The Nativity Fast begins on Sunday. There are so many wonderful and beneficial things that can be said about it that it is hard to decide where to begin.
First, if we want to keep Christ in Christmas, then we need to keep the fast.
It is not insignificant that at least some western Christians understand that the modern, secularized, consumeristic celebration of Christmas has absolutely nothing to do with celebration of this wonderful feast, which is know in the Church as: The Nativity according to the Flesh of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.
The modern celebration is focused on gifts and buying, in other words: hedonism and profit, which are intimately intertwined. Many businesses are made or fail depending on the Christmas shopping season. This is appalling. Thus all the decorations, parties, programs, and all else are there - not to celebrate the splendor of the coming of the King - to motivate us to buy and indulge ourselves and others.
Another issue is that the western Celebration of Christmas has been transformed into a mere family holiday. What’s wrong with this? Well, there is certainly nothing wrong with family, especially a family celebrating together. However, when we celebrate Christmas, the focus is not on the family, but on Christ. How disheartening it is to see western churches closed on Christmas! We go to church to celebrate, pray, worship the One who became one of us for our sake. It is certainly good and blessed to worship the Christ-child as a family.
We Orthodox are truly blessed, as our faith has not lost its focus on Christ, But we need to actually live and practice that which we profess.
Do you want to celebrate a Christ-focused Christmas? Keep the fast. Who celebrates the coming of someone before their arrival? This is what is done in the West so that by the time Christmas is come many are tired of it and glad to have it over with.
We do not celebrate the feast before its time. We spend the time - 40days - in fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Why? Well, when we are expecting a special guest, do we not we first clean our homes and then make everything as festive as possible. Who decorates a dirty home? So, as we prepare to welcome Christ into our hearts, our homes, our community (parish church), we must do so by fasting, that is, putting away all that separates us from the love of God, submit our flesh to our spirit, our will to God’s will. We hearken unto the voices of the Holy Prophet and Forerunner John who exclaims: Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! We eat less, pray more, and be as generous to those who are in need as we can.
Let us keep in mind that those who are in need are in need throughout the year, not just at this time of the year, and so we should ever be ready to help as we may be able to. But the need does seem to be more acute at this time of year.
We not only prepare ourselves for the advent or coming of Christ by cleansing our minds, hearts, and souls, but also by beautifying them with the virtues: faith, hope, love, patience, long-suffering, forgiveness, and so forth. If we fail to do so we shall be like the five foolish virgins who were locked out of the marriage feast after the coming of the Bridegroom, for they had neglected to get oil to light their lamps.
So let us be radical, let us be different, let us keep Christ in Christmas by keeping the fast and all that the Church gives us to prepare for this feast, and then let us celebrate the 12 days of Christmas, from the Feast of our Lord’s Nativity with the Feast of Theophany.