Christmas message from Archbishop Gabriel

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Icône de la Nativité du Christ
Icône peinte par Marie-Reine Hugot, responsable de l’Atelier Sainte Théodora

On this day of the Nativity of our Lord, ‘the Sun of Righteousness has espoused the daughter of the shadows’ (Syrian Liturgy).

Lo, dawn is breaking at the end of the dark night, and Christ illumines all creation, the beauty of which had been overshadowed by the darkness of our trangressions. As, in their time, the shepherds in Bethlehem rejoiced, so we today rejoice hearing the angels announce to us also that ‘unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given’! This Son, this Child, is God, come to visit us and in order to do this, taking our flesh.

Through the appearance on earth of the Beloved of the Father, we are no longer alone in the chill of this world ‘where those who have no bread want to live, and those who have bread no longer know how to live’ (Liturgical Homelies of Jean Corbon).

Yes, our world is cold! It seeks to warm itself with futile and useless warmth. It wants to live in artifice, the sad vanity of which it has discovered so late, and falls asleep curled up on itself, forgetting the hope that is knocking at the door of its heart! But this world is our world, in which we live out all the days that God gives; where men hate and kill, where he who has everything passes by him who has nothing without the slightest concern or compassion; where brother plunders his brother for the ‘glory’ of being rich, consisting of a handful of old stones, of which, at the end of time, nothing will remain.

‘Peace on earth, goodwill among men!’ As Christians, what do we make of these tidings proclaimed by the angels? The Nativity of Christ is the time to awaken our hearts, to step out of our routines, pious though they may be. It is the time to re-awaken hope, to share it in bringing life to our brethren: like the shepherds, we must proclaim to all, with eagerness, that, with God, all can change, all can be saved!

This hope, and the joy that follows, must shine through us. If everyone were to give a true sign, the true Peace that the world cannot give... If everyone were to show a face alight with love to his brother who is hungry for it... if everyone were to place his cool hand on the feverish forehead of the oppressed... if the love that is in us could flow like clear water, bathing all wounds... if forgiveness could rise up above the anger and hatred aroused by those who should be called ‘brother’...

We must be aware of our responsibility for God’s gift at this feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is taking place once more: we are ontologically linked with our brethren and sisters on Earth, for the Lord created us ‘in His image and likeness’, whoever we are. There still remains something of the primal beauty that God has bestowed on us.

Christmas is the wonder that Christ arouses in the shepherds and the magi. Christmas is the dazzled wonder before the icon of the Nativity. Christmas is the joy of children, and of fathers and mothers. But Christmas is also the sadness of being abandoned and forgotten... It is also a cold and hunger that overwhelm the body... It is disfigured humanity that no longer knows how to love... But Christmas is, above all, the Father giving us His beloved Son. And this Son, the Word of God, become Man that man may become God (St Athanasius of Alexandria). And, to do this, He begins to become like us, except without the sin of which He will, however, bear all the consequences till His death on the Cross, to deliver us from sin and death.

So, how should we live Christmas? Let us simply be fully ready to welcome the Love of God! Let us, at the same time, be fully capable of opening our eyes wide to see those who often suffer in innocence... Let us, quite simply, love fully!

The cave of Bethlehem gives hope to us all: ‘Hope in God! Take heart and take courage! Hope in God!’ (Ps. 26:14). It is with great love that I wish you, dear brothers and sisters, a joyful Feast of the Nativity of Christ.

May our Lord Jesus Christ, whose birth in the flesh we celebrate today, be the joy of each one of us, and may He send down on us the grace of salvation! Amen.

Paris, the Cathedral of St Alexander Nevsky
Christmas 2011

+ Archbishop Gabriel of Comana
Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarch

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