Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Jesus on this day. Some believe this was the actual date upon which he was born but most recognize that this date developed over centuries of Christian tradition. Regardless of how we came to make this date a part of the church calendar the fact that we remember the birth of Christ, as well as his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension, is critical. Whatever your own church does to remember this blessed day I take this opportunity to wish all of you, my friends and readers, a Blessed and Merry Christmas Day 2009.
As I reflected on this day I was drawn to the word of a famous writer in the early church that too few of us know much about. I refer to Ephrem the Syrian. Ephrem was a Syriac deacon and a prolific hymn writer and theologian of the fourth century. He is loved and remembered by Christians throughout the world, especially by Syrian believers.
Ephrem wrote a wide variety of hymns, poems, and sermons in verse, as well as prose biblical exegesis. These various works included much practical theology for the edification of the church in deeply troubled times. Perhaps this is why his work comes to the fore again and again throughout church history. So popular were his works in the ages that followed his writing, that centuries after his death Christian authors wrote hundreds of works in his name wanting to take advantage of his popularity in some way. As you might expect Ephrem's works witness to a very early form of Christianity in which Western ideas had little or no part at all. He has been called the most significant of all of the fathers of the Syriac-speaking church tradition. I met him through my Orthodox brothers and sisters who treasure his writing more than Christians in the West.
Here are a few of Ephrem's thoughts about Christmas.
All days from the treasure of this bright day gain blessings. All the feasts from the stores of this feast have their fairness and their ornaments. . . . Great is this day above all days, for in it came forth mercy to sinners. A medicine chest is this Your great day, because on it shone forth the Medicine of life to the wounded. A treasure of helpful graces is this day, because on it, Light gleamed forth on our blindness. Yes, it also brought a Sheaf to us, and it came, so that from it, plenty might flow upon our hunger.
In this night of reconciliation, let none be angry or gloomy. In this night that stills everything, let nothing threaten or disturb. This night belongs to the sweet One; let nothing bitter or harsh be in it. In this night that belongs to the meek One, let there be nothing high or haughty. In this day of pardoning, let us not spread sadness. . . . In this day when God came to sinners, let not the righteous man be in his own mind uplifted over the sinner. In this day in which the Rich became poor for our sakes, let the rich man make the poor man share with him at his table. On this day came forth to us the gift, even though we had no asked for it! Let us therefore bestow alms on those who cry and beg from us.
Today Godhead pressed itself like a seal upon manhood, so that with the Godhead's stamp, manhood might be adored.
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While most countries celebrate Christmas on December 25 each year, some eastern national churches, including those of Russia, Georgia, Egypt, Armenia, Ukraine, the Republic of Macedonia and Serbia celebrate on January 7. This is because of their use of the traditional Julian Calendar, under which December 25 falls on January 7 as measured by the standard Gregorian Calendar.