Monday, January 31, 2005

Receiving our Sight

(Luke 18:35-42) (35th Sunday after Pentecost)

“Lord, that I might receive my sight.”

This is the request made by the blind man when our Lord Jesus asked him what the man wanted of Him. It’s not a surprising request: a blind man wants to see. Our Lord grants his request, telling him, “Your faith has saved you.”

We’ve been considering the significance for ourselves of the events of the last month, in which we have celebrated the Nativity and Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ; and what it means for us that the eternal Son of God joined our humanity to His Divinity by becoming incarnate of the most holy Theotokos; celebrating His birth at the feast of the Nativity, and the revelation that the man, Jesus, is also the Son of God, in the feast of the Theophany. This is not a one-way street. If our Lord has put together His Divinity and our humanity, it is not in Himself alone. As St. Athanasios teaches, “He became as we are, in order that we might become as He is.” We who are made in the image of God, and according to His likeness, found that fulfilling the potential this established for us became impossibly more difficult after our fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. The defect in our nature that came about because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, meant that we could no longer, by ourselves alone, become who we are meant to be. By joining our humanity to His divinity, our Lord Jesus did what Adam was meant to do; and has restored to us the potential to become like Him. We are baptized into His life; and we receive the power to live this life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, beginning with our chrismation, and energized by our partaking of the Holy Mysteries, and above all in the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The life of the Orthodox Church and faith is designed as well to assist us in making the potential a reality: by prayer, and fasting, by giving alms, and spiritual struggle, we seek to transform who we are into the likeness of Christ in and through ourselves. We have to understand this; for, if we are ignorant, we will have no desire to act to bring about the marvelous and wondrous transformation unto salvation that God seeks to accomplish in and for us.

The blind man wants to see. This is not surprising; it is perfectly natural. But let us not think that his request was strictly that he be given the ability to perceive with his eyes the material world. We must be aware of the deeper spiritual reality that underlies the sensible world around us. “Sensible,” by the way, used here does not mean that the world “makes sense”; or that it is “reasonable” or “prudent.” Rather, it means the world we know by reason of our senses; the world we can see, and hear, and smell, and taste and touch; and can describe in terms of these experiences – in short, the material world.

Our senses are good; our appetites are good; but if we remain blind to the spiritual aspect of our existence, and dwell solely in the material world, we cannot grow into the likeness of Christ. Food is good; but if we do not understand that there is a dimension to food beyond the material, we can never understand the hunger and thirst for righteousness that God alone fills; we will never pursue the spiritual food and drink we need to be happy, complete, and at peace with God and each other and all creation. Great art, whether as a painting, or sculpture, or music, can lift us to God; but if we don’t know God, we won’t be able to see why we are so moved, or how to use this for our benefit and the benefit of others – and not only here, but also in the world to come, in the “life without death” that is our destiny. If we remain blind to the spiritual aspects of our existence, and live only for the sensible, what shall we do when this sensible world ceases to exist?

Today we celebrate the life of our holy and God-bearing father Anthony the Great, the first of the great desert-dwelling ascetics of the Orthodox Church and life. Born into a wealthy family, at the age of twenty he gave his inheritance for the benefit of the poor, and entered into a life of asceticism, leaving the city after a few years to enter the solitude of the desert. He struggled there, living in the presence of God alone, for some twenty years, fasting, praying, in contemplation of God, and enduring the temptations and assaults of the demons. He considered the life of the sensible world to be not worth holding, so that he might enter into and explore the depths of the spiritual realm. He lived as an angel here on earth, and, as do the angels, beheld God.

Not all of us are called to be monastics, or to be ascetics on a par with St. Anthony; but we are all called to take the same path, to go beyond (without necessarily leaving behind) the material realm to live in the spiritual realm. To do this, we have the example of saints such as Father Anthony the Great; and the teachings of the Orthodox Church and faith; and the practices of the Orthodox way of life; and the grace and power of the Holy Spirit.

