Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Christmas Special
Volume 7 No. 452 December 22, 2017
IV. Featured Articles on Christmas

An Invitation to Touch the Skin of Infinite God

by Charles R. Swindoll

Childbirth is something no man can completely appreciate. We can marvel as an observer - a helpless one at that - but we cannot experience it as a woman would. My wife tells me, "I cannot completely describe the feeling that came over me as the doctor held up Curt, cut the cord, and then laid him right across my tummy. As he stretched out, I reached down and felt him and thought, How incredible! This little life came from us!"

Childbirth is enough of a miracle on its own, but this time of year adds a completely new dimension. Long ago in a quiet, crude place where animals sleep, Mary reached down and felt the Life from her body - she reached down and felt the soft, human skin of infinite God.

The humanity of this scene appropriately pulls us in for a closer look. We can identify with Joseph's confusion, Mary's wonder, and the irony of God's quiet arrival in such an inhospitable world...all of those thoughts are magnificent to ponder. But we cannot stop there. These are only an entrance to wonders far deeper, far more significant. Just beneath the soft, newborn skin of this beautiful story is the flesh and bone of a theological truth that is older than creation, since the plan was in place long before time began.

The incarnation - God becoming flesh - is a doctrine that is foundational to everything we believe as Christians. Most conservative scholars see with 20/20 hindsight the hint of Christ's birth in Genesis 3:15. Speaking to the serpent in Eden, God said:

"I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel."

Much later, the prophet Isaiah wrote these words centuries before God became man:

"Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel."
(Isaiah 7:14)

In telling the story of God's incarnation, the disciple Matthew tells us this:

Behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us."
(Matthew 1:20-23)

When the first man plunged all of humanity into sin with his disobedience in the Garden of Eden, evil entered the bloodstream of humanity, polluting all who live in it. And each of us has ratified Adam's tragic choice by adding our sin to his. The result is a world subject to pain of every conceivable kind: hunger, thirst, sorrow, weariness, temptation, disease, prejudice, grief...the list would be endless if it didn't end with the ultimate evil: death.

Many struggle with the idea of God because they wrestle against "the problem of pain" - How can a good God allow evil to continue? The surprising answer: because He loves us. He could have ended all evil before the fruit of the forbidden tree digested in Adam's stomach. Let's not forget that the evil we would have God put an end to includes you and me. We brought, and continue to bring, evil upon ourselves and the world, and He would be entirely justified to condemn us to suffer the twisted mess we have made of His creation. But...He loves us.

What an awful predicament. God must punish sin. The penalty of sin is eternal death. But to carry out the sentence, God loses the very people He loves. Just as one man led all of humanity into rebellion, another must reconcile us. But who? Who among us does not deserve the penalty of sin? And if one sinless person could be found, what mere mortal would have the power to die the death you and I deserve, yet survive the process so that He could continue to represent us? Why, only a human who is also God could do that!

Two millennia ago, God answered the anguished cry of humanity by making "the problem of evil" His own. God Almighty became Immanuel, "God with us." He lived as we live, suffered as we suffer, died as we die, yet without sin. And He, being the God-man, overcame the power of death in order to give us eternal life.

The plan is complete. Remember Jesus' words on the cross? "It is finished!" (John 19:30). Mission accomplished. Nothing left for God to do, except allow His creation time to respond. He patiently waits...but time is running out. He will not wait forever. He will one day close the door of opportunity, either by your own physical death or by bringing all earthly history to an end.

As you ponder the humanity of the first Christmas, remember that it is an invitation to slow down and think deeper. I invite you to touch the infant skin of the God-man with your imagination. I invite you to wonder as the shepherds wondered and to worship as the wise men did. I invite you to allow the God-man, Jesus, to take your own "problem of pain" and make it His. If you can accept my invitation, you will receive the greatest Christmas present on earth: God's indescribable gift.

Taken from Charles R. Swindoll, "An Invitation to Touch the Skin of Infinite God," Insights (December 2005): 1-2. Copyright © 2005, Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights reserved worldwide.
Source: Insight for Living

How to Take a Holy Pause before the Christmas Crazy

by Julie Gillies

Every year, my precious Gram assured me, Christmas arrived faster and faster. At eight years of age, I looked up into her baby blue eyes and my eager heart could scarcely fathom her point. All kids knew Christmas took forever to arrive. We waited eons before it finally showed up.

Fast forward many years, and I seriously understand what she meant. The year zooms by at warp speed. First comes New Year's Day. Five minutes later it's Valentine's Day, followed immediately by Good Friday and Easter. A week and a half later, I am sweeping up firecracker and sparkler debris from my driveway, and bam! It's Thanksgiving.

