by Saint John Maximovitch
O God of peace and Father of mercies, Thou hast sent the Angel of great counsel to grant us peace.
— from the Canon of Christmas Matins
The Messenger of the pre-eternal counsel of the Holy Trinity comes to the earth. This is not an ordinary messenger; it is the only-begotten Son of God Himself.
He brings peace to men. “Peace be unto you,” He said more than once to His disciples. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you,” He says to the apostles at the Mystical Supper, “not as the world gives, give I unto you.” And appearing after His Resurrection, again He says: “Peace be unto you.”
“For He is our peace,” the holy Apostle Paul says concerning Him: “He came to the earth to reconcile man to God by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. And having come, He preached peace to those afar off and to those near, because through Him we both have access to the Father.”
The wall that separated heaven and earth is destroyed; the sword that barred the way to the tree of life disappears. Unto man, who had sinned, comes his Creator, calling him into His embrace!
By the mouths of the apostles, the Holy Spirit cries out: “In Christ, be reconciled to God.” You who had sinned did not come to God – but the Son of God, before Whom you sinned, He came to you! He calls everyone to Himself; He gives forgiveness to everyone who merely thirsts for this.
For without the desire of man himself, without at least his little effort, God’s peace cannot settle in him. The Lord does not force anyone to come to Him, but He calls everyone: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Come, all you who are heavy laden with sins, who are exhausted from your labors and who do not find rest! You shall find that inner peace, which you will find nothing on earth more desirable than. The soul will feel unearthly peace and joy.
The Magi who worshipped the Babe experienced that joy. The shepherds, finding Him lying in a manger, also felt it. But neither peace nor joy touched the heart of Herod and those who wanted to destroy the Child. For evil desire and malice are incompatible with inner peace. And whoever does not have inner peace, they also spread strife and malice.
The Church now calls us to meet Christ Who comes from heaven. What can we do in order to meet Him like the Magi, and not like Herod? “You who desire life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” It tends to be hard to do this; we are weak when it comes to everything good.
But the Son of God even came for this: in order to strengthen us. Not for nothing was He born in Bethlehem, which signifies “house of bread.” He feeds us with heavenly food, His body. “God, the Lord and Creator of all, as a Child in the flesh, is worshipped in a poor manger, crying out: eat My body and through faith be made steadfast.” These words of the divine Child are directed to us.
Let us listen to His call! Let us follow the Magi; let us hasten with the shepherds! Our churches are now that cave of Bethlehem. Not in an image but in reality, He Who is now being born in His most pure flesh, rests in them.
Let us worship Him! Let us offer as a gift our thoughts and desires; let us confess our sins, and let us taste of His immaculate Body and Blood. Whoever did not do this earlier, let him at least accomplish it now, when the star of Bethlehem is already shining! Our minds will be enlightened and the heart will hear:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace;
good will among men!”
Nativity epistle of Saint John Maximovitch, Bishop of Shanghai, 1962