Did you ever see the face of a child on Christmas morning? They rise early, curious to see what packages have been left for them. The sight of their bright, smiling eyes fills us with joy. Seeing them open their gifts is one of the most memorable parts of Christmas.
Watching a child on Christmas morning may spark memories of our own childhood, and the joy we once experienced. Yet somehow through the years the joy that we once felt on Christmas at the reception of a wonderful gift may have faded; and perhaps now we are left only with the vicarious joy of watching children open their presents. We rejoice that the children are happy. But do we ourselves feel that we have each received a great gift on Christmas?
Christmas is a time when we are called to rejoice at having been sent a Savior. The idea of salvation is largely foreign to our secular society. Historically, the Jews in the Old Testament were enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. They lived as slaves in bondage. Yet God worked through Moses to free the Jews from bondage and brought them out of Egypt to be a group together in the wilderness. God ultimately promised to bring the Jews to a beautiful land, ‘flowing with milk and honey’, and to make their descendants as numerous as the ‘stars of heaven’. The story of Moses poses the most basic biblical understanding for the need of salvation. That is to say, those who were in bondage were freed by divine intervention. Freedom from enslavement came by the hand of God. The Jews were saved by the Lord.
The Bible and the writings of the early church saints present to us an analogy; stating that we too are enslaved and in bondage. Of course, we are not slaves of a Pharaoh in Egypt, but we are slaves of a different sort. Jesus said"Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34 ); and St. Paul states, “... all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23 ). From a biblical perspective, therefore, we are all slaves to sin, and as slaves, need to be saved. At this point one may ask, why can’t we free ourselves from the bonds of sin? Why can we not be our own saviors? First, in the Bible God says, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isa 43:11 ); and second, human experience repeatedly confirms man’s unfortunate inability to save himself. We see in the world around us and within ourselves evidence of the difficulty of leading a sinless life, even though we may try to be pure. St. Paul describes his own struggle to lead a sinless life.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:19-25 )
Even if a person were to lead a sinless life they would still have a mortal body, and as such would ultimately be in bondage to death. Salvation is about liberation from both sin and death. Our church tells us that the story of Israel’s liberation from Egyptian bondage was an archetype of the liberation that is granted to us from the sin and decay of this world through our Lord. With the return of Jesus, creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom 8:21 ). Christmas is, then, a celebration of the birth of our liberator. Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything ... (Acts 13:38-9 )
In light of the salvation from bondage that was granted us by Jesus, we rejoice. Joy in the birth of the Lord is contingent upon this very realization. It is only when we understand our bondage to sin and death that we may rejoice at the birth of the Savior. Recognition of personal sinfulness and facing one’s mortality are the two key aspects to understanding the need for the savior, and rejoicing at the gift that was given us on Christmas morning. Recognizing our need of the Savior is therefore the essential part of the Advent season.
During the season of Advent we prepare ourselves to meet the Lord by humbly examining ourselves in the light of His love. Advent is a time for each of us to pray and to read the bible, and to ask ourselves, “Do I live up to Jesus’ teachings? How can I better serve him? What can I do to help my family see the religious meaning of this holiday?”. During Advent let’s make it a point to pray with our families, attend church services, and to discuss the meaning of the season. Advent is a time to recall God’s tremendous love for us, in that he sent his Son to save us and grant us eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ). Remembering God’s abundant and enduring love, let’s resolve to make a special effort to keep the ‘Christ’ in Christmas this year.
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Saint Nicholas lived in the forth century. According to tradition he was a native of Patara, formerly a city near historic Armenia, in the ancient district of Lycia, Asia Minor (in what is now Turkey). He entered the nearby monastery of Sion and subsequently became archbishop of the metropolitan church in Myra, Lycia. He is said to have been present at the first Council of Nicaea (that’s right, Santa Claus helped write the Nicene Creed). At the end of the 11th century some Italian merchants transported his remains from Myra to Bari, Italy, where his tomb is now a shrine.
Legend tells of his secret gifts to the three daughters of a poor man, who, unable to give them dowries, was about to abandon them to a life of sin. According to tradition, Nicholas heard of their difficulty and went to their house at night and threw bags of gold in through the window in order to provide the needed dowry. From this tale has grown the custom of secret giving on the Eve of St. Nicholas. Because of the close proximity of dates, Christmas and St. Nicholas' Day are now celebrated simultaneously in many countries. The name ‘Santa Claus’, the designation for the jolly, bearded figure of folklore who is credited with bringing gifts to children on Christmas Eve, evolved gradually. Saint Nicholas became the Dutch San Nicolaas, which became abbreviated to Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas is a Saint of the Armenian Church and recognized in our church calendar.