Антоний, митрополит Су́рожский

Towards Christmas

Sunday, декабря 10, 1995

We are now moving towards the Feast of the Incarnation of the Son of God. What does it say to us? I begin to speak of it now because we must reflect deeply about what the coming of the Lord in human form signifies in our own life.

In the days when the Church was powerful and glorious, when all nation flocked into its temples, one thought of God as being great and distant, all-powerful and awe-inspiring. In so many icons we see images of Christ, a great imposing figure, and at His feet, saints, small, out of proportion with Him; because what was to be conveyed then was the greatness of God and the humble estate of all human beings.

But times have changed. God is no longer the ruler of the life of every person on earth. Indeed, as He says in the Gospel, He is a pilgrim; He is one who wanders from place to place and has not one place He can call His own, and where He can rest His head in safety. And our relationship with God has changed somehow. We have discovered a God who is not a ruler in the image of the great rulers of the earth, but a God who rules by love; a God who is prepared to be humbled in order to be for all of us – and these are His own words – a servant, to serve us so that we can reach the Kingdom of God.

This God has at the same time in His humility, in His becoming man, revealed to us the potential greatness of man. Man is not simply His creation, is not simply a creature which He treats with mercy, compassion and love. If God could become man, it means that man is so deep, so vast, so great that the fullness of God can abide in human flesh without man ceasing to be man, but at the same time communing with God, becoming God.

This is the greatness to which we are called. But this is a greatness which is potentially our own in God. God has revealed Himself as love, and He has revealed what love is, love divine, in a way which we can all see and understand.

Look at the babe of Bethlehem. A child. A child born in a world of strife and danger, of hatred; a child unprotected unless humans, a mother, a man, the few who protect him. Helpless, defenceless, given to us. This is the image of God which we have discovered in the Incarnation: a God who loves us to such an extent, in such an absolute way that He delivers Himself into our hands and makes us free to treat Him as we will choose.

So we see at the same time, the vastness and the greatness of man, and the defencelessness of love divine.

Let us reflect on this in the weeks to come that lead us to the Feast of the Incarnation. Let us ask ourselves whether we are prepared to be to Him the manger of Bethlehem, the place, the only place perhaps where He will find shelter in a world that has become indifferent or inimical.

Let us open ourselves to Him so that He can find shelter in a world that has rejected Him, and let us also think of our church no longer only as a glorious place where God dwells, a place so holy that the publican was afraid to step into it because he was unworthy to find a place in the realm of holiness. But let us think of the church, of our church, as one of the few places which human faith has given to God as a place of refuge. There is mutuality now between God and us. He has come to us and we have received Him. The church is now in a vast world where He has no place in the eyes of men, the church has become a place where He is at home under our protection, in our care, in our love, and because of this we are enfolded by His love, and all the power of God is offered us for us to be saved and also to go out of this place into a world that has become so estranged to God with a wonderful message, a message of our God. That God is life, God is light, God is joy, God is strength, God is love, not overpowering, but a gift of self.

Let us go into the world remembering the words of Christ that applied to Him, and which are given to us not as a commandment but as a guiding star: no one has greater love than one who is prepared to give his life for his neighbour. Amen.

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