Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Martyrdom of Infants/ Christmas
Volume 5 No. 321 December 26, 2015
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from Malankara World
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!
- Luke 2:14

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! We pray that this holiday of hope and cheer will bring you and your family true "Comfort and Joy".

Christmas is a time when we pray and wish for a better future for mankind and the victory of good over evil.

To some, the road ahead will be difficult. But Christmas reminds us all that we are not in charge of the outcome. God is! We can only control what we do individually each day to make life better for everyone and let God use us for His purpose. We also know that the holidays are not always joyous for many of us. Some of you may be struggling with medical issues, financial issues, or the loss of loved ones over the past year or even longer. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers.

For those of us who have been blessed with new children or grandchildren, better jobs, recovered health, or other personal good fortune, let us celebrate the goodness of life on this holiday and commit to preserving it for our families, our church and our nation. Enjoy the holiday, and take time to thank all who have contributed to your happiness in 2015, starting with our Lord and Savior.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to All!

Malankara World

We had been going through all the important events that preceded the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day during our Advent series. We started our Journey in the temple at the Holiest of the Holy where the angel told Zachariah that his wife Elizabeth will conceive and deliver a son. We also know that this son was John the Baptist, the forerunner of Messiah. The angel then went to Nazareth and informed Mary that she will conceive and deliver the son of God. Let us look at how Luke described this event:

"In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary" (Luke 1:26-27).

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth

Thousands of painters painted the scene of Annunciation. In most of them, Mary appears much older and wiser than she really was, often with a halo on her head. Looking at those pictures, we get the impression that Mary was an angel. However, it is far from the truth. Mary was a teenager, a real ordinary person, dreaming of her upcoming marriage to Joseph. In fact, when we read the account in Luke's Gospel, it become very clear that Mary had no clue what the angel was talking about. Luke makes it clear that Mary was very real, with very real doubts, very real questions, and very real faith. She also believed that God can do anything. It is clear in Luke 1:38:

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." Then the angel left her.

A very simplistic explanation of a complex process that can only accomplished by God. We often miss the importance of this simple statement of Mary. Dr. Ray Pritchard explained the importance of this confession/statement by Mary:

Without exaggeration we could call this (Luke 1:38) one of the greatest statements of faith in all the Bible. We read it so often we forget how great it really is. Without warning, she meets Gabriel who announces that she will become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God.

When she asks how, he says, "Don't worry about it. The Holy Spirit will cover you like a cloud and you'll end up pregnant. That's all there is to it."

What do you say to that?

Mary said yes. Yes to God, Yes to the impossible, yes to the plan of God. When the angel said, "Nothing is impossible with God" (v. 37), Mary took a deep breath and replied, "May it be to me as you have said" (v. 38).

When Mary said 'Yes" the word (Logos) entered Mary's womb and started taking shape as a human being. Thus, the 'Annunciation to Mary' paved the way for the redemption of mankind - it was the first step of God's plan that came to fruition. That was also the time Mary was blessed.

For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
- Luke 1:48

Mary became Theotokos, the mother of God., the highest honor any human being can get. From now on, she earned her halo.

Although we think of this event as pointing to the birth of the savior, Annunciation to Mary is more important than that. It was the first step of the journey to Calvary where Jesus did the sacrifice that liberated mankind.

A Chinese proverb states, "The journey of a Thousand Miles begins with the first step."

So, Christmas is more than the birth of the savior; the savior was born to die on the cross so that the human race can be saved from eternal death.

The journey began in Nazareth when Mary said "yes" to the angel. That was the first step in the Journey to Calvary.

Christmas is often thought of as the occasion to be "joyful." Love, Peace and Joy are the three hallmarks of Christmas as we practice it.

But beneath the joy, we experience the pain and suffering. Jesus made it very clear. He told us that being a disciple of him will not liberate us from pain and suffering. In fact, when we become his disciple, we will be expected to carry his cross. Eleven of the twelve disciples of Jesus had violent deaths.

Chrystal Evans Hurst, in her article 'When There is Mourning in Your Merry' meditated on how there is mourning in the midst of the merry. She wondered:

  • I wonder if when Jesus was on Earth, He missed His heavenly Father.
  • I wonder if He felt off-balance because He exchanged the glorious singing of the angels for the soft sounds of sheep.
  • I wonder if He had immediate grief in His heart as the love He had for mankind was mixed with the mourning of a known difficult and short life and an awareness of a painful and hard death.
  • I wonder if Christmas day - the day that Christ was born - was a day of mourning, too.
  • I wonder if Mary wished her mother was there to help her deliver her new baby.
  • I wonder if she was saddened at her station in life. Did she wish that she had more to give her new son than a birth in a manger?
  • I wonder if she mourned the absence of her friends. Did she feel alone? Lost in a big world that seemed not to see her?
  • I wonder if Christmas day - the day Mary delivered her baby - was a day of mourning, too.