Brothers and sisters: Let us also pray to our Lord that we might receive our sight. Let us pray that we may see beyond the sensible world, and perceive more clearly the world of the spiritual realm; and, that seeing, we may pursue that spiritual way of life, to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand

(Matt. 4:12-17) (Sunday after Theophany; Pentecost 34)

We’ve been considering the meanings of the events of the various Feasts that have been taking place. At the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; the Son of God has joined His Divinity to our humanity. At the Theophany, He is revealed as the God-man, when the man Jesus is acknowledged as the Son of God by the voice of God the Father, and the descent of God the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. His Divinity is embodied in our humanity: true for Him; and also true for us who have been baptized into His death, and raised to new life in Him, with the power of the Holy Spirit given to us in chrismation, to make it possible for us to bring the life of Christ into reality in and through our own life.

Now, we behold the start of His earthly ministry, as He calls us to repentance, because the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven is the place – if we can speak in these terms – where God is found. God is found in us, who are made in His image, and after His likeness. God is found in us, who have been baptized and chrismated into the life of Christ. But if we continue to live a worldly life, following the desires of our flesh, we cannot see that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, within us. We must begin to live the life of virtue – the life of Christ – in order to recognize what is happening. Do you understand the potential that exists in you, to be like Christ? If you do not understand this, you cannot realize this, you cannot bring it into being. It takes a conscious effort on our part to achieve the reality of the life of Christ in us. Yet, even as we persist in ignorance and sin, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

When we recognize the heavenly, the angelic, life we are meant to live, and how far short we fall from measuring up, we are led to repentance. We confess our failure, and our mistakes, and our surrendering of ourselves to our passions, and the demands of the flesh. We ask for forgiveness, and the ability to do what is right, and pleasing to God; and for the grace and strength to live the life of Christ in and of ourselves. We repent, so as to come closer to the kingdom of heaven.

And as we do these things, we find that we, too, have a ministry to fulfill, in addition to laboring to save our souls. We, as did our Lord Jesus, are to proclaim that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, and call those around us to repent, and to begin to live the heavenly life. In word, and in deed, by prayer, and fasting, by giving alms, and by struggling to replace our passions with the virtues, we are meant to bring the great light of the Gospel to those who still dwell in darkness and the shadow of death. We were delivered from just such a state; and we can also be the agents, the servants of God, who act to set many others free: free from bondage to sin and death; free from the sense of helpless despair that comes from dwelling in the darkness that comes as our continuing in sin overwhelms our souls. We were once trapped in the darkness of our errors and ungodly desires and actions. The great Light of the Gospel came and sought us out, and set us free; and we must do all we can to be filled with that light, and bring that light to those still trapped, that they, too, may be set free, and join with us in drawing closer to God.

Brothers and sisters: we who embody the divine life of Christ, we who have been baptized into Him, have the opportunity as well to share in His ministry of deliverance, reconciliation, and cleansing. Let us set forth on the journey to be transformed more and more into His likeness, and become bearers of the Gospel light: to the glory of God, and to the salvation of souls.

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Way to Heaven is Opened to Us

(Matt. 3:13-17) (The Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ)

The Gospels, when recounting the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, tell us that, as He came up out of the waters of the Jordan River, He saw the heavens opened unto Him, and the Spirit of God descending in the form of a dove. This is a familiar image for us, who have heard this story many times, and who have an idea of where it fits in the larger story of the life and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, from the time of His birth to the time of His Passion, crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension.

But wait, the Fathers tell us: there’s more! As the heavens did for our Lord at His baptism, so, too, do are the heavens opened to us when we are baptized. This is true, they say, even if we don’t see it at the time. In a way, this makes perfect sense. Remember that we lost access to the intimate Presence of God that was ours in the Garden of Eden through the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. We all carry the stain of disobedience, from which we need to be cleansed; but which we, by ourselves, are unable to remove. Christ, Who alone among human beings, did not need to be cleansed, by His baptism makes all mankind clean. As we, then, are baptized into His death and resurrection, we are made clean once more; and, being raised to new life in Him – His life, which death has no hold upon, now living in us – the way to heaven, to the intimate Presence of God, is no longer closed to us, but open once more.

