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.”
Then opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11
Good morning Prayer Team!
As we run around purchasing and wrapping and delivering gifts for other people this Christmas, we must ask ourselves seriously and soberly, “What gift am I offering to HIM this Christmas?” As we are now in the home stretch heading towards the Feast of the Nativity, as we count down now the hours until we are at the manger, we have to consider what gift we will bring to Christ at the Nativity. I have always liked the Christmas Carol, “The Little Drummer Boy.” I especially love the line “I have no gift to bring. . .that’s fit to give a king. . .shall I play for you. . . on my drum?” The realization that he has no material gift to bring, but only that he has the gift of himself, his talent, to offer, is so beautiful. The Little Drummer Boy feels almost sad at his meager gift. The baby Jesus receives this gift with joy: “Then He smiled at me.” And then the Little Drummer Boy realizes that his gift was acceptable to Christ, because it was the gift of himself.
When you think about it, what gift do we really have to give to Christ this Christmas? We really have NOTHING to give. We only have things that we can GIVE BACK. Because everything we have that is good is from Him. The money that I have that I am using to buy gifts comes as a result of my having a job. My having a job comes as a result of my having a talent. And my having a talent comes as a result of being blessed by God with that talent. Anything I have that is good has God at its origin.
There are things I can give to other people. I can only GIVE BACK to God. So, when I am “giving” to charity, either to the church or to some charity, I am really giving back to God. He has blessed me with material resources and in giving to charity, I am giving a portion of them back. He has blessed me with time, so when I help another person, I am giving a portion of my time back to Him by helping them.
At times, I feel like the drummer boy, searching for what I can truly GIVE to God that isn’t giving back. I have come to realize that there IS ONE THING that we have that doesn’t come from God. It is something that we have to cultivate on our own. God helps us in cultivating it. But having this one gift rests more with us than it does with Him. And that gift is HUMILITY.
There is only one gift I really have to give to Christ. It is the “broken and humbled heart God will not despise.” (Psalm 50:17) Humility is a self-emptying proposition. It is humility that allows us to empty ourselves of anger and be filled with forgiveness towards someone else. It is humility that allows us to empty out pride and be filled with repentance towards Christ. It is humility that allows us to empty ourselves and be filled with Him.
If you think about it, no one can have any of the fruits of the Spirit without humility. Because in order to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, etc., you have empty yourself. You can’t make it all about yourself and still have those things. In order to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit, one has to be filled with the Spirit. And in order to be filled with the Spirit, one has to be rid of the things that spoil those fruits—hate, anger, impatience, etc. In order to have faith, the first step is the humble recognition that someone greater than me made me, and therefore I am not the center of the universe, that I should be revolving around God, not the other way around.
Humility makes it all about Him, and not about us. It’s interesting to note that in the Old Testament, God sets the commandment of a ten percent tithe to the people of Israel. In the New Testament, God sets the commandment as turning over our whole life to Christ our God. It’s supposed to be ALL about Him. To seek to continually decrease in ego, desire and power and to be filled instead with humility is the most profound act of faith there can be. St. Paul writes in Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” To live for Christ, to empty ourselves of our own desires and strive to follow after Him, this is humility. And it is humility that leads to glory. Remember the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, Jesus said “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
Take a moment today, and ponder on what gift you will bring to the manger this Christmas, realizing that there is really nothing material that you can bring. Take a moment and ponder on what kind of heart you will bring to the manger this year—one filled with pride? With pain? Or one filled with love, one filled with forgiveness, one filled with humility?
It is the broken and humbled heart that God wants as our gift this Christmas!
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing Spirit. . .O Lord, You shall open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. For if You desired sacrifice, I would give it; You will not be pleased with whole burnt offerings. A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a broken and humbled heart God will not despise. (Psalm 50/51, read at the Royal Hours of the Nativity)
Start wrapping your gift for Christ today!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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