During the Christmas Octave, we also celebrate the event known as 'The Massacre of the Innocents' or 'The Martyrdom of the Innocents' that we celebrate on December 27 - a clear indication from God that there is more to Christmas than pure celebration and Joy. A savior was born who will cry with us when we face grief like He did at the tomb of His friend Lazarus.

Nancy Rockwell explains:

The story (of the slaughter of innocents) tells us that the Christ child was born into bedlam, mayhem, the madness which is our world. The Child was born because, pervasive as this reality about us is, it is not all we are. The story was written to give us hope.

The story tells us that our salvation is born in the midst of such times, into the heart of our darkness, in a moment when time is shattered and new time begins.

And our salvation is brought to us by a survivor of the worst that can befall, by a child whose light was not extinguished, a child who understands deeply what has happened, a child who remembers, a child who was not killed. This is the Child who grows in wisdom and stature, who amazes the rabbis in the temple, who has a perspective unlike anyone's.

The story tells us that the people of Bethlehem were barely aware of this Child. Devastated by the slaughter, picking up their splintered lives, their broken hearts, their stabbing fears, their traumatized surviving children, they also found among the wreckage the words that promise the Messiah will be born to them, especially to them. They carried this promise, in tears, as they buried their dead children.

The hope of our time lives among survivors. We cannot outrun, outgun, or outwit what is monstrous in this world. But in facing the truth of our reality, we can see light in its darkness, and hear angels singing there, for it is into this reality that Christmas comes.

This is what is happening right now in Iraq, Syria and the Middle East. Our Christian brothers and sisters are murdered, raped and maimed by the ruthless Islamic State terrorists for their faith. Yes, Rachel is still crying!

Jesus Christ came as the "Prince of Peace" and he promised us the "Eternal Peace." Where is it? Greg Laurie explains this paradox:

Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
- Isaiah 9:7

As we look at our world today, we realize that part of the promise of Isaiah 9:6-7 has not yet been fulfilled. The Son has been given. The Child has been born. But He has not yet taken the government upon His shoulders. We do not yet have peace with judgment and justice. But the good news is that there will come a day when Christ will return. He will establish His kingdom on this earth. And it will be the righteous rule of God himself.

Before Jesus could take the government upon His shoulder, He had to take the cross upon His shoulder.
Before He could wear the crown of glory as King of Kings, He had to wear the shameful crown of thorns and give His life as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. The first time, a star marked His arrival. But the next time He comes, the heavens will roll back like a scroll, all of the stars will fall from the sky, and He himself will light it.

Christ came to this earth. God came near to you so you can come near to Him - to give your life purpose and meaning, to forgive you of your sins, and to give you the hope of heaven beyond the grave.

Christmas is not about tinsel or shopping or presents. Christmas is not about the gifts under the tree. Rather, Christmas is about the gift that was given on the tree when Christ died there for our sins and gave us the gift of eternal life.

So, there is still hope. Jesus paid for our sins and made us eligible to the sons and daughters of God. So, Bethlehem and Calvary changed the equation. Let us conclude with a meditation by Prudentius (348-c.413) wrote about Christmas:

Of the Father's heart begotten,
Ere the world from chaos rose,
He is Alpha: from that fountain
All that is and hath been flows:
He is Omega, of all things
Yet to come the mystic close.
Evermore and evermore.

By his word was all created;
He commmanded and 'twas done;
Earth and sky and boundless ocean,
Universe of three in one,
All that sees the moon's soft radiance,
All that breathes beneath the sun.
Evermore and evermore.

O how blest that wondrous birthday
When the Maid the curse retrieved,
Brought to birth mankind's salvation,
By the Holy Ghost conceived;
And the Babe, the world's Redeemer,
In her loving arms received.
Evermore and evermore.

This is he, who seer and sybil
Sang in ages long gone by;
This is he of old revealed
In the page of prophecy;
Lo! he comes ,the promised Saviour;
Let the world his praises cry!
Evermore and evermore.

Sing, ye heights of heaven, his praises;
Angels and Archangels, sing!
Wheresoe'er ye be, ye faithful,
Let your joyous anthems ring,
Every tongue his name confessing,
Countless voices answering.
Evermore and evermore.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World


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