THE CHRISTMAS TRAPS
by Fr. James C. Meena
I would like to talk to you a little about Christmas. It seems that we all have a tendency to build up to Christmas as a climax anticipating the feast with all sorts of observances and celebrations and then, as soon as the day is past, forget all about it. I would like to avoid that pitfall if I might and extend our conversation about the birth of Christ through the Theophany, i.e., the celebration of His Baptism if I can, because both feasts are so closely related to each other. I would like you to consider the importance at this time of the year of reordering your priorities of putting first things first, Godly things above earthly consideration.
Most of us fall into several traps as we approach the celebration of this feast day and the Lord knows that Satan lays many snares for us, intellectual, emotional, sensual, anything by which he might trap us and make us a part of his kingdom instead of the Kingdom of God. I am afraid Satan, at this time of the year, succeeds a great deal more than he ought to and he succeeds because he has been able to convince us that we should give priority to less important things and put the most important things of spiritual value somewhere down the list in our evaluation of what is important and what is not.
For example, when we put secular consideration before worship we fall into a Christmas trap. When the giving of gifts over the giving of ourselves in repentance and recommitment to God is more important, we have fallen into a Christmas trap. When we place secular observances over the receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ, over confession and spiritual preparation for the observance of the Birth of Christ we have fallen into a Christmas trap. Using Christmas Eve as an excuse to have a party for the family rather than as an opportunity for the family to worship together at the Divine Liturgy then we have fallen into a Christmas trap. When on Christmas Day itself we emphasize feasting and celebrating without offering sincere thanks to God for His bounties we have fallen into a Christmas trap. When we enter into the season of the Nativity of Christ still bearing grudges and retaining hard feelings against others rather than forgiving them in the spirit of the forgiving God who was incarnate for us at this time we have fallen into a Christmas trap.
The many snares that Satan lays for us now are even greater than those that he normally lays for us throughout the year and it is necessary that we be aware of those snares. He encourages us to make Christmas merely a secular rather than a spiritual feast in order to lure us away from Christ. Oh well, we're still observing Christmas but what is Christmas without a conscious awareness of the reason and the meaning of the feast? He causes us to become so busy that we have no time to consider enhancing our spirituality … busy … busy … busy! I think Satan helps us to work so hard at our jobs, at coming to get the house ready for the celebration of the feast, at buying gifts and at doing all of the little important yet mundane things that our society requires of us that we have no desire to put out the extra effort needed to grow in the Word of God.
I say all these things to you not to condemn you but rather to caution you as disciples of Christ. Even we who are the faithful fall short of the glory of God. While the Lord may not condemn secular observances, He may not condemn the idea that we still retain a fantasy of Santa Claus and that we buy gifts for our children and exchange gifts with one another and that we spend a lot of time shopping and preparing for a jovial feast day celebration, He may not object to any of these things. What He objects to, as I understand the scriptures, is when we allow these things to minimize or totally diminish our dedication to Him and to the principles that He has set forth for us in His life. Why was Jesus born in the first place? Was it not in order that the world might be saved through Him? Was it not in order that some thirty years later He might preach to us the Gospel of Peace, the Gospel of Repentance, the Gospel of Forgiveness, the Gospel of Salvation, the Gospel of Reconciliation with God? Surely Christ was not born merely to give us an excuse to have another holiday celebration. Surely He was not born in the humble way in which He came into this world in order that you and I might feast royally and forget why He was born in the first place! I urge you beloved to be keenly aware that we are ultimately destroying any possibility that we might have of union with Christ so long as we allow ourselves to forget about Christ at these most important times of the year and allow ourselves to be seduced into falling into the many Christmas traps that Satan lays for us.
Beware, for we know not the hour or the day in which the Lord shall come and require of us a full accounting of our stewardship. When we talk about stewardship we're not only talking about our worldly possessions and our money, we are talking about the stewardship of our lives. How have we taken care of our lives and what priorities have we established and maintained by which our lives may be ordered. If our first priority is Christ and our commitment to Him then all these things will be added unto you but if our priorities are disorganized and we put shopping and gift giving and feasting before our commitment to Him then Christmas has no meaning whatsoever. It's just another pagan feast day among the many pagan feasts that we observe, not the least of which, I might add as a post script to this writing, is the feast of New Year's Eve which we are about to observe.
I remind you of that which I have said to you many times in the past. New Year's Eve and its celebration is no excuse for us to forget that we are disciples of Christ. Now there is nothing wrong with enjoying a celebration at New Year's Eve. There is nothing wrong with going to a party. There is nothing wrong with even having a glass of wine or two if you can handle it but when we forget that we are disciples of Christ and use New Year's Eve as an excuse to practice paganism in its modern sense, to get smashing drunk, to forget to even offer a word of thanks to God at the end of one year and at the beginning of the next, praying that the New Year will be filled with His blessings then we have returned to the pagan practices of our pre-Christian ancestors.
I hope and pray that you are all going to have a wonderful time. I am planning to have one with my family but my family and I will not forget that we are His disciples and that we belong to Him, and we shall comport ourselves accordingly even though the rest of the world goes crazy. I hope you will do the same.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America