And then it's Christmas time. Again.

I hardly have time to catch my breath, let alone purchase gifts, find cute wrapping paper, and Christmas-tize my house. Or spend time with the One it's all about.

If, like me, you'd love for life to slow down, particularly as the holiday season begins to ramp up, it's important to understand that in spite of our long to-do lists, the shopping and baking and the fun (and let's face it, the sometimes not-so-fun) aspects the holidays bring our way, we can choose to still our hearts. It may not be easy, but if we desire the authentic, heart transforming experience of Christ's presence in the midst of the Christmas crazy, we can choose a holy pause.

A holy pause is the opportunity to step out of the madness, the demands, and the haste of the season (indeed, of life itself), and into His presence. It's the decision to shut ourselves away from the endless noise and commotion and quietly engage our hearts with His. It's the chance to trade His stillness for our rushing, His peace for our panic, and His joy for our irritability.

Life doesn't stand still, but we can. Scripture invites us to do just that: "Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world." (Psalm 46:10 NLT)

God desires for us to honor Him by spending the expensive currency of our time, even in the busyness of the season. To engage in the difficult but oh-so rewarding discipline of quieting our minds, bowing our hearts, and pausing before Him. It's then that we can begin to experience the beauty of His awesome, all-sufficient presence.

What if, at the very start of the Christmas season, before we drag out boxes of tangled lights, sift through glittery decor, and tenderly unpack nativity sets, we allow ourselves the luxury of a holy pause? What if instead of permitting the briskness of the season to scoot us forward on its endless current, we stopped and bowed our hearts before the One who stepped out of heaven, in awe and wonder of all He has done?

What if we allowed our hearts to marvel at His unfathomable journey from eternity into an unassuming, most unroyal manger? What if we pondered the miracle of His birth and the reason behind it? What if we asked Him to fill our hearts to overflowing with the reality of the priceless gift of His presence?

What if, instead of pinched stress across our faces, our families saw eyes that reflect our wonder-struck hearts?

And what if this became our daily goal this holiday season? A holy pause. An exquisite time in His presence. A life-changing, refreshing time with the One the season is all about.


Lord, I bow my heart before You and honor You. Help me to choose not one but many holy pauses this holiday season. Please nudge me by Your Spirit and remind me to step away from the Christmas crazy and get alone with you. In Jesus's awesome name, Amen.

About The Author:

Julie K. Gillies is the author of the devotional Prayers for a Woman's Soul (Harvest House Publishers). Healed from a traumatic childhood and awed that God saved her seriously troubled marriage, Julie refreshes and strengthens others with her words. She is the joyful wife of Keith, mom of three adults, and Grammy of four.

Source: Live It

What a Poor Chicago Family Taught Me One Christmas Eve

by Lee Strobel

The Chicago Tribune newsroom was eerily quiet one day before Christmas. As I sat at my desk with little to do, my mind kept wandering back to a family I had encountered a month earlier while I was working on a series of articles about Chicago's neediest people.

The Delgados - sixty-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny - had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny two-room apartment on the West Side. As I walked in, I couldn't believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls - only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice. That's it. They were virtually devoid of possessions.

But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was convinced he had not abandoned them. I never sensed despair or self-pity in her home; instead, there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace.

I wrote an article about the Delgados and then quickly moved on to more exciting assignments. But as I sat at my desk on Christmas Eve, I continued to wrestle with the irony of the situation: here was a family that had nothing but faith and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially but lacked faith - and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment.

I walked over to the city desk to sign out a car. It was a slow news day with nothing of consequence going on. My boss could call me if something were to happen. In the meantime, I decided to drive over to West Homer Street and see how the Delgados were doing.

When Jenny opened the door, I couldn't believe my eyes. Tribune readers had responded to my article by showering the Delgados with a treasure trove of gifts - roomfuls of furniture, appliances, and rugs; a lavish Christmas tree with piles of wrapped presents underneath; carton upon bulging carton of food; and a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves. On top of that, they donated thousands of dollars in cash.

But as surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was even more astonished by what my visit was interrupting: Perfecta and her granddaughters were getting ready to give away much of their newfound wealth. When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English: "Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do."

That blew me away! If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything. I asked Perfecta what she thought about the generosity of the people who had sent all of these goodies, and again her response amazed me.

"This is wonderful; this is very good," she said, gesturing toward the largess. "We did nothing to deserve this - it's a gift from God. But," she added, "it is not his greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus."

