One of the church hymns that is sung for the feast of the Nativity of Christ contains the following moving words: “What will we give Thee, O Christ, for having appeared on earth as a man for our sake? Each of Thy creations gives Thee thanks: the angels offer their singing; the heavens give the star; the Magi bring gifts; the shepherds bear witness to the miracle; the earth provides the cave; the desert extends the manger. And we – we give Thee the Virgin Mother.”
In that very year, almost 2,000 years ago, when the Lord Jesus Christ was actually born on earth, mankind gave Him the very best and most precious gift it had – the Pure Virgin Mary, the only One Who could become the Mother of God and Who could help Him achieve His incarnation. Since that time, however, within the Church the Lord continues to be born for us every year, and every year He comes down to earth for our salvation. And thus every year, in gratitude, we must offer Him some gift.
What kind of gift, dear brethren, are we able to give each year to the newborn Babe, our Saviour? The Lord Himself provides the answer in the words of the prophet, by saying: “Give me your heart, my son.” And King David entreats the Lord in one of his psalms: “Create in me a pure heart, O God.”
So how are we to obtain this gift for the Lord – a pure heart? A pure heart is acquired by ascending a small kind of ladder. The first step of this ladder is regular church attendance. In church we cleanse our hearts of the wicked influence of the outside world and fill them with the goodness of the word of God.
The second step is the observance of Christmas Lent. But this observance should not be solely in terms of food. The main thing is to keep spiritual lent in terms of the heart, i.e. restrain ourselves from anger, resentment, quarrels, irritation and other passions – from everything that darkens our souls. Through spiritual lent we proceed even further to purify and enlighten our hearts.
The third step is the sacrament of penitence. As we come to confession and repent of our sins before God, we discard this heavy and unnecessary burden, and immediately lighten our hearts.
And then the last and highest step towards acquiring a pure heart is to partake of the Royal Mysteries. In the sacrament of communion we draw into ourselves the Lord God Himself, the Sacred Fire that consumes all of our inner uncleanliness and gives that purity of heart, toward which we are striving. Therefore, it is extremely important in this period of Christmas Lent to come to church and take communion.
In society we have the custom, whenever we go to someone’s birthday party, especially a child’s, to bring nice and valuable gifts. Right now, dear brethren, we are getting ready to participate in the birthday party of the Heavenly Child, the Lord God Himself, the One Who created us to enjoy heavenly bliss, and because of Whom we are able to celebrate our own birthdays. Let us prepare for Him and bring to Him, in the sacred night of His Nativity, the best and most precious gift that we can give – our pure hearts. Amen.
Father Rostislav Sheniloff