When God became Man, it was not with pomp or splendor, there were no grand ballrooms lined with celebrities or huge crowds gathered with parades. Instead our Lord was humbly born in a manger, because there was nowhere else that would accommodate Him.
Join the Choir
The optics were not the greatest and very few people showed up initially, but eventually a huge crowd of heavenly hosts made their way to celebrate the birth of Christ with singing and praising (and just to make clear, NO, there was no lip-syncing angels present). In the Gospel of Luke, we read that “13 suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’” (Luke 2:13-14) The classic Christmas carol, Angels We Have Heard on High, captures this moment and invites us to join the angelic choir as we sing the refrain “Gloria in excelsis Deo” (Latin for Glory to God in the Highest.) This refrain is in fact also a sort of liturgical refrain in the Coptic liturgy of St. Basil, as the prayer begins and concludes with it.
The Gift of Reconciliation
At the start, the Prayer of Reconciliation (St. Basil, Coptic Rite) reminds us that God has “filled the earth with the heavenly peace by which the hosts of angels glorify You saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, peace one earth, and good will towards men.’” In other words, the liturgical participants are reminded about how the angelic choir offered glory to God because He came into the world to reconcile humanity to Himself.
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
At the end of the Liturgy – following the Eucharist and before worshippers leave – the priest prompts the congregation to join the angelic choir, as he directs the worshippers “let us praise with the angels saying.” The congregation joyfully cries out “Glory to God in the highest, peace one earth, good will towards men.” If Christmas is God giving Himself to Humanity through the Incarnation, Eucharist is humanity coming to the Christmas Tree (the Cross) that keeps on giving. Receiving the Eucharistic Gift, God’s people cannot help but to give glory back to Him. We do this first with our lips by praising Him with words, while at the same time preparing ourselves – through communing with Him – to honor Him with our lives, as we return into the world.
Receiving the Gift of Peace
If I got a dollar for every time someone said to me that the one thing they were missing, that they wished they had, was peace, I would be a very rich man today. The truth is that neither earthly riches nor power and influence can give us the peace we so desire. A 1st Century Greek Stoic philosopher brilliantly acknowledged the limitations of earthly leaders in saying “while the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief, and envy; he cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns for more than even outward peace.” So where can we find this peace?
At the end of the year, I was hanging out with Elijah (my 3-year old) and he began preaching to me:
Elijah: Daddy you’re not God; you’re a priest!
Me: Thanks for the reminder dude! (thinking that he was done, he continued dropping wisdom on me)
Elijah: Your job is to put people in the water three times. God’s job is to make superheroes!
It’s God’s job to make superheroes. Ain’t that the truth! Not the sort that leap tall buildings in a single bound, but the type of people who become transformed into the Image of the One who came into the world and gave Himself fully to Us. We are talking about the type of people who are filled with the peace of God and disperse that peace everywhere they go! The good news of Christmas is that Jesus is born this day, not to judge or destroy, but to save and bless. Jesus Christ (the real ultimate “superhero”), who “Himself is our peace, (Ephesians 2:14) has brought peace between heaven and earth by uniting the two in Himself.
God can certainly use priests, deacons, and laity, men and women, elders and children – civic and religious leaders to that end – but it is Jesus who restored (and continues to restore through His Church) peace on earth by reconciling the heavenly with the earthly! As a result of establishing peace with Humanity, God brings peace between humans. In other words, peace with God leads to peace with others, and can be experienced among men of good will.
On this Christmas day, where 100’s of millions of Orthodox Christians throughout the world celebrate the Advent of our Lord, it is time we get generous in glorifying Him. As St. Ephrem the Syrian put it, “it is we who need You, above anything in the world. You give Yourself to us with such total generosity, that it might almost seem that You need us. There never was a king like this before!” Let us be generous in giving ourselves to the One who gives Himself fully to Us.
Christ is Born; Let us Glorify Him!