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Festal Letter for the Glorious Feast of the Nativity 2005

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My Beloved, the Blessed Children of the Holy Church,

It is my pleasure to wish all of you a blessed Feast of the Nativity, in which we celebrate the Incarnation of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Today, we rejoice because of the birth of Emmanuel our God. St. Matthew the Evangelist wrote that the name Emmanuel means God is with us, as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’, which is translated, ‘God with us.’” (Matt. 1:23; Is. 7:14) Today, we rejoice, because God is with us.

God wishes to be with man, because He loves him and said, “My delight was with the sons of men.” (Prov. 8:31) In His love for man, God created him out of nothing and gave him the grace of being. Furthermore, He created man in His image and likeness. In the Garden of Eden, God cared for man and used to talk to him; He gave him the commandment to protect him from knowing evil. Although man disobeyed God and turned away from Him, yet God did not leave man, but always sought for his salvation and sent him the prophets. Then in the last days, He Himself came and took our human nature, except for sin, so He can be with us, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son.” (Heb. 1:1-2)

The entire history of humanity revolves around God’s presence with man; it is the story of God’s love for man, as well as the story of eternal life, as it is written in the Holy Bible regarding the Heavenly Jerusalem, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev. 21:3)

God created us to be with Him and live in communion with Him. When we left God, He came to us through His Incarnation so He can be with us and promised to remain with us all the days, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:21) He promised to be in our midst, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:20) He also sanctified and blessed our nature, making us His temple, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16) For this reason, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed to the Fr., “Fr., I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” (Jn. 17:24)

God wants to be with us and tells us, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:20) He calls on the human soul and says, “Open for me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one: for my head is covered with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” (Song of Sol. 5:2)

God wants to be with us, but do we want to be with Him ?

God rejoices in being with us, but do we rejoice in being with Him? God wants man’s heart to be His dwelling place, and this is why He says, “My son give me your heart.” Today, do we offer our hearts to God to be His manger, where He can rest?

Our fathers and mothers the saints loved God and responded to His invitation. This is why God was with them and they were with Him; they felt their ever-presence with God.

Elijah the prophet always repeated the phrase, “As the Lord of hosts, lives, before whom I stand.” (1 Kings 18:15) Likewise, David the prophet always felt that God was with him and said, “I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.” (Ps. 16:8) Joseph the righteous felt God’s presence with him, even in Potiphar’s house. Therefore, when his master’s wife wanted him to sin with her, he refused and told her, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9) Even when he ended up in prison, God was with him and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison (Gen. 39:21) Later, when he stood infront of Pharaoh, he felt God’s presence and did not forget Him, declaring to Pharaoh, “God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do.” (Gen. 41:25) As for St. Paul , he not only felt God’s presence with him, but felt that God lives in him, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20)

Our feeling that Emmanuel is with us, that is to say God is with us, is what gives us courage, so we can say with the psalmist, “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Ps. 118:6) When the Israelites were afraid because the Egyptians were pursuing them from behind, and the sea was infront of them, Moses told them, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today….The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.” (Ex. 14: 13-14) Again, when the Israelites feared the inhabitants of Canaan because they were giants, they wept and rebelled against Moses. But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh spoke to the congregation saying, “Do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us . Do not fear them.” (Num. 14:9)

Our fathers the apostles felt God’s presence with them, and they went out preaching, even though they had no material possessions. Yet, they felt God’s strength and presence with them, as shown when St. Peter told the lame man, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth , rise up and walk.” (Ph. 4:13)

  • The feeling of God’s presence with us gives us peace, hope, and tranquility, as well as courage in facing the tribulations and dangers.
  • Let us rejoice today, because our God Emmanuel is with us. Our joy will be even greater when we are with Him.
  • Let us joyfully present to God repentant hearts, so He can dwell within us and we can be confirmed in Him and He in us.
  • Let us pray that the Lord may grant us to feel that we are always in His presence, leading us to a life of holiness and righteousness, and living without fear of the world and its evil powers.
  • Let us pray for the peace of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and for the life of our beloved father, H.H. Pope Shenouda III.

Wishing you many happy returns.

Bishop Serapion

 

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