The heavens, the Fathers tell us, are opened to us, in order that we might ascend thereto; and not by ourselves, alone, but leading others there, as well. This should change who we understand ourselves to be; this should change the way we live. If we lived in a heavenly manner, how different we would be! We would have a different way to value, and use, the things of this world, and the time given to us. As we celebrate the baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the revelation that He is the Son of God by the Father and the Holy Spirit – thereby making known to us the Holy Trinity as well – we should reflect upon the transformation of our being, and ask ourselves: Am I living any differently? Am I living in such a way that others will be lead to heaven by traveling the way that I am going?

When we live in a way that is no different from the ways of those who do not understand that the way to heaven has been opened for us, those among the unbelievers (and maybe even some of those whose faith is weak) disbelieve the things we say about our beliefs, since what we do demonstrates that we do not believe what we say we believe. Actions speak louder than words… When they see us building fine houses, driving expensive automobiles, wearing fancy clothing, eating rich foods, why should they believe us when we say that we are preparing for another sort of residence away from this (earthly) realm? We give our toil, and tears, and troubles for the sake of possessions here that will not endure, and give little or nothing to purchase a place of glory in heaven. We should be teaching the heathen to despise all material things; but instead, we are consumed by our possessions, and by the lust for more. We are supposed to be salt and light for the world; but when we live in darkness, we lead others there, as well, rather than into the light. We endanger ourselves and our souls – and we endanger others as well. If we lead them into condemnation, it will be our fault; and it will be held against us.

If, on the other hand, we discipline ourselves by alms-giving, and by fasting, to become indifferent to material possessions, and devote ourselves to the pursuit of holiness by prayer and fasting and the struggle to replace our passions with the virtues, we encourage the faithful to do likewise, and we show a different way to live to those who do not yet believe, or understand. If we have love for one another, and show this forth in mercy and kindness and patience and forgiveness, we show a glimpse of the life of heaven; and those who are seeking another way will be drawn by our example to follow us, and so come closer to the Lord our God.

Brothers and sisters: Our Lord has opened the way to heaven for us. Let us follow that way, the way of the Orthodox life and faith. Let us follow Him, our Savior and Lord, and encourage, in word and deed, others to do the same: to the glory of His name, and to the salvation of our souls.

Mankind Embodied in Divinity

(Mark 1:1-8) (Sunday before Theophany)

“He became like us, in order that we might become like Him.”

St. Athanasios sums up the great mystery of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ in this teaching. In the Nativity, which we’ve just recently celebrated, God becomes man – He becomes like us. In the Theophany, which we’re about to celebrate, the second part of the teaching comes into play, as the man, Jesus, is shown to be the Son of God. The baptism of our Lord, and the miraculous events of the Theophany that take place at that time, mark the beginning of His activities to teach and preach, declaring the coming of the Kingdom of God. The revelation of the man, Jesus, as the divine Son of God, culminates at the time of His Transfiguration. We need to understand this. At the Nativity, the divine is embodied in humanity. With the Theophany, we see that mankind is embodied in divinity. “He became like us, in order that we might become like Him.”

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” We are made in the image of God; and after His likeness. The Fathers tell us that to be made in the image of God means that there is a resemblance to God in each of us; and, to be made “after the likeness” of God is to have the potential to be like God. Some theologians have speculated that our life in the Garden of Eden, where we – in Adam and Eve – dwelt in close proximity to God, was to be one whereby this capacity to be like God would be developed and fulfilled. We know that each of us has been profoundly influenced by our parents; that we are so like them in so many ways, whether we know it or not. Indeed, many times, we must become aware of this connection if we are to be transformed, and not to repeat the errors we have learned from them; otherwise, in our ignorance, we will have no choice but to continue in the ways we have learned. As we learn from our parents, so, too, might we have learned from being close to God in the Garden; but, alas, we failed in the very first test, when we disobeyed the commandment of God regarding the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And what was the temptation? The serpent said to Eve, “God knows that, when you eat of the fruit, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods…” We tried to take the shortcut; and got thrown out of the Garden, out of the intimate presence of God, as a result.

