St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

The Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ

Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Christmas Eve - Thursday, December 24, 2010

The Reading is from Matthew 2:1-12

Christ is Born!

There is a great contrast between King Herod and the Wise Men.   Herod represents the power of this world, the grandeur and might of Rome, the heights to which we are taught by society to aspire to be successful on earth. The Wise Men are presented as gentle, kind and well ... wise.  They were men of great learning and devotion.  Wealthy, but generous.  Powerful, but kind.  Self-sufficient, yet humble.  Herod wanted to kill Christ because the he saw Christ as a threat to his life.  The Wise Men wanted to worship Him because they recognized Him rather as the fulfillment of their lives.

Here is an old Jewish saying: Q:  “Why does God not speak with man face to face as He did with Moses?”  A: “Because modern man will not bow low enough to hear God.” 

“Bowing low” the Magi followed a star.  “Bowing low” they worshipped Christ. “Bowing low” they offered Him gracious and costly gifts. “Bowing low” they deceived King Herod, risking his anger and vengeance and their very lives, to protect the Messiah from his madness.

The greatest contrast, though, is between this world and its expectations and Person of the Christ Child Himself.  Allow me to quote John Stott, “Right at the beginning…Jesus contradicted all human judgments and all nationalistic expectations of the kingdom of God.  The kingdom is given to the poor, not the rich; the feeble, not the mighty; to little children humble enough to accept it, not to soldiers who boast that they can obtain it by their own prowess.  In our Lord’s own day it was not the Pharisees who entered the kingdom, who thought they were rich, so rich in merit that they thanked God for their attainments; nor the Zealots who dreamed of establishing the kingdom by blood and sword; but publicans and prostitutes, the rejects of human society, who knew they were so poor they could offer nothing and achieve nothing.  All they could do was to cry to God for mercy; and he heard their cry.” 

Contrary to expectations God chooses to do things tonight in a small way.  It is His way. The Perfect Way of love through humility.

We are called to take on the same humility, to become ourselves a contradiction to this world as He is: to become all things to all men, to lay down our lives for our friends, to love our enemies.  We are called to turn the other cheek, to give not only our shirts, but our coats as well, to give expecting nothing in return, to walk extra miles unquestioning every step of the way. We are called to become fools for the sake of Christ as He became a fool for ours.

Jesus uses imagery to express this Way of life.  We are to be like yeast in a lump of dough, like a tiny seed falling to its death in the ground, like insignificant grains of mustard seed, like the Woman with the issue of blood, like Zaccheus…crushed, silent, dying for the life of the world.  We are called to die.  To become small.  To bow down.

Archbishop John Shakhovskoy of San Francisco relates to us the simple path to this necessary death.

 “Do not be angry over trifles…or in the daily contacts of life speak untruth to your neighbor. These are trifles, small change, of no account; but just try to do this and you will see what comes of it.

It is hard to pray at night. But try in the morning. If you can’t manage to pray at home then at least as you ride to your place of employment attempt with a clear head the “Our Father” and let the words of this short prayer resound in your heart. And at night commend yourself with complete sincerity into the hands of the Heavenly Father. This indeed is very easy.

And give, give a glass of cold water to everyone who has need of it; give a glass filled to the brim with simple human companionship to everyone that lack it, the very simplest companionship…

O wondrous path of little things, I sing thee a hymn! Surround yourselves, O people; gird up yourselves with little works of good — with a chain of little, simple, easy and good feelings which cost us nothing, a chain of bright thoughts, words and deeds. Let us abandon the big and the difficult. That is for them that love it and not for us for whom the Lord in His Mercy, for us who have not yet learned to love the greater, has poured forth the lesser love everywhere, free as water and air.”

The most wonderful, simple, small thing we can do is share the light we have been given every little moment of our lives.

Blessed Mother Teresa writes: “Always be faithful in little things, for in them our strength lies. Do not pursue spectacular deeds. We must deliberately renounce all desires to see the fruit of our labor, doing all we can as best we can, leaving the rest in the hands of God. What matters is the gift of yourself, the degree of love that you put into each one of your actions. Do not allow yourselves to be disheartened by any failure as long as you have done your best. Neither glory in your success, but refer all to God in deepest thankfulness.”

The most wonderful thing we can do is share the light we have been given seeking nothing in return, no public acclaim, and no notice at all, but to do everything we do in secret “not letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing.”  Adopting the humility of God, the powerlessness of the Christ Child, the humility of God made flesh.

In this way, Christ was born into this world.  In this way we are born into His.  Christ is Born!