Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Martyrdom of Infants/ Christmas
Volume 5 No. 321 December 26, 2015
IV. Featured Articles - Christmas

Prayer: The Kontakion of the Nativity
The Kontakion of the Nativity by Romanos the Melodist, Chanted in Tone 3 - Eastern Orthodox Church

On or After the Feast of the Nativity

Today the Virgin gives birth
to him who is above all being,
And the earth offers a cave
to him whom no one can approach.
Angels with shepherds give glory,
And Wise Men journey with a star,
for unto us is born a little Child,
The pre-eternal God.

The Kontakion:


Bethlehem has opened Eden, come, let us see;
we have found delight in secret, come,
let us receive the joys of Paradise within the cave.
There the unwatered root whose
blossom is forgiveness has appeared.
There has been found the undug well
from which David once longed to drink.
There a virgin has borne a babe
and has quenched at once Adam's and David's thirst.
For this, let us hasten to this place where there has been born
a little Child, the pre-eternal God.

The people repeat

a little Child, the pre-eternal God

after each hymn.

The Birth of Jesus through Joseph's Eyes

by R.C. Sproul

When we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmastime, our attention is most often given to Luke's account, because it gives us so much information. It tells us of the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to the peasant girl Mary. It includes the story of the shepherds as well as the infancy hymns that are sung by Zacharias and by others during that time. Matthew's version is much briefer.

We notice at the outset that Matthew gives his account from the viewpoint of Joseph, whereas Luke tells his account from the viewpoint of Mary. Luke assures us that what he wrote in his Gospel was well researched from eyewitnesses, and tradition affirms that Luke got much of his information from Mary herself. Of course, when Matthew wrote his Gospel he had no opportunity to interview Joseph.

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows (Matthew 1:18). This opening assertion is rich in content, as brief as it is. The word used here for the birth of Jesus is gennesis. Our word genesis comes from the Greek ginomai, which means "to be, to become, or happen." Matthew is asserting that this is how Jesus came to be, which, as we noted in the last chapter, places the birth of Jesus within the framework of history rather than mythology.

The Betrothal of Mary and Joseph

After his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:18). This takes place after betrothal and prior to marriage. In our society, a betrothal is considered to be an engagement between two people who intend to become married at a certain time, yet there are countless occasions in which engagements are broken and the marriage never comes to pass. Among the Jews in Jesus' day, however, a betrothal was far more serious. It was an unbreakable pledge customarily undertaken one year before the wedding, and it carried almost the weight of marriage itself; it was so close that it required virtually a writ of divorce to end it.

Following betrothal the bride remained under the roof of her parents. She would not move into the home of her husband until after the actual marriage. Therefore, it was serious when a betrothed woman was discovered to be with child; the implications of such a pregnancy were enormous in Jewish society and could, indeed, result in execution of the woman who violated her betrothal by becoming pregnant. Yet we are told here in Matthew that before Mary came together with Joseph, "she was found with child of the Holy Spirit." The father of this child in Mary's womb was not some illicit lover, nor was it Joseph; the paternity was accomplished through the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit. In the Apostles' Creed we recite, "Jesus Christ . . . was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary . . ." Those two miraculous aspects - His conception and His birth - were integral to the faith of the Christian church of the early centuries. Jesus' conception was extraordinary, not natural but supernatural, accomplished by the divine work of the Spirit, and as a result a baby was born to a virgin.

Perhaps no assertion of biblical Christianity fell under greater attack by nineteenth-century liberalism than the account of the virgin birth. For some reason, more attention was given to that than to the resurrection. Because the story is so blatantly supernatural, it became a stumbling block to those who tried to reduce the essence of the Christian faith to all that can be accomplished through natural humanity.

