Everyone is looking forward to the upcoming Feast. We make preparations, we organize parties, we decorate houses, shops and streets. Christmas is one of the biggest feasts of our faith; it’s the “Mother of Feasts”.
But what do we really celebrate on Christmas? We celebrate the Nativity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; the fact that God came to Earth! He came to live among humans! He was born by Virgin Mary. He became a man, never ceasing to be God!
At that time, Caesar Octavian Augustus who was the emperor of the entire Roman Empire, issued a decree: A population census would be carried out. That is, all his subjects should be registered, so that he would know how many slaves he had under his power in order to tax them. The imperial order was strict. All were to obey it, without exception. Any indifference or delay would be punished.
Jews had to go to their hometown to get registered. Righteous Joseph and his betrothed Virgin Mary, who were from the royal line of David, set off from Nazareth of Galilee to Bethlehem of Judea, which was David’s city.
Upon arriving to Bethlehem, they couldn’t find any place to stay for the night, because of the great multitude. The travelers slept on the ground of large crowded inns, because there were not any private rooms at that time. Mary, however, was on the ninth month of her pregnancy, so she expected to give birth to her Son any time soon. It wasn’t possible for her to be squeezed among so many people.
There was usually a stable for the travelers’ animals near every inn, so Mary chose to spend the night in that place. There she gave birth to Christ. Our God humbled himself and accepted to be born in one of the filthiest places on earth! Holy Mary swaddled her newborn Child and put Him in the manger, the food place for animals, which was clean enough.
None of the travelers noticed the great event nor did they know who was born that night. The announcement was made to some humble pious shepherds by a God’s angel. While they were guarding their herds in the countryside, a bright divine light shone in the darkness. The shepherds got scared but they heard the angel’s voice: “Fear not! I bring you great joy, joy for all the people! For you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. Here is the sign; you will find an Infant swaddled in a manger.”
When the angel delivered his great message, an infinite number of angels appeared in the sky. They were singing and praising God with a wonderful hymn: “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, good will toward men”. The shepherds were watching the angels in astonishment, until they disappeared. Then they decided to go to Bethlehem and see for themselves what God had revealed to them. They rushed and found Holy Mary, Joseph and the divine Infant in the manger, exactly as the angel had told them. They devoutly kneeled before little Jesus.
The real celebration
If only we had been in a small corner of that stable or among the shepherds that night! If only we could have listened to the angel’s message and have kneeled before newborn Christ!
But we can really find Christ, the world’s Savior, and worship Him. The Christ’s manger is in every Orthodox church waiting for us. The sound of the church bells will call us, like the angels called the shepherds; “Come, come and find the divine Infant in the church manger!”
Joy to those who go to the church! They listen to the angels’ hymn in the sweet chants. They can see Virgin Mary holding Christ and kiss the icon of the Nativity of Christ. People, who are prepared with the sacrament of Confession, can receive the Holy Communion and their heart can become Christ’s manger!
This is how Christians really celebrate Christmas and this celebration is by far the most joyful of any other festive event. Everyone should participate in the liturgy on Christmas Day. It’s the most precious gift we can ask from our family; to go all together to the church. The traditional Christmas liturgy starts early in the morning, before sun rises. In this way we can imitate the faithful shepherds who rushed in the middle of the night to worship the Savior of the world. Then, our heart will be full of joy and our lips will thankfully sing the angels’ hymn.
I wish you a Merry and Blessed Christmas!