We must accept the tough message of Christmas.

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We must accept the tough message of Christmas. 

By Fr. Malek Rihani

It is the Christmas season once again.  As we click and navigate our way through Black Friday and Cyber Monday; as children insist they are entitled to all the latest electronics; as adults panic as to what gifts to buy and which holiday party to join, the true message of Christmas gets buried deeper and deeper every year, to a point where its original intent is no longer recognizable.

For us Christians the true and original intent of Christmas is, has always been, and must always remain about only one thing:  A reminder that God expects us to be holy like He Himself is holy.  This is quite a tall order and such a high standard, that many people choose to simply ignore it, dismissing it as being unachievable and impossible.  Yes, it is a tough message, but it must be the only standard upon which Christmas is celebrated.

Ignore it or not, achievable or not, pursuing holiness is God’s expectation of us.  He created us in His own image, and to His image we must return and remain.  In fact, it was on Christmas, that God Himself chose to leave the glory of the heavens, to become a human being like us (in every sense, except sin), for the sole purpose of helping us to become holy like Him.

This baby Jesus, born miraculously from the womb of a holy and pure woman, the Virgin Mary, is not just another prophet or great teacher.  He is God Himself in the flesh, longing for us reconnect with Him.  Christmas is God’s first lesson for us to help us become holy.  In an example of extreme humility and beyond human’s limited understanding – He chose to be born not in a luxury hotel, but in one of the cold caves of Bethlehem, kept warm by the breath of caring animals.  As a man, Jesus felt all the pain that we humans feel such as betrayal by His friends, and abuse by his fellow citizens, willingly accepting torture and death.  Through it all, He expressed only love and forgiveness for His enemies.  An example we must follow in order to advance in our holiness and to be like Him.

As He began His ministry on earth, Jesus Christ surrounded Himself not with the rich and powerful, but with simple fishermen, whom He selected to be His Messengers or Apostles (Arabic:  Rusol – those who are sent).  Having received the gifts of the Holy Spirit, these 12 men changed the world through their newly acquired courage, scholarly aptitude, and language skills.  Most of them paid the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom for the greater cause of delivering Jesus Christ’s Christmas message of Love, Forgiveness and Humility along with the need to continuously transform ourselves into that holy image in which we are created.

The reality is that each one of us is a ‘messenger’ sent by Christ Himself, and guided by the Holy Spirit, to deliver that same message.  But we cannot deliver what we don’t have.  Christmas therefore is that annual reminder that our holiness and our spirituality must be strengthened within us, as the best gift we can offer God and others during this season of giving.

In a world that’s so focused on worldly possessions, and a human nature obsessed with ‘self’, it’s quite a task for us to transform the world to the standards that God expects.  But Christmas is not about changing the world, rather it’s about changing OURSELVES into that holy and pure image.

Once each one of us transforms himself and herself, freeing ourselves from being enslaved by the pleasures and treasures of the world; once we purify our soul so it becomes capable of reflecting the light of Jesus Christ, it is then and only then that the world will change one person at a time.

Christmas is my reminder that it must begin with me, Malek:  A sinful man and undeserving of my blessings.  I must repeatedly acknowledge my fallen nature especially that part of me which lusts and craves wealth and fame.  I pray that God will give me the courage to be continuously repentant of my sins, and in time to be made worthy of being sanctified, as I climb that difficult ladder of holiness to be ever so closer to God.  I pray that I’ll always be grateful for that great privilege of reflecting God’s Holy Image towards every human being, His children, my brothers and sisters, whom I need to love, forgive, respect and honor every day.

This is the message of Christmas, and this is my commitment to Christ as we all travel that difficult journey to holiness and to be like Him.  Merry Christmas!