And the Meaning of Christmas is – Stewardship?

By Fr. Robert Holet

At first, you might think that the feast of the Birth of the Lord has nothing to do with stewardship, but since I began to examine Orthodox stewardship a number of years ago, I’ve found that this theme permeates almost ever aspect of our Orthodox way of life and prayer that I can find, especially our major Feasts.

We can view the key movements of Stewardship as a kind of cycle – a relationship of God with us comprised of the following:

  1. God is the Lord and source of All, and bestows upon Hi s creation a multitude of His gifts. God initiates the everything Godly.
  2. The steward receives the gifts of the Lord in thanksgiving.
  3. The steward responds by making an offering to the Lord, which brings him into Communion with God, initiated by God, but characterized by the offering.

Christmas is all about gifts – but not so much our gifts to each other,  but the Gift bestowed upon humankind by God, by giving to us His Son, who came into the world for our salvation.  He has entrusted His Son to the Holy Virgin and all Humanity – and the question is always, what does the steward do with the Gift.  Christmas  is all about receiving Christ, as our Lord.

The Christmas story is about 3 groups of people – those who received Christ, those who didn’t and those who recognized Him, but opposed Him. Of the first group, including Mary and Joseph, the Magi and the Shepherds, who all, in some way, received Christ.  The Virgin received Christ through the Good News of the Archangel, Joseph, through a dream (with no small bit of difficulty!), the Magi – a star, the shepherds the angelic hosts.

How many others received such messages – but did not respond – those in Group 2?  Those who did not respond, we know nothing about. When we fail to respond to God, we drift into oblivion of Group 2.  The message of salvation comes, but it is ignored or missed. The Gospel of the Wedding Banquet that we hear on the Second Sunday Before Christmas is our warning that, when the invitation to join the Church in the Banquet of Christ, the invitation cannot be ignored.

Group 3 needs no introduction.  These are the ones who oppose God.  They may not deny His existence, but they openly oppose His working in the world, which they claim for themselves as their own.  The do not affirm that our world, our life, is the Lord’s and all that is contained within it. (Ps. 24).  Herod, and by extension, his cohort in Jerusalem see Jesus as a threat.  They are right – Christ brings forth a Kingdom that makes the Kingdom of Herod and this world a shadow of impotent worldly power – which ultimately collapses under its own weight and ends in death and destruction.  The worldly ‘kingdom’ of the Jews would be crushed by the Romans in AD66.

But the stewardship cycle is not complete.  There must be a third movement – a spiritual offering of Thanksgiving which brings humankind into Communion with God, once the Gift is received.  So we hear in the hymnography of the Church a beautiful expression.

What shall we offer to you O Christ? Who for our sake has appeared on the earth as a man?

Every creature which You have made offers You thanks. The angels offer You a song. The heavens, their star.

The wise men, their gifts. The shepherds, their wonder. The earth, its cave. The wilderness, the manger.
And we offer You a Virgin Mother.
O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us
!    (Psalm verse from Festal Vespers)

There is a special beauty in this hymn, reflecting the personification of creation itself, endeavoring to offer a gift to Christ, as well as the shepherds, the Magi, and the offering of the Virgin – who represents for all of us human beings, our offering to Christ.  It’s necessary that an offering be made as a response to God’s loving initiative!

This spiritual offering of ourselves to Christ – and the commendation of our lives and families, our parishes and our treasures to Him, is what will fulfill our vocation of stewards of the Lord – recipients of the divine Gift of Christ and His immeasurable love.  All of our sacrifices, oriented toward Christ, including the offering of our treasure (as a sacred material offering to the King – like the gold of the Magi), our time (especially in sacred worship at services), our talents that represent personal participation in the Church life through the gifts of the Spirit.

Finally, may our stewardship of the precious gift of trust (which we call Faith), bestowed upon us as Orthodox Christians, be celebrated and strengthened by the Lord during this holy season.

May our Festal offerings lead to a sacred communion with Christ during this holy season, like the sweet-smelling offering of the incense of the Magi – to Christ the Lord.

Fr. Robert Holet is Pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Charlottesville (Greenwood) Va., and serves as director of the Consistory Office of Stewardship of the UOC of the USA.