The Nativity – God’s invitation: Will we accept?
By Fr Yacoub Magdy
When I first came to Australia and lived in Wollongong, an interview was televised during the Christmas period asking children the meaning of Christmas. I watched intently to gauge my new found home’s understanding of the true meaning of Christmas. To my disappointment the typical answers of presents and family gatherings came up, but there was no mention of Christ and of the salvation He offers us.
Thankfully, after asking some kids within our church I received more informed responses. It went along the lines that on Christmas a child was born called Jesus. He came to invite us because He wants us to be with Him. He wants us to be with Him because He enjoys our company, but that some won’t go who don’t believe in Him. As is sometimes the case, children in their simplicity can pierce to the truth of a matter and have such clarity in understanding what’s around them.
Christmas is exactly that. It’s an invitation from God Himself. This invitation was not something cheap, or something haphazard. This invitation required the Father to send His only begotten Son whom He loves, to take all the people who will accept Him to live with Him eternally in heaven. This invitation required the Son to empty Himself of His glory and to humbly and lovingly submit in obedience to the Father (Philippians 2). This love is truly a divine mystery and a revelation of God’s love to us, but it demands a response.
I have a question. If you knew of a medicine that would prolong your life for five years, but knew that that medicine would require you to sell your house. What would you do?
We have to understand that the gift of eternal life is extremely valuable. It is not in our nature to live eternally. This is a fact and a reality that we see and deal with every day. But our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to the world and accepted the mission of His Father for one purpose, which is to invite us to be with Him.
But why? It is because God is love and all His desire is to love, and all His nature is to love. His enjoyment is in creating us free and it is in this freedom that we are able to show love, where we can choose between life and death, good and evil, God or the world. We have been created to practice this love, we have been given a mind and the qualities so that we can either accept or reject Him.
So this moves us on to the third question. Will everybody accept this invitation? Unfortunately not. All have been invited, but the reality is that as we look at the world around us, some will accept the invitation while others will reject it. What will happen to those who reject we don’t know for certain, but what is known with certainty through the experience of the Church, is that those who accept the invitation, and who appreciate it and follow it, the end for them will be that they will have eternal life with God.
The job of the Church, the priest and the servants is nothing other than to clarify this concept and this choice for the people. Its role is nothing more than to prepare the people to go with Him into eternal life, to live forever.
But I’ll ask another question, if you’re invited to a house and it seems a bit strange or foreign to you, let’s say it’s in a different country or it has a different culture, wouldn’t you enquire as to the dress code or the required etiquette before you went? Jesus Christ came to give us a model to emulate so that we can accept this invitation. So not only does He invite us, but He also shows us the way to accept this invitation. And in showing us this model, the Father has revealed to us that He would like us to be like His Son and to imitate Him.
During His three year ministry He showed us many things. He showed us how to love, how to show mercy and compassion. He showed us how we should react in different situations. We study these years thoroughly and every time we read the Bible we focus intently to see what Jesus did. How did He react? What did He say? How did He understand the situation? How did He comment?
Why do we do this? It’s simple. We want to be like Him. We would like to have the qualities of Jesus, such that the Father will see us as His adopted sons. And in those three years He truly did some amazing things. We know that He spent three years openly in His public ministry. We know that He chose twelve people who were with Him all the time and who observed all His dealings and interactions. He preached with them, He ate with them and He celebrated feasts with them. We know that they had money, because Judas was the treasurer, but that He didn’t have a house and that He didn’t live in luxury.
But before He left us He said and revealed something truly amazing in the gospel according to St John in chapter 17. He spoke at length, and the Holy Spirit made St John remember this long talk. It records what Our Lord said in His last hours before He willingly went to His death. I will paraphrase what He said in that lengthy prayer, He said “Father, I want them to be with Me, to behold Your glory. I want the love that I have towards You, my Father, and which You have towards Me to be in them. I want them to love Me, as You love Me and I love them.” So what He has done for us shows His absolute and unconditional love for us. He has come and invited us, He has given us a model to emulate to accept this invitation, and He has also vouched for us and prepared the way for us to enter into heaven.
We live on this earth for a number of years. And the job of the devil in these years is to destroy this love. The purpose of the devil is that we don’t experience this love. And if we don’t experience this love we won’t look like His Son and we won’t live forever. We can’t live forever. It’s not in our nature.
In heaven there is no place for hatred. There’s no place for bitter feelings towards others. Our sole purpose and duty for the number of years we live on earth, whether it be 50, 60, 70, 80 or even 100 years, or as we have seen many times in our own parish that it can be a lot less, our sole aim is to gradually have the image of the Son of God in us. And the main quality of this image is to have love towards people.
So at the start of the New Year as the late Pope Shenouda always used to tell us, we must choose a virtue and try to concentrate on acquiring it by the grace of God throughout that year. Let this virtue be to look like and to imitate Christ. And we should continually ask and examine ourselves to see if I’m trying my best to achieve this goal of looking like Christ. Do I have the same qualities and attributes as Christ? Will I really try my best to be as forgiving as Him?
Sometimes we don’t like someone. We tell ourselves that we just can’t help it, this person is silly, how can I possibly love him? But it’s important to understand what love really means. Many people understand the word in different ways. But Christ understood love to mean action and not just a feeling. Love in the Bible is action. For us, I can do an action of love towards someone even if I don’t like them. So I may not like someone, but I can show them love in a Christian fashion where I do my best to make them happy. I go out of my way to make them happy. I will serve them. I will invite them with me in the same procession towards heaven in spite of the fact that some of their attributes or qualities aren’t attractive or agreeable to me. We can even ask did Jesus like the Pharisees and their actions? I don’t think so, they were not likeable. But did He love them? Of course. Did He die for them? Of course.
I remember a very practical example of this love many years ago when we had a monk serving with us at St Mark’s called Fr Moussa El Souriany who is now Bishop Athanasius of Beni-Mazar. I observed that whenever he got annoyed with someone he would give them a present. I eventually asked him why he does it. He told me that even though he might not be able to stand that person, at least in front of God he had done his best, and that his best involved giving the person a present. And here we see that love is an action. And it is a very sweet action, because that other person may respond to that nice gesture and because of it they might even change. It says in Proverbs 25:21-22 “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; For so you will heap coals of fire on his head, And the Lord will reward you.” So when we love someone we serve them. We don’t hate them, we don’t criticise them, on the contrary we do good things and we love them, and then gradually we may like them after that. But the initiative must come from us, following the model of Christ in that “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.
So on this marvellous day of Christmas we remember what happened two thousand years ago. The Father from heaven invited us and continues to invite us, He wants us to come to Him because He finds us enjoyable and because He wants us to enjoy His glory and His love. He sent His Son who offered Himself to us, and who revealed to us the mystery of who the Holy Trinity is and has invited us to share in Their glory.
All that’s needed from us is to imitate His Son, and to gradually grow in His image. May He always help us to accept His glorious invitation.
Glory be to God forever. Amen.