When Mary's pregnancy was discovered, Joseph, being a just man - one who was also kind and gave detailed attention to the observance of the law of God, not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly (Matthew 1:19). He was not willing to call down the wrath of the courts upon his betrothed, and he decided to deal with it from a spirit of compassion. After he thought it over deeply and carefully, he decided to divorce her or put her away in a private manner, so as to save his betrothed from total public humiliation.

While he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David" (Matthew 1:20). The New Testament makes so much out of the fact that Jesus is the Son of David that it's almost amazing to find Joseph being given that same title, but this is also important for the lineage of Jesus. For Jesus to be a Son of David in Jewish categories, legally His father also had to be a son of David. That is why the angel gives this honorific title to Joseph when he addresses him, saying, Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). This is the second time in this brief narrative that the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary is attributed to the work of the Holy Spirit.

In Luke's version, when the angel Gabriel told Mary that she has conceived the child and will bring forth a baby, she was stunned and said, "How can this be since I know not a man?" (Luke 1:34). The angel replied, "With God nothing will be impossible" (Luke 1:35).

Then Gabriel explained to Mary how the birth would take place. The Holy Spirit would overshadow her so that the child would be born as a result of this supernatural work. Luke uses the same language that is used at the dawn of creation:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the earth"
- (Genesis 1:1),

Then we are told that the Holy Spirit came and hovered over the waters, and God said, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3).

In the act of creation, the Spirit is moving on the face of the deep, and out of the nothingness of that darkness, God, through the power of His Spirit, brings forth the whole of creation.

From the biblical perspective, the genesis of life in the first place was through the power of the Spirit of life, of the Spirit of God. Gabriel was declaring to Mary that same power by which the universe was made; that same power that brought life out of the darkness originally is the power that will overshadow her womb and produce a son. God doesn't need a human father to bring this to pass.

The Authority to Name

So do not be afraid, Joseph, to take Mary as your wife. She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). It was the privilege of Jewish parents to name their children. The very first enterprise given to humanity in the garden was the scientific task of taxonomy, that is, the task of naming the animals, and in that task of naming, the superior names the subordinate. God gave to Adam and Eve the responsibility and authority to name everything in the animal kingdom. Yet throughout the Old Testament, when a child was born into specific historical and redemptive purposes, God took away the privilege from the parent and named the child himself, indicating that the child belonged to Him.

That is what happened with Zacharias in the birth of John the Baptist. God told Zacharias what to name his son (Luke 1:13). The same thing happens here in Matthew. The Lord is saying to Joseph, "You are not going to choose a name for this boy. You will name Him what I tell you to name Him, because ultimately He is my Son, and you shall call his name Jesus." The etymology behind that name is "Jehovah saves." Name Him Jesus "for He will save His people from their sins."

The idea of salvation in the Bible, in general, means some kind of rescue from a threat of destruction or calamity, and the highest, ultimate sense of salvation is rescue from the worst of all possible calamities. The worst calamity that could ever befall human beings is to fall under the judgment of God for their sin. That is the calamity that awaits every person who does not rush to Christ for salvation. However, the baby is called "Jesus" because He is a savior, and He will save His people from the consequences of their sins.

The Virgin Birth

So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying, "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us" (Matthew 1:22-23). This verse, in which Matthew is quoting Isaiah, was sharply attacked by the critics of the nineteenth century. In the Jewish language there are two words that can be used to describe a virgin. The most precise and technical word is not the one that Isaiah chose. Rather, Isaiah chose the other word, which can be translated "young woman" or, more appropriately, "maiden," which presumes virginity but doesn't necessitate it. The critics point to that and say that Isaiah wasn't speaking of a virgin but saying only that a young woman, a maiden, would conceive. Therefore, the critics say, the Bible does not teach a virgin birth. That's what we call the exegesis of despair, because if you just give a cursory look at the context of this text, there is no doubt that Matthew is teaching that Jesus was born from the womb of a woman who had never been with a man - a virgin.

