“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Isaiah 9:6–7). This prophecy provides us with a profound mission statement that giving is an essential characteristic of the Nativity Feast. This Child is the Word of God who created us and gave us life. This Child came to give us salvation and became the Sacrifice who would redeem us and restore us to Paradise. This Child came to give us peace, joy, forgiveness, and hope for an everlasting life. This Child came to give us sonship to God because He is the Son of God (c. John 1:10–13). He is God incarnate who gave Himself to us as the Child in the manger and the Saviour of the world.
The Church prepares our Advent journey for the Feast of the Lord’s Nativity with the usual triad components of worshipping through fasting, praying, and almsgiving. While we abstain from gluttony and rich foods to meals of simplicity, we prepare to enter the manger upon the Lords’ birth. While we praise the Lord throughout the month prior to His birth, our hearts are lifted to heaven with gladness that we may sing with the choir of angels that appeared at His birth, hasten with reverence with the shepherds to greet Him at the manger, and be determined like the wise men from the East that journeyed a long distance to worship Him and rejoiced greatly when they saw Him (c. Luke 2:8–20; Matthew 2:1–12). When we give alms to our churches and remember those in need by providing gifts to bring them gladness, provide for their needs, and welcome the lonely into our homes, we are reminded of Christ’s rejection at the lodges, but finding security in the humble manger. Without any effort of our own, we became the recipients of His many generous gifts to the world: the gift of love, the gift of life, the gift of joy, the gift of peace, the gift forgiveness, the gift of hope, and the gift of grace.
It is unsettling at times when we see how the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ is experienced in the world today. It is sometimes perceived as only a festive season that often excludes Christ the Saviour. Christians and non-Christians decorate trees, adorn their homes with lights, and stage their yards, some with the Nativity scene, but more often with winter images and other imaginary figures. Celebrations include consuming much food and wine during the Advent festivities, and stores begin enticing consumers months in advance hoping for their best revenues for the year. Then, it is all over, and people go back to their ordinary self-centeredness until the following year. Thus, we must remember that in giving, great blessings are received. “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it” (Malachi 3:10).
We must not forget that the joy and celebration of Christmas is the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the beginning of the Lord’s plan to give salvation to the world. This plan included significant hardship for Him, His earthly family, and His followers. In Herod’s madness and jealousy, he slew a countless number of innocent children in Bethlehem in pursuit to kill the Child Jesus (c. Matthew 2:16–18). St Mary and St Joseph escaped with the Child by travelling thousands of miles to Egypt to find safety and then return to Nazareth (c. Matthew 2:13–15). Many Christians today are still persecuted for their faith, others have become unwanted refugees in foreign lands and even in their own countries, and blameless children are neglected as pawns in political wars. We must not let the spirit of giving end at a certain date or by the marking of the celebration of a feast. Our mission is to continue to live this way as givers toward everyone, whether different or alike. The Church celebrates the Nativity Feast on the twenty-ninth day of every Coptic month. Thus, the spirit of giving should always be in us and a way of life for us.
“On this day to us came forth the Gift, although we asked it not! Let us therefore bestow alms on them that cry and beg of us. This is the day that opened for us a gate on high to our prayers. Let us open also gates to supplicants that have transgressed, and of us have asked [forgiveness]” (c. St. Ephraim of Syria, Hymn 1 on the Nativity).
Christ is born; let us glorify Him.
His Grace Bishop Youssef is Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States (www.suscopts.org)
7 January 2018