To her, this child in the manger was the undeserved gift that meant everything - more than material possessions, more than comfort, more than security. And at that moment, something inside of me wanted desperately to know this Jesus - because, in a sense, I saw him in Perfecta and her granddaughters.

They had peace despite poverty, while I had anxiety despite plenty; they knew the joy of generosity, while I only knew the loneliness of ambition; they looked heavenward for hope, while I only looked out for myself; they experienced the wonder of the spiritual while I was shackled to the shallowness of the material - and something made me long for what they had.

Or, more accurately, for the One they knew.

Source: Investigating Faith by Lee Strobel

The Nativity of Christ

by St. Theophan the Recluse

Glory to Thee, O Lord! Once again we greet the awaited bright days of Christ's Nativity. Let us be glad and rejoice. In order to raise our festivities to a higher level in these days, the Holy Church has intentionally instituted a fast before them - a certain amount of constraint, so that as we enter the festive period we might feel as though we were coming out into freedom. Nevertheless, the Church in no way desires that we give ourselves over to mere sensual delights and fleshly pleasures. Since the Church has from olden times called these days sviatki ("holy days"), they require that our very rejoicing on these days be holy, as they are holy. So that those who rejoice might not forget themselves, the Church has placed a short hymn upon our lips to glorify the newborn Christ, by which the flesh is settled down and the soul is uplifted, showing the proper occupations for these days: "Christ is born, give ye glory," and the rest.[1] Glorify Christ; glorify Him, so that by this doxology your heart and soul might delight, and thereby silence any urge for various other deeds and occupations that might promise some kind of pleasure. Glorify Christ: this does not mean that you have to compose lengthy songs of praise to Christ—no. But if when contemplating or hearing about the birth of Christ the Savior, you involuntarily cry out from the depths of your soul, "Glory to Thee, O Lord, that Christ is born!"—this is sufficient. This will be a quiet hymn of the heart, which will nevertheless pass through to heaven and enter in to God Himself. Repeat a little more clearly to yourself what the Lord has wrought for us, and you will see how natural this exclamation now is. So that this might be easier for us, we shall compare it to the following incident:

A king promises freedom to a man who is imprisoned in a dungeon and bound with fetters. The prisoner waits a day, then another, then months, and years. He sees no fulfillment of the promise, but does not lose hope, and believes in the king's words. Finally, he sees signs that it is coming soon. His attention increases - he hears a noise; someone is approaching with cheerful words. Now the locks fall and the liberator enters. "Glory to Thee, O Lord!" the prisoner involuntarily cries. "The end of my imprisonment has arrived, and soon I will see God's light!"

Or another incident: A sick man is covered with wounds and paralyzed in all his members. He has tried all medicines and has changed doctors many times. His endurance is exhausted, and he is ready to give himself over to despair. He is told, "There is one more very skilled doctor, who heals everyone from those very illnesses that you have. We have asked him to come, and he has promised to do so." The patient believes them, hope springs up in him, and he waits for the promised one.... One hour passes, then another, and anxiety again begins to torment his soul. Finally, at evening, someone arrives.... The door opens, and the desired visitor enters.... "Glory to Thee, O Lord!" the sick man shouts.

Here is another example: A thundercloud hangs over the face of the earth, and it is covered with darkness. Thunder shakes the foundations of the mountains and lightening tears the sky from one end to the other. All are in fear, as if the end of the world had come. When the thunder passes and the sky clears, everyone breathes freely, saying, "Glory to Thee, O Lord!"

Bring these examples closer to yourself and you will see our whole history in them. The threatening clouds of God's wrath were over us. The Lord—the Peacemaker—has come, and has dispersed the cloud. We were covered with the wounds of sins and passions; the Healer of souls has come and healed us. We were bound by the fetters of slavery; the Liberator has come and released our fetters. Bring all of these examples closer to your heart and take them in with your senses, and you will not be able to refrain from exclaiming, "Glory to Thee, O Lord, that Christ is born!"

I will not try to convey this joy to you with my words; it is inexpressible by any words. The work that was accomplished by the Lord Who is born touches each one of us. Those who enter into communion with Him receive from Him freedom, healing, and peace; they possess all of this and taste of its sweetness. There is no reason to say, "Rejoice!" to those who experience this within themselves, for they cannot help but rejoice. But to those who do not experience it, why say, "Rejoice"? They cannot rejoice. No matter how much you say, "Rejoice at your deliverance," to one bound hand and foot, he will not rejoice. Whence can the joy of healing come to one who is covered with the wounds of sin? How can one who is threatened by the thunder of God's wrath breathe freely? You can only say to him, "Go to the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes in the manger, and seek deliverance by Him from all the evils that encompass you, for this Infant is Christ, the Savior of the world."

