Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany” and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Figures of the Nativity
“For we have seen His star in the East, and have come to worship Him.” Matthew 2:2
Good morning Prayer Team!
We began this short series on figures of the Nativity by comparing them to roles in a Christmas pageant. There are eight defined “speaking” roles in just about every Christmas pageant—Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the magi, the innkeeper, King Herod, the angels and the crowd in Bethlehem.
There are some other roles in the story. I’ve watched many a Christmas pageant in my years as a priest, and before the older kids get the speaking roles, there are the really young kids who play the role of the animals. It’s actually really awesome in the parish where I serve to see the really little toddlers dressed up like sheep and donkeys, and then grow into the speaking parts when they are in the elementary grades. I’ve even seen a pageant on video from another parish which has a small child holding a large star atop a pole and walking through the church with it.
Not everyone in the Christmas pageant gets a speaking role. And not every entity in the Nativity story had a speaking role. Yet, there are significant roles played by other entities in the Nativity narrative.
Probably most prominent is the Star of Bethlehem, which brightened the sky and led the Magi from faraway lands to the place where Christ was.
Animals played a part in the story. Most obvious were the sheep, who came with their shepherds to see the Christ. In the cave, there would have also been animals—donkeys, horses and other farm animals.
The cave itself is significant. It provided a place of shelter for Mary and Joseph.
We will discuss in detail in a future reflection how the feast of the Nativity was the event where the Creator became part of the creation. All segments of creation showed up to worship the Creator in its midst. This includes not only the people, but the animals, the stars and the earth itself. All Creation paused to worship its creator. Every part of the Creation was present at the Nativity. All of Creation was renewed through the Nativity. And all of Creation plays a role in man’s salvation.
In churches all over the world, when the casting call comes for the Nativity play, I’m sure there are children who eagerly hope to get one of the main speaking roles. I’m sure that there are children who are disappointed when they are “relegated” to a lesser role, or maybe even a non-speaking role. I’m sure most people would prefer to be one of the three Magi than the person who is carrying the star. Yet without the star, the Magi would not have made their journey. Without sheep, there would have been no shepherds. Without a cave, where would the Incarnation have taken place? All of these things that seem to be in the background are actually very material to the story.
The life lesson here is that we all play a role in God’s plan for the salvation of the world. There are definitely roles that are more prominent. There are definitely roles that are more obscure and seemingly unknown to others. It is important to remember that ALL the roles are important—from the person who is in front of the camera every day to the person who toils in what must feel like obscurity. It is also important to remember that God sees how all the roles are being played. He seeks the glamourous but also the mundane. He rewards our efforts, not our fame. And our judgment before will be based on how He thinks we have done, rather than how others view us.
In the context of the Nativity play at church, we don’t expect the donkeys and the sheep (who are 3-5 year olds) to have the poise and the maturity of the kids who play Mary and Joseph (the 10-11 year olds). We expect them to play their part, to sing, and let’s be honest, to look cute. We will applaud them for doing their best, even if the Christmas carols sound a little off-key.
In our lives, God expects us to do the best we can in whatever role we are in. Whatever kind of job we have, when we give our best effort, this pleases God. All jobs are important for two reasons. On the practical level, they let the world function properly. On a spiritual level, every person had the ability to play a role in the salvation of the world, so every role allows for the message of Christ to either be furthered or hindered. Let’s work hard to choose the former and in whatever role we find ourselves, to allow ourselves to be His tools, His mouthpiece, and His example, so that the message of salvation is furthered through our efforts.
What shall we offer You, O Christ, because You have appeared on earth as a man for our sakes? For each of the creatures made by You offers You its thanks: the Angels, their hymn; the heavens, the Star; the Shepherds, their wonder; the Magi, their gifts; the earth, the Cave; the desert, the Manger; and we, a Virgin Mother. God before the ages, have mercy on us. (Stichera, Vespers of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
All of creation showed up to worship the Creator. Let us show up daily, in whatever role we are in, to do the same!
With Roger Hunt providing today’s Daily Reading: Listen Now.
These readings are under copyright and is used by permission. All rights reserved. These works may not be further reproduced, in print or on other websites or in any other form, without the prior written authorization of the copyright holder: Reading © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA, Apolytikion of Abbot Marcellus © Narthex Press, Kontakion of Abbot Marcellus © Holy Transfiguration Monastery – Brookline, MA.
The Revised Standard Version of the Bible is copyrighted 1946, 1952, 1971, and 1973 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and used by permission. From the Online Chapel of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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