Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!
II Corinthians 9:15
Two points to make today. First, at some point in the next 10 days or so, we will take our Christmas decorations down. In our house, we leave them up until Epiphany and sometimes even a little beyond that. But at some point they come down for all of us. Christmas season officially ends. We tend to have short memories and short attention spans and our minds will quickly move to the next event, holiday, challenge, etc. and Christmas will be forgotten.
One interesting thing as a priest, is that the hymn of the “forefeast of Christmas” is part of every Divine Liturgy, when the priest goes to prepare the Holy Gifts. The hymn reads:
Prepare o Bethlehem, Eden is open to all. Adorn yourself o Ephratha, for in the cave the tree of life has blossomed forth from the Virgin. Her womb has been revealed as a noetic paradise, wherein lies the divine seedling. If we partake of it, we shall live. If not, we shall die as Adam did. Christ is born, restoring the image that had fallen.
By praying this hymn, we are reminded of what happened at the Nativity. And the word for “image” in this hymn in Greek is “Eikona,” which is the same word we translate as “icon.” In other words, God created us in His image, as an icon of Himself. That image was distorted through the Fall. Christ was incarnated in order to help us restore that image. So that our image can reflect God. All of us remain a work in progress when it comes to restoring this image. It is continual work. That’s why the purpose of Christmas never ends. The feast is supposed to be a strong reminder of our work to restore that image. And that work continues throughout the year, long after Christmas season has ended. The title of today’s reflection is “Thank You God for Your Gifts,” and it is a reminder to us that we are to thank God each day for this gift of restoration, made possible by the Incarnation. And we are to express our thanks not only in words but in actions. Restoration of the fallen image is not just an idea, and certainly not just expressed at Christmas, but throughout the year. The priest offers this hymn/prayer at the beginning of every Divine Liturgy as he prepares the Gifts that are central to that restoration. Christmas may be the only season where we exchange gifts with others, but the gift of Christ is available throughout the year.
The second takeaway today is a reminder that we should be grateful for the gifts we have received. Take time and write a thank you note to people who gave you Christmas presents, so that they will know that their gift to you is recognized and appreciated. More important, take time out on a daily basis and offer a thank you prayer to the Lord for all of His gifts to you, starting with the gift that you woke up this morning. The Lord has given gifts to every person. Those gifts are not identical, and that’s a good thing. We need the total gifts from everyone in the world to make the world go. Each of us has been given at least one gift to help in the sustaining of the world. Do we recognize what that gift is? Are we thankful for it? Do we see what we do as a job that helps us to bring home a paycheck, do we see that as a gift, or more as a contract—I work and I get paid. Or do we see it as “God gave me a gift to use to help better the world, and yes, I’m able to bring home a paycheck to sustain myself and my family.” Seeing it only as a contract will render most jobs almost meaningless. Work forty years, retire with some savings, and you’ve set yourself up for a good life that will one day end. Seeing your work as a gift means that after you are retired and life is over, what you’ve contributed still matters, and is still remembered.
Thanksgiving should be part of every prayer. We should offer thanks to God for the gift of today, the gifts that sustain us through life, the gifts that help us make a contribution to the world, and the gift of the Nativity, which helps restore the image of God in us. We should remember this gift continually, as our restoration is ongoing.
Lord, thank You for Your gifts to me. First, for the gift of this new day that I am greeting. Second, for the gifts I received at Christmas, and those who offered them to me. I pray for the givers in my life (pray for them by name). Thank You for the gifts I have that allow me to provide sustenance for myself (list them). Thank You most especially for the gift of Your Incarnation, which helps restore Your image in me. Help me to continually grow into an image of You through repentance, through action, and through using the gifts You have so generously given me to serve You, to serve others, and to reflect You through my life. Amen.
Let the spirit of Christmas live on in you throughout the year by adopting a posture of thanksgiving for God’s gifts to you, especially His gift of our restoration, made possible through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
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. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros 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
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