I would like to see everyone rejoicing with this very joy, and not wanting to know any other joys; but not everything that comes from Israel is Israel. Now there will begin empty, wild merriment that inflames the passions.... No matter how much you tell these people to calm down, they only shut their ears and pay no heed. And they always bring these bright days of the Feast to such a point that the merciful Lord is compelled to turn His eyes from us and say: "All of your solemnities are an abomination unto Me" (cf. Is. 1:13-14)! Truly, many of our social festivities are really pagan abominations; that is, some of them are brought to us straight from the pagan world, while others, though they appeared later in time, are penetrated with the spirit of paganism. And it is purposely contrived for such festivities to appear in great quantities during the Feasts of Nativity and Pascha. By getting caught up in them we give the prince of this world—our tormentor, the enemy of God—an excuse to say to God, "Look what You've done for me with Your Nativity and Resurrection! They're all coming to me!" But let the words of the Fiftieth Psalm be repeated more often in the depth of our hearts: That Thou mightest be justified in Thy words, and prevail when Thou art judged (Ps. 50:4).

Enlightened Europe is attracting us. Yes, the abominations of paganism that were almost completely cast out of the world were first restored there; they have now come from there to us. Having breathed in that hellish poison, we run around like madmen, forgetting our own selves. But let us remember the year of 1812—why did the French come to us then? God sent them to wipe out all the evil that we had imitated from them. Russia repented then, and God had mercy on her. But now it seems that we have forgotten that lesson. If we come to our senses, of course, nothing will happen. But if we do not come to our senses, who knows ? Perhaps the Lord will again send similar teachers, so that they would bring us to our senses and place us on the path of correction. Such is the law of God's righteousness: to cure someone from sin with the thing that enticed him into it. These are not empty words, but a matter that has been confirmed by the voice of the Church. Know, ye Orthodox, that God is not mocked. And knowing this, make merry and rejoice during these days with fear. Illumine the bright Feast with bright deeds, occupations, and festivities, so that all who look upon us would say, "They have holy days—not the kind of amusements practiced by impious and profligates who don't know God."

From Thoughts for Each Day of the Year (St. Herman of Alaska Monastery: 2010).
St. Theophan the Recluse

[1] First irmos of the Canon for the Nativity of Christ.—Ed.

Source: Pravoslavie

Christmas of Life in Bethlehem, Which Is the Church

by Archbishop Francesco Follo

Scripture: Is 9, 1-6; Ps 95; Ti 2.11-14;

Gospel: Lk 2.1-14

1) He is born in Bethlehem, let's go and kneel in front of Him.

At Christmas, the liturgy presents the narration of the birth of Christ according to Saint Luke and reports the annunciation to the shepherds:

"Fear not: behold, I announce to you a great joy, which will be for all the people: today, in the city of David, is born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord "
(Lk 2, 11).

Today, December 25, 2016, for us "in the city of David is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" This city is Bethlehem, and as did the shepherds as soon as they heard the angelic announcement, it is there that we must hurry.

Today, as in the holy night more than 2,000 years ago, this is the sign that is given: "a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger" (Lk 2, 12). It is a sign striking for its utter simplicity. What is amazing is the absence of any magnificent sign. The shepherds, and we with them, are wrapped and awed by the glory of God, but the sign they receive is simply: "You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger". When they reach Bethlehem, they see nothing but a humble child in a poor manger. The wonder of Christmas is here. Without the angels' revelation we would not understand that the child lying in a manger is the Lord. And without the baby in the manger, we would not understand that the glory of the true God is different from the glory of man.

The almighty Love is "under the forms of a Child. The Omnipotence as non-power. Non-power as Love, which surpasses everything and gives meaning to everything. (St. John Paul II, Homily of December 24, 1985). God became a little child so that we could understand, welcome and love Him.

This Little One asks us to be loved: let's see him as the Lord of angels, but let's love him as a tender child. Let's fear him as the Lord of power, but let's love him wrapped in swaddling clothes. Let's respect Him as the King of heaven, but let us love Him in the manger that is throne and altar. Let's love him kneeling and seeing in his baby's smiling eyes the caring eyes of the Crucified and the bright eyes of the Resurrected, praying: "Lord, our God, grant us, celebrating with these mysteries the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deserve, by a dignified behavior, to come in communion with Him "(Prayer after communion). He is the Bread of Life who is born in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew means "the house of bread".

