“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God.” – Ephesians 2:8

Beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord,

It seems that every year I read in the Wall Street Journal about the impact that holiday shopping has on brick and mortar stores, large corporations, and online sites – and it is tremendous! Companies determine their health for an entire year or even more, based on how successful they are in the fourth quarter of a year, during the times that Americans look for gifts for their loved ones. In some cases, it is booming business, while in other cases, the sales are less so and the company’s future might be in question. In either case, it is clear that shopping at Christmastime to try to find that perfect, all-elusive gift for our family members is a very big deal!

Gifts certainly are a wonderful expression of love for one another, in whatever country and whatever culture one belongs to. For us as Orthodox Christians, who are citizens of another “country,” our focus during this time period is on gifts, yes, but not those that we buy on or in stores. We focus on the gifts which God Himself has given us and continues to give us; namely, Himself. In all the bustle of the season – not just shopping but all the events we try to make it to – we would do well to remember that the greatest “Christmas gift” that has ever been given was given to us by the Creator Himself! Our tradition of giving gifts to one another comes from the gifts which the Magi brought to the new king, but we sometimes forget that it was the Lord who gave a gift first!

Through Jesus Christ, we are saved. His salvific ministry began in the cave in Bethlehem, that humble beginning which ushered in a new day for all creation because “God… visited His people,” (Luke 7:17) and in doing so, came to save us. Saint Paul reminds the early Christians of his time that what the Lord has done for us has absolutely nothing to do with merit. He came for the both lowliest sinner and the most virtuous, just the same. God came out of His love for us, and gave us the greatest gift of all, Himself. He began in the cave, surrounded by animals, and went all the way to Golgotha for us. It is this gift which we celebrate on this and every “fourth quarter” of the year, first and foremost.

May we embrace and celebrate this love which the Lord has shown and continues to show us, and remember that everything we have been given is a gift from Him to us. Amen!

Καλα Χριστουγεννα! Merry Christmas!

With love in Christ,
Father Niko Bekris