Isaiah said, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14), but here in Matthew the angel says they will call His name "Jesus." Those names are not the same, and they do not mean the same thing. Isaiah does not tell us why they will call Him "Immanuel." The term Immanuel describes what Christ does. It describes the event of incarnation. He will be called Immanuel because He will be the incarnate presence of God with us, but His proper Jewish name will be Jesus, because "He will save his people from their sins."

So Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus (Matthew 1:24-25). This reflects not only the obedience and submission of Joseph to what the angel had directed him to do but also that Joseph fully embraces Jesus as his son and fulfills the legal requirements of the genealogy that we examined in the last chapter. Joseph did this even though the child's name was not selected by him but by the angel. In the ultimate sense, Jesus was named by God, who is His ultimate Father. In the proximate sense, Jesus was named by Joseph, who was given the unspeakable privilege of being the Lord Jesus Christ's earthly father.

Source: Today's Topical Bible Study. Taken from Matthew by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187.

What Christmas Is All About: God Saving Us, in a Humble Way, to Be His People

by The Rev. Charles Henrickson

Scripture: Luke 2:1-20

Titus 2:11-14; Isaiah 9:2-7

What is Christmas all about? How do people view Christmas and celebrate it? Why do they look forward to it? Or do they? Some people get burned out on Christmas and want to avoid it. But most folks still like to maintain the custom of celebrating Christmas. Why? What is it about this holiday that makes it so special? I think there is something about this holiday that is special, but it may not be the same as what most people think.

For most people, for most Americans, at least, I think it's sort of a nostalgic glow that is the big thing about Christmas. They associate it with happy memories from days gone past. Tinsel and lights on the Christmas tree. Packages nicely wrapped and piled up under the tree. Kids eagerly awaiting the visit from Santa. Christmas cards taped to the door. Christmas stockings hung on the mantle. Christmas songs played on the radio, and Christmas specials on TV: Rudolph, Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Frosty the Snowman. Happy times with Grandma and Grandpa. That special Christmas dinner, with family traveling from all over to get together, and all sitting around the table. Whether it was ham or turkey--or, in the case of us Henricksons, lutfisk and Swedish meatballs and rice pudding--Christmas dinner with the family is one of the most treasured memories of this holiday.

Now is there anything wrong with those happy associations with Christmas? No, not at all. All good things, when kept in proper perspective, and all to be enjoyed. Good stuff.

But are those what Christmas really is all about? Tonight I'd like to suggest, no, those nice things, as nice as they are, are not the essence of Christmas. I think they all come out of Christmas, as a byproduct thereof, but the original connection with the essence of Christmas has become more and more loosened as the years and the centuries have gone by.

So what is Christmas all about? I've thought about that question, and in looking over the lessons assigned for this night, I think we can boil it down to this: "What Christmas Is All About: God Saving Us, in a Humble Way, to Be His People."

God saving us, in a humble way, to be his people. Yes, I think that's it. That's what our readings tonight would tell us. First of all, Christmas is about God saving us. It's about what God is doing. It's not about what we're doing. This isn't Santa's big scene; it's God's. Christmas has to do with what God does for us. And what he does for us at Christmas is to save us. He sends us a Savior. The Savior, the only one there is. Namely, our Lord Jesus Christ. You know, the one who puts the "Christ" into "Christmas." You can't get any more essential than that.

The angel tells us what Christmas is all about: "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." A Savior. Just what we need. We need a Savior, because there are things we need saving from, things we cannot save ourselves from. Things like sin and death and the devil and hell. We would be lost, doomed and damned forever, if God had not sent a Savior who can deal with those mighty foes and deliver us from them.

And this Savior is Christ the Lord. He is the Christ, meaning, the Messiah, the anointed one, the great king descended from the line of David, as God had promised he would send a thousand years earlier. Now the promise is coming to fruition. The Christ has been born, he has arrived, fittingly, in the same city where David himself was born, in Bethlehem. Here is a king mighty enough to overcome all our foes, those enemies named sin, death, devil, and hell. For Jesus is God in the flesh, and only God can deliver us from all that evil. The sin problem is one we brought on ourselves, so how are we going to dig ourselves out of it? We can't. But God can. And he does. He does it in the person of this Lord Jesus Christ, born as the babe of Bethlehem. And it is out of God's good pleasure, his pure grace, that he does this.

