2017 Nativity Festal Message from His Grace Bishop Youssef

My Beloved Children,

On this holy occasion, we rejoice and celebrate the nativity of our Savior, Jesus Christ. The universe converged in the little town of Bethlehem to exult the divine newborn King. His birth elated heaven and earth and brought together a diversity of societies to adore Him with one heart and one mind—angels, shepherds, and sages. Having witnessed the star as prophesied (Numbers 24:17), the Magi travelled bearing gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh, each representing aspects of His life—His majesty, His ecclesiastical ministry, and His burial (Matthew 2:11).

Gold is a brilliant solid metal resistant to corrosion; yet in its purest form, yields to a limited source more prominent than itself. Gold signifies prosperity and was often preserved for depressed economic eras. Christianity, too, has been preserved to remedy society's weakened moral ruin. Give the Lord a radiant heart of gold and yield to Him in all matters. Be resistant to the corrosive power of vice and malice, and be refined in Christ's image. Resemble gold and be insoluble when faced with hostility, austerity, and enmity. Enhance every gathering with loveliness and season every speech with nobility.

Frankincense is a fragrant resin used in perfumes, incense, skincare, and medicine. The Old Testament frequently referred to incense in ecclesiastical services. "Prayer is by nature a dialog and a union with God. Its effect is to hold the world together. It achieves a reconciliation with God" (St. John Climacus). Making cuts, slashes, and stripping the bark of specific types of sturdy wiry trees produces frankincense by causing the fragrant resin to bleed, harden, and form tears. The cross became an altar for the Lamb, the acceptable Sacrifice that exuded a magnificent sweet aroma. The saints follow Christ to the cross and their prayers rise up to Him as incense (Revelation 5:8; 8:3). Imitate the saints in fragrant prayers as incense before the Lord. Saint Gregory of Nyssa states, "Of all the things valued in this life, nothing is more precious than prayer."

Although Myrrh means bitter, it possesses a very sweet potent aroma. The Scripture mentions its use in sacred traditions and purification ointments. Like frankincense, myrrh is extracted by wounding a type of little jagged trees. It has been used as an analgesic, antiseptic, embalming agent, and in the treatment of numerous serious internal ailments, cancer, skin conditions, and abrasions, as well as in the production of icons. Many traditional churches use myrrh in combination with other emollients to make the Chrism Oil. Myrrh mingled with vinegar was given to Christ when He hung on the cross, but He refused to numb His pain and rejected the drink (Mark 15:23). Be the myrrh that combats dulling maladies of sin and cancerous heresies. Be the ointment that comforts and defeats injustice. Be the healing agent to repair broken homes like the myrrh that heals abrasions. Be the myrrh that reflects Christ's image in you, and not only in an icon.

Give God your best—a pure heart like gold, prayer like frankincense, and endurance like myrrh. Through the intercessions and prayers of Saint Mary the Mother of God and all the angels and saints, we ask our Lord Jesus Christ to protect His church against all adversities and to preserve the life of our beloved honored father and patriarch, His Holiness Pope Tawadros II, for many years and peaceful times.

I wish you all a very joyous Nativity Feast spirited with love and generosity, and a new year full of opportunities, an abundance of blessings, and a life with God in our midst.

Glory be to God, forever. Amen.

Bishop Youssef
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States