous presence in our lives. Holding fast to this spirit of Christmas will help us become bearers of God’s love, peace, justice, reconciliation and optimism to the world at large. The central characteristic of any faithful Orthodox believer should remain, above all else, a vibrant sense of God’s presence in our own lives, and the necessity to share His presence with all those with whom we come into contact.
In a world where violence, injustice, suffering and poverty plague humanity and fill our hearts with anxiety and turbulence, the Christmas feast comes again to spark anew the light of faith and hope within our souls. The eternal message of our Christian faith is that the Infinite God of the universe, who is without beginning or end, came and took on our human nature in order to guide us on a path that leads us to our highest possible development in life - our deification by grace. St Basil the Great explains the feast of Christmas by saying that “our Lord raises all humanity to Himself,” in order to put the human race back on the right track from which it had been lost. With Christ’s coming on earth, He brings all humanity back to union with God.
Thus, Christmas is about much more than a little baby born in a manger – no matter how miraculous that birth may have been. Christmas is not simply about shepherds and angels and wise men and a Virgin birth. Ultimately, Christmas is about the eternal Word of God breaking into history in a radically new way and lifting up all humanity to God Himself – into a new life of divine love and salvation.
May we each reflect upon this new reality, and open our minds and hearts to accept our Lord Jesus anew into our lives. Let us never forget that “God is with us,” and allow this promise of Emmanuel to strengthen and comfort us even in our darkest and most difficult moments of life. As Archbishop Anastasios of Albania says, “If the truth that “God is with us” becomes the very atmosphere in which we breathe and move every moment of our lives, then we will be transfigured through this joyous feast and deified by His grace!”
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