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.”
“And this will be a sign for you. You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12
Good morning Prayer Team!
For centuries, God’s people had been hearing prophecies about a promised Messiah, a deliverer. The prophecies contained Messianic signs, things that would happen that would be the work of the Messiah, the Christ. Isaiah wrote concerning how the people would know who the Messiah was, that there He would reveal be several unmistakable signs: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy.” (Isaiah 35:5).
But when would this happen? And how?
We know that at the time of the Nativity, the Jews (God’s chosen people) were living under the oppression of the Romans. In fact, the census being conducted in Bethlehem was a census required by the Romans. There is no doubt that the Roman rule was a brutal one. Civil rights and property rights were wantonly violated. When the Jews went to the temple and heard prophecies about their deliverance by a Messiah, they very likely were thinking that this deliverance would be political and military in nature. They thought their deliverer would come with great power. A man of humility was probably the farthest thing from their minds. They were probably expecting a powerful military general with thousands of chariots under his command. Perhaps that’s why the crowds who screamed “Hosanna” for Jesus on Palm Sunday were so easily swayed to scream “crucify Him” only five days later. They were frustrated and angered that their “king” had come to Jerusalem and had not overthrown the Romans, that He had rode in alone on a donkey rather than leading an army of soldiers.
Christ came with great humility. His birth wasn’t announced to the whole world. It was announced to the humble—the simple shepherds in the countryside. Even the mighty Magi, whom we will encounter shortly, showed great humility to leave their lands and follow a star for two years. As we will learn, God didn’t call only the lowly, He calls everyone, the lowly and the powerful, to come to Him with humility.
Remember the first thing one has to believe in order to be a Christian? It is that God, who is greater than us, made us. (The second thing is that we fell from grace and the third thing is that our salvation and redemption is made possible through the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is set in motion through His Incarnation). And if we believe that God made us, One who is greater than us made us, then we are not the center of the universe, our universe or any other universe.
When we think “it’s all about me,” that is arrogance. When we think “It’s not about me,” that is humility. When we think “it’s about my neighbor,” that is humility. When we think “it’s about Him (God)”, that is humility.
Christ shows us not only the way back to Paradise. He shows us the way to humility. His birth is simple, not grand. He is born in a cave, not the best inn in Bethlehem. His is adored by simple shepherds, not by the populace gathered in Bethlehem for the census. He is wrapped in swaddling clothes, not the fine linens of a king. He is laid in a manger, not set on a throne. And He tells us that His Kingdom is based on humility, not on might.
In Matthew 5, Jesus offers us the Beatitudes, the guideposts for living a life in God. All are based on humility:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” (Matthew 5:3-12)
We seem to demand so much in our lives. Many times, it becomes all about me, and not about Him. In many ways, Christmas has become a feast of material gain, as our children make lists of what they want for Christmas. The Nativity is a feast of SPIRITUAL gain. And we only gain spiritually through humility—when we bend a knee in prayer, when we come to God in repentance, when we serve our neighbor. Honoring God in your life doesn’t necessarily bring fame or fortune. It brings something even more important—treasure in heaven. Jesus tells us: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves to not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6: 19-20)
As we prepare for the Nativity, teach your children and remember for yourself, that the treasure of the feast is not what lies under the Christmas tree ready to be torn open on Christmas morning. The greatest treasure of the feast is Christ Himself. And He is opened not only on Christmas morning, but can be opened at any time—through prayer, through faith, through service. And the root of all of these things is humility.
It’s not about me. It’s all about HIM!
He is our God: There is no other to compare with Him. Born of a Virgin, He comes to live with mankind. The only-begotten Son appears as a mortal Man. He rests in a lowly manger. The Lord of Glory is wrapped in swaddling clothes. A star leads the wise men to worship Him, and with them we sing: Holy Trinity, save our souls! (Hymn from the Royal Hours of the Nativity, Trans. Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Live for Him 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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