But what we lost in the Fall, we got back, if you’ll forgive the pun, in the spring: that is, when our Lord was baptized in the Jordan River. The God-man Jesus took our human nature into the waters and was baptized to fulfill all righteousness, regenerating our nature, and restoring the dignity we had lost. We were dead in sins because of our disobedience there; but by His baptism, we are restored to life. And so it is for us in our baptism as well; we are buried in baptism with Christ, and are raised to a new life in Him: not the old life of the flesh, but His life; and we are empowered with the Holy Spirit to bring the potential established in us by this baptism of burial and resurrection into reality in ourselves. To this end, we live the Orthodox life of prayer and fasting and giving and struggling for the virtues; to this end, we partake of the Mysteries of the Church, and especially of His most precious and holy Body and Blood – that we might truly embody Him, and be His presence here and now; and be in His presence in the age to come.

Brothers and sisters: We must not be ignorant of these things. We must recognize that we have been changed from who we were into His likeness. We must labor, therefore, to accomplish what has been started in us by the grace and mercy and love of God. We must also recognize what has been transformed in others, in every other person in the world we may meet. Do you recognize the divinity in them? Do you act towards them as you would act towards God? When we grasp this truth, that each and every person is made in the image and after the likeness of God, it should change how we interact with them. Would you steal from God? Would you speak insultingly to God? Would you seek to make God take a lower place than yourself? I know it’s not easy to see the person who just cut you off in traffic as God. I know it’s not easy to see the person who just insulted you, or ignored you, or ripped you off, as God. I know it’s not easy to see the guy on the street corner with the cardboard sign, or the drunk staggering along as God, or the prostitute, or the politician, or the thief; and yet each of them are no different, by nature, than each of us. If we can teach ourselves to consider everyone else as being better, more worthy, than we are ourselves; if we can learn to see clearly the magnitude of our sins, and be blind to the sins of everyone else – at least, insofar as allowing ourselves to think we are better than they are because of their sins – we can be transformed, our lives will be changed; and so, too, might the lives of others as well.

“He became like us, in order that we might become like Him.” Let us set our will to live like Him, to the glory of God, and the salvation of souls.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Righteous Joseph

(Matthew 2:13-23) (32nd Sunday after Pentecost; Sunday after Nativity)

Let us consider the righteous Joseph.

It’s an interesting, and in some ways an anomalous, situation. He is betrothed – sort of married, but not actually married – to Mary, the Lady Theotokos, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. As such, in “normal” or “ordinary” circumstances, Joseph would be the father of her child; certainly, on one level, we can say that the righteous Joseph is the “stepfather” of our Lord.

I feel a bit qualified to say something about that role in family life. Just as giving birth is not the epitome, but only the start, of motherhood, so, too, is paternity only the start of being a father. Being a father, as it is for being a mother, means being there, loving, guiding, teaching by word and by example, and, when there is need, disciplining. A father provides for his family in many ways; usually, as the one who provides the means to obtain the things needed for life – food, clothing, shelter, and so on. It’s the father who gets up to check things out when something goes “bump” in the middle of the night; and who deals with the difficult or dangerous situations that arise. Sons need fathers to show them how to be men; and daughters need fathers to show them a father’s love and guidance, and patience, and strength – and how powerful an influence is a father’s faithfulness, especially in worshipping and serving God. All of us who are fathers have a most important responsibility: our children, and even our wives, are able to see and relate to God as our heavenly Father to the extent that we recognize that we stand in His place, and show Him forth to those around us. That’s why we’re the “head of the household” – and that’s how we’re supposed to be: over the household as God is head over all: loving, patient, forgiving, and merciful; protecting and providing for those in His care.

The righteous Joseph did these things for his family: loving Mary, and the Child she bore, and laboring to provide for their earthly needs. We know he was devout and faithful; that led the elders to select him to protect and provide for Mary to begin with. We know that he was gentle and forgiving; when he suspected that Mary had conceived a child outside of their union, he might have accused her publicly, and brought her to be stoned to death. But he resolved instead to act mercifully, charitably; and, when the angel appeared to him with the instruction not to put her away, but to take her to be his wife, he was faithful once more in following the leadership of God.

