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”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Listen Now. We will now be including the daily reading of Epistle and Gospel with The Prayer Team.
Figures of the Nativity
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered this, behold and angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is 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.” Matthew 1:18-21
Good morning Prayer Team!
Beginning with today’s reflection, we will be taking a short hiatus from the “Commissioned to be Apostles” series to spend some time reflecting on the feast of the Nativity. The reflections on Saturdays and Sundays will continue to be devoted to the Scriptures of each Sunday. The reflections on upcoming feastdays will continue to be about them. And the reflections on all other days between now and December 25 will focus on the Feast of the Nativity. The “Commissioned to Be Apostles Series” will resume on January 8.
We’ve all seen the story of the Nativity as a play done by Sunday school students or in Christian schools. When each child is assigned a role, he or she is supposed to get in character for that role. For the next several reflections, we are going to examine the eight lead roles of the Nativity story. As we do, we will see that each of us has taken a turn playing each role, both the “good” figures and the “bad” ones. Of these eight roles, five are virtuous, three are not. We are each called to play all five of the virtuous roles. It is a challenge to do so. We are each called upon to avoid the non-virtuous roles. We will order our discussion of the figures in order of their appearance in the story. We start with Joseph.
Of all the figures in the Nativity story, I find Joseph the one that is easiest to relate to. The Bible speaks of Joseph as a “just” man. When he found out that Mary was with child, he resolved to quietly divorce her, not wanting to shame either her or himself. This was an understandable reaction and a reasonable course of action.
As he considered doing this, however, he was visited by an angel in a dream. The angel to him not to fear, that the child Mary was carrying was of the Holy Spirit. Let’s think on this extraordinary dream. What a reaction Joseph had, to go from a plan to divorce his betrothed, to a total leap of faith, to believe that something that no one could fathom was happening—a woman was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. The Bible doesn’t tell us if Joseph worried about how he would explain this. It doesn’t say if he wrestled with the idea. Only that he took the role that God asked him to do. He stayed with Mary. He protected her. And after Jesus was born, he helped to raise Jesus as his son.
In the icon of the Nativity, Joseph is depicted as an older man, sitting in the bottom left corner. He sits at a distance from the cave, trying to take in what has happened, trying to make sense of what it means. In most icons, Joseph is interacting with another older man. This other older man, who appears like a grand-father figure, actually represents the devil. This other man comes to Joseph, as Joseph is trying to understand the meaning of what is going on, and tries to distract him by creating doubt. The devil doesn’t come to us with horns and a pitchfork. If he did, he would be easy to identify and avoid. Rather the devil comes to us in an acceptable form, so that we can be deceived without even realizing it. Hence, we all must be vigilant, to avoid not only the obvious temptations, but even the more subtle ones.
In many ways, we are like Joseph. We “go along” in our faith journey, belong to a church community, worship, pray, follow the commandments, and yet none of us has complete mastery of the faith, or is one hundred percent consistent in living a Christian life. Like Joseph, many of us are still trying to figure some things out when it comes to faith. We all have our moments of doubt. And in our moments of doubt, this is when the devil comes to us to try to weaken our faith.
The most virtuous thing about Joseph is that he stays present. He doesn’t leave, even when he doesn’t understand. He willingly takes his role in God’s plan of salvation, even though he doesn’t fully understand what that role is.
Each of us is called to play the role of Joseph—to be “present” in our faith, to not leave even when we don’t understand. Each of us has a role in God’s plan for salvation. Many of us do not yet understand our roles, and even for those who do, we are still trying to be consistent in playing our roles.
Tell us, O Joseph, how is it that you bring to Bethlehem great with child the Maiden whom from the sanctuary you received? I, says he, have searched the Prophets and received a revelation from an Angel; and convinced am I that Mary shall give birth to God in ways surpassing all interpretation. And to worship Him shall Magi from the east come with precious gifts to pay homage unto Him. O Lord who for our sake have taken flesh, glory to You. (Idiomelon Hymn from the Royal Hours of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
The lesson of Joseph: Be steadfast, be present, and stick with things even when you don’t understand. Don’t give into temptation. Embrace the role that God has called you to play in your life.
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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