General John Gowans
General, International Salvation Army

Most of us have had the experience of receiving gifts that we don'tlike. "Why did they send me this?" we mutter ungratefully. "What good isit to me? I don't need it!"

There's nothing new about unwanted gifts. The first Christmas gifthad a mixed reception, though it was blindingly beautiful. Wrapped inswaddling clothes, and lying in a manger, God had made a gift of himselfto a world which badly needed him, but didn't know it.

In the first chapter of John's Gospel we find a stunning statement.Speaking of the Son of God it says: "He came unto his own ... ." He cameto the human creatures that he had made and joined them. He came tothe vulnerability, which is part of being human; the limitations,the hurts, the disappointments, the suffering and the distress. Christwas God incarnate, totally sharing the human experience, includingthe messy business of coming into the world and getting out of it. Godidentified himself with humanity. He made the gift of himself. Itbeggars description. It's wonder-full. It deserves 10 billion candles ona billion Christmas trees.

But the most wonderful phrase is followed by the most sad. "He cameunto his own -- and his own received him not!" They showed him the door!God was not welcome. He was an unwanted gift.

Christmas is part of the world's history, but it is also acontemporary event. God is forever coming into the world, your world andmine. He is always offering the gift of himself as a counselor, aprotector, a companion, a comforter, a healer, a savior. Christmas is acheerful reminder of all this, but it seems we have neither the sensenor the courage to receive the gift. We are needlessly afraid of him. Weput up the `Not Wanted!' and `Not Necessary!' signs and our desperatespiritual poverty is the result.

Happily the message does not finish on this sour note.

He still comes unto his own ... that's the good news. And his ownstill don't want him ... that's the tragedy. But those who do accept thegift of his presence in their lives still receive with this the rightand the power to become God's children, bearing a strong familyresemblance to the Christ ... That's breathtaking!

God is renewing his personal offering of himself to us again thisChristmas. Inside the parcel wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in amanger we will not only find a love that will not let us go but also apower which will make Christlikeness possible for us. Possible, noteasy. Not suddenly, but certainly.

Don't say you don't want it. Take it! It's yours! If you do, Ipromise you, you will have an extremely happy Christmas.

Archbishop Demetrios

Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

As we observe the Nativity season and celebrate the birth of ourLord and Savior Jesus Christ, we do so in a time of great challenges andconcerns. We have seen and experienced the tragic events of Sept. 11. Weare aware of the tremendous suffering of those who have lost familymembers and of communities burdened by poverty and war. We are beingchallenged by economic and political repercussions that have significantconsequences for the entire world. We are trying to address the complexissues of contemporary American society within our homes, parishes, andschools. We know that many in today's world are seeking truth,assurance, comfort and hope.

With these concerns on our hearts and minds, we turn to the uniqueevent that we will celebrate in a few days -- the Christmas event, thebirth of our Lord. We turn to the beautiful images and words of theChristmas narrative in the Holy Gospels, which offer timely directionfor our labors in this world, specifically our compassionate response tothe needs of 21st century America.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read the story of the Magi, the wisemen from the East who came to Jerusalem saying, "Where is he who hasbeen born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East andhave come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2). After determining that theChrist child was in Bethlehem, the Magi came to where he was, worshippedhim and offered to him treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh(Matthew 2:11).

The significance of this offering made by the wise men is one of thecontemporary insights provided by this age-old story. First, theiroffering was of the highest quality. They gave gifts of tremendoussubstance in honor of the savior of the world. Second, their journey ofdays and months revealed an expectant faith and a deep determination inresponse to the revelation of God. They left their homes, they traveledto a distant land under the constant threat of peril, they livedsacrificially, they offered themselves.

This Christmas story has a momentous application to our daily livesand to the work of our parishes. Above all, the selfless offering of theMagi to the Christ child inspires each one of us to come and worshiphim. For the encounter with Christ, the experience of hislife-changing presence, leads us to offer to him not simply earthlytreasure but the gift of ourselves.

Further, as we offer our livesthrough faith and worship, we are guided by him in offering thetreasures of our Orthodox Christian faith "to those who are far off andto those who are near" (Ephesians 2:17).

First, we must offer the best that we have, for our offering is bothto God and to humankind. Quality, distinction, and value should not onlybe descriptive of the essence of Orthodoxy, but it should also refer tothe measure of our gifts of time and resources, to the manner in whichwe offer to the ministries and appearance of our parishes, and to ourpersistent response to the spiritual longings and physical burdens ofour world.