But God does this in a humble way. That's our second point. First was that God saves us. Second is that he does this in a humble way. Everything about Christmas comes in a lowly fashion. Joseph and Mary were no "power couple"; they were rather poor, in fact. Bethlehem was a dinky little town, not some great metropolis. Joseph and Mary couldn't even find a hotel room in Bethlehem, so they had to go sleep out in the garage. They have to lay the newborn baby in a feed trough. Everything here screams "humble." Then there are the shepherds out in the field. Not a very high-profile, high-prestige occupation. Working-class guys, at best. Is this any way to welcome a king?

But God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. This infant lowly would bring about the salvation of the world in the most humble manner possible: by dying on a cross. Rejected by his people, condemned as a criminal, suffering in shame and agony. It was no shiny Christmas tree, but a tree of crucifixion, where the greatest gift would be given: the forgiveness of sins. Jesus dying for our sins, for your sins--this is the gift, and this is why the Savior had to be one of us, to suffer and die in our place.

God does his saving activity in humble ways. This is still true today. In the church, which nobody seems to care about anymore--in and through the church, God is doing the most important work going on in the world today. Through the preaching and teaching of God's Word, through the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion--all very humble means--God is at work, saving sinners, creating and nurturing faith, forgiving sins, and strengthening his people for lives of love and service.

And that leads us to our third point: Christmas is all about God making us his people. Listen to that brief reading from Titus once again: "For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works."

The consequence of Christmas is that now we are God's people, redeemed by Christ and bought with a price. This changes our lives, it changes the way we live. Christ's first coming means that now we live with an eye toward Christ's second coming. And while we wait, we turn away from the pull of the world, which would pull us away from God and turn us in on ourselves. And by the Spirit of Christ, we turn toward our neighbor with good works of love that proceed from a living faith. Christmas means that Christ will have for himself a people for his own possession. That is why he came.

Christmas shows that God is intent on having himself a people. That's also what Isaiah is saying: "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore."

The child born in the city of David is born to be a king. And this king will have his kingdom. And the good news is, we get to be a part of it! It is a kingdom of peace, peace with God established through the Prince of Peace. It is a kingdom of justice and righteousness, God justifying us, pronouncing us not guilty, by virtue of the righteousness of Christ. The kingdom Christ establishes is an everlasting kingdom, one in which we will live forever, even as Christ our risen king lives and reigns to all eternity. Yes, God is having himself a people, and it happens though the child who is born, the son who is given, on this Christmas night.

What is Christmas all about? The music and the meals, the tree and the lights, the family times, the Christmas presents, the memories shared--all of these are great. But always remember, these are not of the essence of Christmas. What Christmas is all about is so much greater. And it is this: God saving us, in a humble way, to be his people. And it all happens through Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem, lying in a manger: "a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

'Peace, Peace' When There Is No Peace

by Dr. Mark Snoeberger

One of the more troubling mis-translations in the history of English Bible translation (at least in terms of its popular acceptance and impact) is the King James rendering of Luke 2:14 as "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Despite the fact that nearly every modern translation has corrected this unfortunate translation, properly narrowing the scope of Christ's ministry of peace "to people on whom his favor rests," the universally conciliatory rendering found in the KJV is etched on the minds of millions in the English-speaking world. Christmas, it is supposed, is about fostering tranquility and harmony everywhere.

This idea is not, of course, unique to the English-speaking world. It is apparent that the utopian vision of universal peace was already circulating during Christ's earthly ministry - so much so that Jesus felt compelled on multiple occasions to denounce the idea:

• Matthew 10:34–37: "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth," he said. "I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man's enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

• Luke 12:49–53: "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!… Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

What sober reminders as many of us prepare to make annual pilgrimages to visit the very fathers, sons, mothers, daughters, and in-laws of which Christ is speaking!

