What follows is the Christmas message of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. (To read the message in Armenian, click here.)
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After the angels had left them and returned to the heavens, the shepherds said to one another: “Let us now go to Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” They went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. When they had seen it, they made known abroad what had been told them about this child; and all that heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:15-19 JSV)
IT IS PROBABLY THE MOST FAMOUS STORY in human civilization—and it is certainly the most beloved. It conjures crisply vivid details—the starry night, the crowded city, the shared warmth of huddled bodies—that never fail to awaken deep emotions in the listener, even after numerous retellings.
Its theme of dislocation touches the heart of anyone who has ever felt isolated, rejected, dispersed. Yet the deepest truth it conveys is one of community and belonging: where the great and the humble, the cosmic and the earthly, the natural and the supernatural, all mingle together in tranquil harmony, around a single object of reverence and affection: the newborn Jesus.
If, as has been claimed, the longing for an ideal, peaceful world is the central theme of Western culture, then the story of Christ’s Nativity surely reveals man’s deepest hope.
Indeed, it strikes such deep, universal chords that we tend to assume it has always held a place in human consciousness. We can forget that the Nativity only took place at a specific moment in time—2,000 years ago—and was not widely known until years after it occurred. The evangelist St. Luke set down the details long after Jesus had grown to manhood, completed his ministry, and performed his miracles.
Who was it, then, that first told this beautiful story?
The gospel may give us a clue in an odd remark at the end of Luke’s Nativity account: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” The evangelist seems at pains to reveal that Mary remembered everything, treasured her memories, and thought often about the wonders she had seen.
We might ask: Is this Luke’s way of revealing his “source” for the Nativity story? His account is so rich in detail—details so intimate that they could only have been known to a few people. Was it Mary, then, who told the story of her son’s birth to Luke, as he was compiling his gospel of Jesus? Was it Mary who, like any mother, could never forget the vivid night when she beheld her child for the first time?
If so, how poignant it is to reflect that the Nativity story we know and love may have originated in a personal recollection of the holy Mother of God. Mary told it to Luke. Luke set it down in his gospel. Preachers, scribes, and printers have spread the story over the course of 2,000 years—until it has reached our own ears.
In a similar fashion, all the stories of our faith have been spread: from the Holy Land to our homeland, and to every remote corner of the world. Today, the new media of the 21st century—video, audio, electronic text—broadcast these beautiful, intimate stories in ways unimaginable to earlier generations. They are the storytelling tools of the present age, which the church has also taken up in recent years—as it previously took up the manuscript, the printing press, and the technical breakthroughs of earlier times.
But whether the tool is the pen or the pixel, it can only amplify the more essential, and more important, way that the stories of our faith are transmitted: namely, from person to person. As in the case of Mary the Mother of God, the treasured memories kept in the heart, and shared out of love, became the foundation for communities of faith, which awakened mankind to a higher spiritual aspiration. Indeed, our very ability to relate and respond to a story like the Nativity is an affirmation of the spiritual character of man.
This revelation about man’s spiritual nature—about the reality of God, and His loving presence in history and in our lives—is what makes the Nativity story such a potent, life-giving force in our world. The message transcends the tools of the moment, uniting us across the ages and across all divisions, as the beloved children of God.
Let us celebrate that message again this year, as we joyfully share the news of Christ’s birth from person to person, through the timeless greeting of the Armenian Church:
Krisdos dzunav yev haydnetzav! Orhnyal eh haydnootiunun Krisdosee!
Christ is born and revealed! Blessed is the revelation of Christ!
† Archbishop Khajag Barsamian