By Archimandrite George Kapsanis
Christmas, which by God’s Grace we’re celebrating again this year, gives us the opportunity to delve deeper into the mystery of God’s love. His gifts to us are manifold and priceless. The greatest of them, however, is the incarnation of His Only-Begotten Son, without which we would still be hopeless prisoners of the devil and of death.
Saint Gregory Palamas says: "What depth of riches, wisdom and divine love for humankind! In this way, God, in His wisdom, power and love for us, experiences at first hand the repercussions of our willful misconduct and shapes them into something incomparably better. Because, if the Son of God hadn’t descended from heaven, we would have had no hope of ever ascending to heaven. Had He not been incarnated, He wouldn’t have suffered in the flesh, He wouldn’t have risen or ascended for our sake and we wouldn’t have known God’s excessive love for us" (Homily 16). Saint Gregory also emphasizes that Christ became incarnate "in order to demonstrate God’s love for us."
Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, that wise and unerring teacher of our Church, investigates in depth the benefits which have accrued to humankind from the Incarnation of Christ and His redemptive work. He states that, through this, the incarnate Lord first raised us up from the most profound chaos into which we’d fallen, and second, that He elevates us to divine glory. In other words, He frees us from a grim prison and grants us glorification.
We have to admit that even at this holy season, we don’t have a sense of God’s infinite love for us. We don’t experience it as the most shattering event in the history of the world and in our own life. We don’t return the love of the Lord with our own.
It may be the greatest failure of our life that we don’t feel God’s love for us and don’t love Him in return. And so, our life as Christians lacks vigor, it’s not an intermingling with God, nor an admixture of our created being with Him Who is uncreated. When we experience the mystery of God’s love, we can be deeply joyful even in the most adverse circumstances of life and can face death itself with hope.
Holy people throughout the ages have felt, in the depths of their being, how much God loves us and they themselves loved Him completely. This is why they patiently endured every kind of pain, deprivation, torture, ascetic effort and trial: for the love of God.
The prayer of Saint Paul to the Ephesians is a prayer of all the saints, that all Christians should know, in Grace, the love of Christ, which transcends all human knowledge: "For this reason I kneel before the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… and pray that he will give you of his glorious riches, and strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God" (cf. Eph. 3:14-19).
May we, too, through the Grace of our Incarnate Lord and on the occasion of the holy feast of His Nativity, know, feel and experience Christ’ love, so that the whole of God may dwell within us.