FINDING THE PERFECT GIFT
In his exceptional spiritual work The Prologue from Ochrid, the North American saint Nikolai Velimirovich writes, "We grab at shadows, we embrace corpses. We pay today for tomorrow's stench - we pay with gold and silver, sometimes with our honor and conscience, and at times even with our life - for the stench of tomorrow's decay!" (Prologue, October 19)
How easy it is for us to become lost in passing distractions. How often we invest our hopes, our money, our time, and our hearts in things which turn to dust. While the world sinks deeper and deeper into this mire, Christ offers us an eternal investment. The season of Christmas, and the Advent fast leading up to it, presents us with such a clear picture of this contrast: while the world immerses itself in parties, eating, shopping, and excess, Orthodox Christians are called to prepare for the celebration of the birth of Christ by cutting off our slavery to the things that decay. We fast, we pray, and we separate ourselves from passing entertainments - if we in fact truly desire to attain eternal things.
It is indeed a gift to celebrate the Lord's birth long after the Boxing Day sales have finished. Yet if we approach it with a Christian spirit, this gift is not for the benefit of purchasing discounted gifts. This Gift - like the gift of the Nativity Fast itself - is our chance to separate us from all the crumbling shadows of the world that try to pass themselves off as "real life" - all the wasted efforts that bring us no joy or lasting satisfaction.
Brethren, we Christians know that Christ is truly the Great Gift that we receive at Christmas. Unlike the playthings that are offered by the world, Christ does not break, run short on energy, or need replacing. If we are to receive Him as the Eternal Gift that never perishes, however, we must embrace the gift of the Nativity Fast, not just in foods, but in spirit, and lay aside the earthly cares of bargain hunting, commercialism, and consumption that feed our appetites today, but perish with death tomorrow.
May God grant us to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the birth of His Son, that we may share in an everlasting joy, one that cannot be found in the world.