Yes, one of Christ's purposes in the incarnation was to prepare a pathway to peace (Luke 1:78), but this pathway is one to which many are blind (Luke 19:41). For these, it appears, a secondary purpose of Christ's incarnation emerges: "I entered the world," he said elsewhere, "to render judgment - to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they see that they are blind" (John 9:39, cf. the entire chapter that follows).

So what is the believer to do with this dour bit of information? Quite simply, we are to cultivate the tension, or as Greg Bahnsen puts it, to "press the antithesis." Christmas is not the time, as many suppose, for suppressing religious differences and pursuing peace at all costs. It is actually a time that is particularly suited to gently but steadfastly affirming the superiority of the Christian worldview with fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, siblings, and all others who oppose it. It is a time for earnestly reminding unbelievers, even as we share gifts, that they are enjoying God's gifts all the while ignoring the Giver. It is a time for compassionately informing unbelievers, in Isaiah's words, that "there is no peace for the wicked."

Of course, we must surely be mindful of the biblical injunctions to do these things "with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience" (1 Pet 3:15–16), making every attempt to "make the the teaching about God our Savior attractive" by exhibiting integrity, sobriety, pure words, humility, industry, good works, love, etc. (so Titus 2:6–10, 1 Pet 3:1; Matt 5:16; John 17:20–23; etc.). It will never do for us to announce the Gospel and neglect these vital accoutrements of the Gospel.

But at the end of the day it is possible that our pursuit of "peace" at Christmas may very well be a passive assault against the very purpose for which Christ came. In our sincere attempts to strengthen the bond of father with son and mother with daughter, we may well be doing precisely the opposite of what Christ intends. May God grant to all of us the wisdom and grace both to identify and to create opportunities for the Gospel during this season of grace.

About The Author:

Mark Snoeberger is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary. He received his Ph.D. degree in Systematic Theology from the Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania.

Mighty God

By Michael Youssef, Ph.D.

We tend to look upon the Christ-child as a helpless babe. But even as a baby, Jesus was Mighty God. Throughout His earthly life, Jesus demonstrated the power of God just as He did from heaven.

The Hebrew word for "God" in "Mighty God," El, is a name for God that is used throughout the Old Testament. It is used to describe God's supernatural power and might. El is the Creator of heaven and earth -- the inventor of the universe and all it contains. Of God's many names, none express His supernatural power like the name El.

God was making a significant point -- Jesus, the Savior to come, would be God Himself, the supernatural, powerful One.

The same El who created the stars and who leads them out by name would take on human form and walk beneath them. The same El who knit together each person in his mother's womb would allow Himself to be knit together and walk among the very people He created.

The same El who said, "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3), stood on the Mount of Olives and proclaimed, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12).

The same El who blew His breath on a handful of dust, creating the first man (see Genesis 2:7), commanded the dead body of Lazarus, "Come out!" And he did, alive and well (see John 11:43-44).

The same El who delivered manna every morning to the Israelites in the wilderness (see Exodus 16) delivered food to the 5,000 with only five loaves and two fish (see Matthew 14:16-21).

The same El who parted the Red Sea supernaturally, rescuing His people from slavery (see Exodus 14), hung on the cross to rescue us from the slavery of sin (see John 3:16-17, Romans 6:17-18).

As you worship Jesus this Christmas, challenge yourself to see Him as He is. There is majesty in the manger. The baby in swaddling clothes is Mighty God. The Creator of the universe stepped into human skin because He loves you and it is His delight to bring you to Himself.

Prayer: Jesus, help me make the connection that You are the infinite, all-knowing, everlasting Mighty God. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

"The Son is the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15).

© 2015 Leading The Way


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