The Christmas Encyclical of his eminence, Metropolitan Gerasimos of San Francisco
“I too will proclaim the greatness of this day: the immaterial becomes incarnate,
the Word is made flesh, the invisible makes itself seen, the intangible can be touched,
the timeless has a beginning, the Son of God becomes the Son of Man, Jesus Christ,
always the same, yesterday, today and for ever.”
St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 38, For Christmas
Dearly Beloved in the Lord,
Amid all the holiday cheer, the decorations, and the gift-giving is hidden the most radical of professions of our Orthodox faith: the ineffable, bodiless, and timeless God becomes human. The Almighty God takes flesh, dwelling in the womb of Mary; born as any child is born. He is bathed, wrapped and nursed as any newborn. But in this event we are confronted with a great mystery. Through the irresistible nature of a baby, we are drawn closer to God. As we can imagine placing our finger in the palm of an infant’s hand to have the infant grasp our finger, we are in utter amazement that the hand that holds our finger is the Lord Himself; the One who holds the universe in his hands.
We find that newborn depicted in the icon of the Nativity. As we look more closely we can see that the icon places a family at the center of the scene of this great day. In the cave we see Mary, the Mother of God, seated next to her newborn Son. Nearby sits Joseph, pondering the events. While many icons portray him being challenged, a hymn for the Nativity reminds us that Joseph does know the true identity of the child born to Mary and that “he proclaims clearly all he heard“. While Joseph is not the biological father, he accepts Jesus as his own and cares for him, providing for all His and His mother’s needs, to the point of relocating to a new land to protect them from harm, and as a result becoming a model for all fathers today.
Families today can look to that Holy Family and the events of the Nativity for inspiration and guidance during this festal season. First, this family is together, reminding us that the celebration ought to be a celebration that unites our immediate family to be sure, but also all the families of our parishes through our participation in the shared Eucharist of Christmas. Second, these are days of joy. Angels sing hymns of praise and Magi bring gifts. We, too, lift our voices in song and offer gifts to one another to express and to share our joy, especially with the poor, the lonely, or those at the margins of our society. Third, as we will learn of the care of Joseph for his family in the Scriptural readings of these days we, too, may reflect on the state of our family members, their health and wellness, their fears and concerns, and their hopes and dreams.
No doubt you will celebrate this Christmas with the best you can offer to your families and friends and, indeed, you should. Through our celebrations, decorations, and gifts we proclaim all that we have learned about the greatness of this day. Through the unity and love of our families and communities we proclaim that God has shown His love for us and united us to Him.
For Christ is born! Glorify Him!
Praying that He Who condescended to be one of us for our salvation grant you all a most blessed Christmas and a Joyous New Year, I remain
With Love in Our Newborn King Jesus Christ,
+ G E R A S I M O S
Metropolitan of San Francisco