And so it is as danger approaches, as Herod, determined to keep his throne against this “usurper” who has been born, gives the order for the male children of Bethlehem to be executed. The angel comes to Joseph, and tells him to take the Child and His mother into Egypt. He obeys, once more acting as the protector and guardian appointed by God for His Son and the woman who gave Him birth. There, he provides fro them until it is safe to return. I think we can say without fear of error that the character of our Lord in His humanity benefited greatly from the example He received by the life and witness of the righteous Joseph.

Each of us can learn from him, as well. In a way, when we continue in our sins, we who are made in the image and after the likeness of God, and have received His life in Holy Baptism, we become like Herod, seeking to destroy the One Who is to rule over us, so that we can continue to indulge ourselves without being thrust off the throne of our control of our lives. As the righteous Joseph acted to protect our Lord and His mother by fleeing with them to Egypt, we, too, should protect the faith implanted in us by repenting of our sins, and confessing them. As he took the Child and His mother to Egypt, we, too, should take our Lord Jesus once more into our hearts, and the Lady Theotokos with Him, never separating the Child from His mother – and dwell in peace with them there, laboring to provide what is needed for Him to grow stronger within us. As the righteous Joseph returned with our Lord and His mother to his native land when the angel declared it was safe to do so, we also should do what we can to make Christ present, in and through our lives, to the world around us.

Brothers and sisters: Through the prayers of the righteous Joseph, of his son, James, the brother of our Lord, and of the holy prophet King David, the ancestor of Christ, may He Who, for our sake was born in a cave and lay in a manger for our salvation be also born and live in our hearts; to the glory of His name, and the salvation of our souls.

Christ is born!

Friday, January 07, 2005

Journeying with the Magi

(Matthew 2:1-12) (The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ)
According to the Fathers, the Magi came from Persia, which today is the country of Iran. We don’t know, exactly, where they came from; but the distance from Tehran to Jerusalem is about 1,000 miles. Now, even today, that’s not a trip most people would take lightly. That’s a trip of 10 to 12 hours (or more) by car; and even flying, that’s a trip that will take several hours. Made on a camel, well, if you cover 20 miles a day, it’s a trip of 50 days! According to one source, a fast camel, ridden all-out, can go 70 m.p.h.; but that still leaves a journey of between 14 and 15 days.

The point here isn’t to recommend you go by camel the next time you make a long trip! It is something for us to think about: The Magi made a long and tiring journey to a strange land to worship a new-born king they did not know. They left behind what was familiar to them, and the people and patterns that supported them in their everyday lives in order to bring themselves, and the gifts they carried, to honor and worship our Lord Jesus Christ at the time of His birth.

Some of you can appreciate the “traveling” aspect of this. As I recall, it’s about 85 miles or so, round trip, between where some of you live, in Surprise, and the church. It’s about 110 miles or so, one way, from Tucson; and a bit more, one way, from Chino Valley. Hey, if you think the trip is bad now, consider having to make it on camel-back! (Of course, you should come south on either 16th or 24th streets from Camelback…)

But even those of us who live (relatively) nearby, in terms of physical mileage, as well as those who live far away, are called, spiritually, to join the Magi in their journey. Each one of us is called to leave behind the familiar world around us, and to make a journey to a “land” that, by the standards of our world, of our culture, is “strange.” We are called by God to make a journey to come to His kingdom – to come to the Church, the “port of entry” to the kingdom, where we are meant to leave the world and its ways behind. We are meant to come to worship Him, our Lord and King, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The journey, in all probability, has been, and will continue to be, a long and difficult one. There will be days and times when the circumstances seem to conspire to try to force us to turn back, or to slow us down, to block the way. There will be days when we are sick, or weak, and will not be able to travel; or, at least, will not want to travel. There will even be times when we turn aside from the path, and lose ourselves in our sins and passions. But let us press on, and come to Him Who has come to us, to save our souls, and to make us one with Him. Let us come to Bethlehem in Judea to honor Him, and to be with Him. By the way, Bethlehem means, “House of Bread”; and Judea means, “confession.” This, the Fathers tell us, is how we come: We come to the House where the Bread – His Body – is offered; we come to receive Him into ourselves through the Mystery of His Most holy Body and precious Blood; and the pathway is by repentance, and confession of our sins. In His House, the Church, we are forgiven, and healed, and strengthened, and blessed – and He makes it possible for us to continue the journey.