"This House of Bread is now the Church, where the body of Christ, the true bread, is distributed. The manger of Bethlehem is the altar in the church. Here the creatures of Christ feed. The swaddling clothes are the veil of the sacrament. Here, under the appearances of bread and wine, are the true body and blood of Christ. We believe that in this sacrament is the true Christ, but wrapped in swaddling clothes, namely invisible. We have no greater and more obvious sign of the nativity of Christ than the body we eat and the blood we drink every day by approaching the altar: every day we see, giving himself in sacrifice, the one who once was born for us from the Virgin Mary. Let us therefore hurry, brethren, to this crib of the Lord; but first, as far as we can, let's get ready through his grace for this meeting, so that every day and throughout our lives, ‘with a pure heart, a clear conscience and sincere faith' (2 Cor 6: 6), we may sing together with the angels: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests" (Lk 2, 14) "
(Aelred of Riveaulx, Address 2 for Christmas).

2) The humility of Christmas.

Without the revelation brought with joy and humility by the Angels, we would not understand that the child lying in a manger is the Lord. And without the baby in the manger, we would not understand that the glory of the true God is different from the glory of man.

This glory is manifested in humility and is understood by humility. This is why the Gospel asks us to imitate the humility of the shepherds who recognizing in a poor child still not speaking, the Logos, the Word, the full meaning of life, worshiped Him as the King of kings who, however, had as throne a lowly manger. That is why we have to imitate the humility of the angels that, in the starry and blessed night, sang: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among the men whom he loves."

According to St. Bernard of Clairvaux the angels are vitally inserted in the plan of God, carried out by Christ, not only because they accept this plan of redemption and actively collaborate with their full and unconditional love.

On closer reflection, even before the Incarnation of his Word, God has "used" the angels to prepare men for the great event of the coming of His Son to Earth. Even after the Incarnation of the Word, during his Passion, death and resurrection, the angels were present and active. And even when Jesus returns in glory at the end of time, the angels will announce his final coming.

At this point, again inspired by Saint Bernard, I'd like to make a clarification about the relationship between the Angels and Christ. He is God and the angels are subjected to him, but the Son of God took human weakness and, as a man, he is inferior to them. Here you see their humility: they serve the Word even as a man. They submit to his Lordship, even if human, because the higher will of God the Father takes place, develops and focuses in this event. This is the will of God and they welcome it, prostrating themselves before the child born in Bethlehem. Jesus is a child, a man like us in everything except sin, weak and fragile compared to them who are pure spirits. However, in that human flesh there is the eternal Word of God, their Lord. For this reason they bow, worship him, prostrate themselves, sing his glory and serve him with great humility and availability. Let's us do the same, because the humility of Christ is served by the humility of the angels and of the shepherds first, and then by the humble three kings.

Christmas is a mystery of humility and it is good if it is inside us, celebrated in the humble silence of the heart and in careful and thoughtful conscience. It is inner and renovator if it makes us grasp the speech that, coming into the world, Jesus made not with words, but with deeds. Which speech? That of humility. This is the fundamental lesson of the mystery of God made man, and this is the first medicine we need (see St Augustine of Hippo, De Trinitade 8, 5, 7, P.L. 42, 952). It is from this root that good life can be reborn.

The invitation to humility will later be repeated by the adult Christ when he says, "If you don't become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 18: 2).

Today, I would change this sentence: "Unless you become like this child, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

3) Humility and Virginity.

The shepherds have realized with the heart that, in the child who they were seeing in the manger, the promise of the prophet Isaiah had become reality: "A child is born, unto us a son is given. Upon his shoulder dominion rests "(Is 9.5).

The angel of God invites us to start walking with the heart to see the child lying in the manger. Even for us the sign of God is simplicity. God's sign is the baby. God's sign is that He makes himself small for us. That is how he reigns: loving and letting be loved with humble simplicity

Christ does not want anything from us but our love. Through this charity, let's learn to enter into his feelings, his thoughts and his will; let's learn to live with Jesus and to practice with him that humility of renunciation that belongs to the very essence of love. "Christian love, or it is humble, or it is not love of God" (Pope Francis, April 8, 2013).

A meaningful way of living this humble love is the one of the consecrated Virgins in the world. These women, following the example of Mary, Virgin and Mother, are imitating Her whose heart and mind are fully humble. It was for her singular humility that God asked this young lady for her "yes" in order to realize his plan of love and mercy.

Mary's virginity is unique and unrepeatable, but the consecrated Virgins in the world testify that its spiritual significance concerns every Christian. The virgin persons show that those who trust deeply and humbly in God's love, welcome Jesus and give Him to the world in a daily Christmas.

In the seclusion of their lives, they welcome also and especially the teaching of the great humility of a Master who still does not speak but is really Everything.



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