Patriarch Sako’s Christmas Message
Yes, to the True Christ, no to the Faked Christ
Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako
To bishops, priests, monks and nuns, consecrated men and women, and all Chaldean faithful in the world.
I extend my heartfelt wishes of a Merry Christmas and happy New Year, to each and every one of you, praying for grace, health, peace and joy throughout 2024 and beyond.
As we are preparing for Christmas, it is necessary to think seriously about our faith in Jesus Christ, and to renew our commitment to Him clearly, especially that we are living in a world that does not care about human and spiritual values, and surrenders selfishly to materialism and pleasure, a world that has begun to depend more and more on artificial intelligence without evaluating its risks to humanity, a world that completely different from the one before. In the mid of such unstable political, security, and economic systems around the world, where people are experiencing wars in Ukraine and the Holy Land, and conflicts almost everywhere, even though poor people are still missing peace and awaiting it as it was announced by angels on Christmas Eve, “and on earth peace” (Luke 2/14).
The Church: The Universal as well as our Chaldean Church, must exercise its mission with courage and without fear, preaching the message of Christ, the “Messenger” of peace, fraternity, and love, and never stop demanding people’s rights, freedom and dignity, in order to achieve justice and equality on the basis of full citizenship.
Who is Jesus Christ for us and What is New in His Mission?
We often have wrong ideas about Christ, unrealistic and imaginary ideas, that are not in line with the Bible. We also deal with him as an “abstract” person, instead of a real person. Christology (theology of Christ) is not a bundle of speculations and abstractions.
In light of the situation in Iraqi, the Holy Lands, Lebanon, and Syria, it seems that the pioneering role of Christians in building bridges among different Churches and with others has declined, which means they are no longer able to influence, so they turned to emigration.
As Eastern Christians, we need to get away from the “canned” information we are familiar with and have instead a “complete” awareness of our faith, and a thorough knowledge of it, so that the heart of Jesus Christ remains beating in us and enables us to spread hope, human, fraternal, and spiritual revival in our societies.
The truth is with those who are living and transmitting it honestly. We must know who is Jesus Christ for us and what is new in His message. This was the fundamental question raised by Jesus asking His disciples, when Peter’s answer came: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16/ 13-14). This faith shows who we are and what we should be.
In my remark at the Synod of Bishops on Synodality (October 4-29, 2023 in Rome), I urged Synod Fathers to search for a new language, including selected and understandable vocabulary to introduce Christian faith to people in a way that would be acceptable in their current culture, since the mentality has changed, and the culture is different from the past.
The Gospel reveals the nature of Jesus’ humanity, His divine filiation, dignity, and message of salvation. It is well-known that the Gospel writers used familiar literary genres to convey the message “meaning”. Therefore, we need to read the “sacred texts” carefully, and search for the meanings behind the letters in order to grow with them.
Christ was born from Virgin Mary, who wrapped, nursed, and raised Him. He cried, screamed, ate, drank, slept and played with His peers. When He grew up He worked and got tired. This does not diminish His greatness.
Jesus had friends, families dear to His heart, such as the family of Lazarus and His two sisters Mary and Martha. He attended with His mother Mary and Saint Joseph the wedding of a friend in Cana of Galilee (John 2/ 1-2). Otherwise, what is the meaning of the fact that He became a complete human being, and that He was “similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4/ 15).
Jesus Christ began His mission when He was thirty years old, surrounded by male and female disciples to deliver His message, after three years of formation (was the circle of formation at that time). However, the minority accepted His message while it was rejected by majority. In the end, He was crucified by Jews, but was risen by God for His faithfulness. His resurrection is from another level and set up our hope for a full and joyful life.
Jesus lived in a society of farmers, shepherds, and Observatory Jewish clergy, with no means of media and social communication that we have today: such as computers, mobile phones, radio, television, and newspapers.
Christ owned His being, His talent, grace, a beating heart that prayed, and a thoughtful mind that loved everyone and served them without exception: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve” (Mark 10/ 45).
Jesus Christ preached that God is a Father and the source of love. All His words were about the reality of God and His fatherly love. He highlighted our filial relationship with God, considering us as sisters and brothers in one family, which is the family of God, characterized by the utmost joy and happiness. This is the new mystery inspired by Jesus Christ, about which He spoke with passion and boldness, and personified in word and deed.
Jesus taught us that love remains eternal since God is love, and “love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13/ 8). He gave us His “divine spirit,” the flame of His love, so that we might be in His image and likeness. Isn’t He the “firstborn”?
The Word of God is a living person named Jesus Christ before He became a Gospel. He was born in flesh and dwelt among us. He personified this teaching in Himself, even when His mission was painful and been opposed by authorities, politicians, chief priests, and rich people.
Jesus Christ is the Word of God, spoken of Him and in His name without affectation. He gave ordinary things of His life a meaning, spirit, and amazing love.
God is in Jesus and Jesus is in God: “as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us” (John 17/ 21).
The invisible God became visible in Jesus: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14/ 9). Isn’t this “incarnation”?
From this intimate relationship spirituality and morality emerge and continue to the end. The identity of the Christians is related to the identity of Jesus Christ.
Jesus called for repentance “metanoi”, that is, acceptance of newness “the kingdom”. This kind of teaching must rouse us and give us the grace and strength to walk with Him toward resurrection.
Based on this spirituality, Jesus spoke of prayer, love, mutual forgiveness, and serving others to the full: “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25/ 40). He gave us His body in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to receive it, and to remain with us, so that we may all feel that we are sisters and brothers.
Saint Pope John Paul II said in his first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis,” in 1979.
“Man cannot live without love, because he remains an incomprehensible being to himself; his life has no meaning if love is not revealed to him; if he does not find love; experience it and engaged intimately in it. For this reason, Christ the Redeemer “reveals man completely to himself.” … This is the human dimension of the redemption mystery. In this dimension [sacrificial love] man finds once again the greatness, dignity and value of his humanity” No. 10.
Practically: Faith is a radical follow of the footsteps of Christ
In our current exhausting situation, and in order to be in Christmas, we need more of listening to Christ, “the living Gospel”. To listen to the voice of God, learn from it, and apply it profoundly.
Our salvation is based on imitating Christ, and just as His brilliant resurrection surprised everyone, God will surprise us with a beautiful solution to our problems and difficult circumstances. Didn’t He solve the problem of confused women who visited His tomb: “Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb? When they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back; it was very large” (Mark 16/ 3-4).
Let us rely on Him in thought and heart, keeping our attitude firm and brave, in spite of being demanding: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4/13), so that we can turn everything into grace.
Prayer was the life of Jesus. It should accompany our lives as well, as it is the oxygen of our spirituality. Let us surrender ourselves to Him as He submitted to His Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23/ 46).
Jesus was reciting short, simple and heart-rending prayers, for example: “Father, Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you” (John 17/ 1), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27/ 46), “not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22/ 42). You may search for other prayers in the Gospel.
Let us also pray with the same confidence: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6/ 10). Let us ask forgiveness for our mistakes: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6/ 12).
Do not be afraid, God accepts us even when we make mistakes. He loves us, receives us, and coddles us just as the father received and indulged his prodigal son who denied him and wasted his money (Luke chapter 15). Let us respond to God. He is Emmanuel (God with us). Isn’t this His eternal promise? Let us leave other matters behind, for he does everything for good.
Merry Christmas, and happy new year,
O Lord, grant peace and stability to Iraq, the Holy Lands and the world