Let Us Go To Bethlehem…Fr. Barnabas Powell
Tonight’s the night! And my girls are absolutely thrilled to go to bed after Liturgy this evening! Why? Not because it’s bedtime, but because after Liturgy in the morning, we’re going to “mawmaw’s” house and that means chocolate cake AND presents! It really is the most wonderful time of the year on many levels!
But, for me, it’s the prayers, the liturgy, and the worship that captures my attention and joy. Most of my life Christmas was a 24 hour period of frenzied activity, mostly with family, and never at church unless (rarely) December 25th fell on a Sunday, and even then I’ve seen pastors “cancel” service “so that people can be with their families!” Yeah, I know, it confuses me too now.
I guess it’s because of the joy of discovering the timeless way the Faith once for all delivered to the saints is meant to “Christianize” everything in our lives. Plus, the revelation of just what happens on Christmas Day has overwhelmed me with the news that motivated the shepherds in our Gospel Lesson today.
Look at Luke 2:1-20:
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
You see, these simple shepherds had been visited by an angel that had told them the One they and their people had been waiting for for centuries was born in Bethlehem (by the way, it’s no mistake that the city’s name means “House of Bread” in Hebrew!). So how did they respond? By going and seeing and then worshipping and telling. In other words, they didn’t keep the news to themselves!
And that’s where we come in. The lesson we take from the shepherds is that it isn’t enough to simply witness the enfleshing of God for our sakes, we have to actually keep going! First, we have to appreciate, as best we are able what we are witnessing! And what we are witnessing is the greatest Mystery of all: The Bread that came down from Heaven came to the “House of Bread” to finally become Bread that is meant to satisfy the deepest and truest hunger every human has ever had! Nothing less than the Uncreated God taking Flesh for our sakes so He can reverse the mistakes of Adam by becoming the Second Adam and destroying sin, death, and Satan for all of us and each of us!
Next, after we’ve grasped the event, then the only honest response is worship! No wonder the Church gives us the Royal Hours of Christmas in the morning today, and then the Vesperal Liturgy of St. Basil tonight, and then the Christmas Liturgy tomorrow morning, and then the Synaxis of the Theotokos the next day! The ONLY honest response that shows you’ve really got the message, the event, is worship. And that is for our healing as well so we never reduce God’s love for us to merely a utilitarian meeting of our needs that leaves us self centered and “dead” inside. No, we respond with joy, slackjawed adoration, and wonder at the love God has, and continues to have, for us!
Finally, the only honest response to our worship is not keeping this joy to ourselves! The shepherds recognize this and “made known” what they had witnessed. So, too, we are called to share this joy with everyone. And that makes sense if we’ve really grasped the Event we celebrate. If you had a way to make sure no one around you would ever be hungry again, would you keep it to yourself? Well, you do! You have the Good News that God has come to satisfy the deepest hunger all of us have, and you know where the “Bread” is! Don’t keep it to yourself!
Today, we enter into the season of Christmas and, for 12 days, we will bask in the glory of God’s love for us. Enjoy your family. Feast and make merry. Just don’t forget to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. From all of us at Faith Encouraged Ministries, we wish you and your family a blessed Feast of the Nativity and a healthy and prosperous 2016! Please pray for us.