Brothers and sisters: Let us come to Bethlehem; let us adore Him Who is born this day. Let us honor and obey Him as our Lord and King; and make the journey on which He leads us, to leave this world behind, and travel with Him to His kingdom. It is the way of prayer and fasting and giving and struggle; it is the way of tears; it is the way of faith. Let us receive Him Who is the Bread of Life, and then bear Him in ourselves into the world, that they also might know Him, and follow Him, through us, as we travel the way of faith; to the glory of God, and the salvation of our souls.

Christ is born!

"She Pondered Them in Her Heart"

(Luke 2:1-20) (Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ)
From St. Luke, we hear the wondrous story of the humble birth of our Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ: the circumstances of worldly affairs that caused prophecies to be fulfilled; how there was no room for His mother and father at the inn, and so He was born in a stable, and laid in a manger. We hear of the angelic hosts singing of Him, and proclaiming the good news of His birth to shepherds; and of these shepherds drawn to find Him, praising God when they behold Him. And we hear how His mother, the most-blessed Lady Theotokos and Ever-virgin, Mary, “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

She undoubtedly remembered that the angel had told her she would conceive, and bear a son; and now she had done just that, as it had been foretold to her. She heard of the heavenly hosts gathered to praise this Child she had borne, now resting in a manger; heard this from the shepherds who had come to see for themselves. She undoubtedly remembered the incredible words she had heard from the angel of the Annunciation: that the Child she had borne is the Son of God.

We, too, should ponder on these things, even as we prepare to sing His praises with the angels, and to celebrate His birth. We should remind ourselves that what the archangel Gabriel promised has come to pass. We should consider that it is our Lord Jesus Christ Who brings peace to us on earth – peace between us and God; and the potential for peace between each of us all. We should also consider that He is the good will of God for us; that God provides for our every need, because He Who has made us, loves each and every one of us, so much so that the Son of God took on our human nature, becoming one with us, identifying Himself fully and completely with us, to be the author of our salvation, and to restore us to communion with God, lost so long ago in the Garden of Eden. This is good news, and should bring us joy.

Pondering on these things should change who we are; and this change becomes known by a difference in what we do: praying and fasting; giving to meet the needs of others that flows from the love of God in us; and pursuing virtue instead of our passions. As did Mary, the Lady Theotokos, we, too, should consider all that we have seen and heard; and store all these things in our hearts, with the fervent prayer that our hearts and minds might thereby be changed; and our souls saved – to the glory of Him Whose birth we celebrate with joy.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Return of the King

The time to celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ, is almost here; the time of preparing is almost at an end. Later this week, God willing, we will celebrate the joyous event of our Lord’s Incarnation, making Himself one with us, that we might also become one with Him.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it easier, in some ways, to avoid getting caught up in what our culture calls the “Christmas spirit” because December 25th in the Church comes thirteen days after the world celebrates that date. Even so, we need to be careful not to lose sight of an important fact: as we hear the hymns of the Church celebrating His coming, this infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and placed in a manger, we need to remember not only His coming then, but that He will also come again – and the form of His coming will not be the same.

The world was – or, at least, the faithful were – awaiting His coming; yet who, apart from His parents, and some shepherds, and the magi, recognized Him when He came? The woman at the well said to Him, “We know that when Messiah comes…” The Jews knew that God would one day send them a Deliverer, a Messiah, of the lineage of David the King; but only a relative handful recognized Him for who He was at that time. We know He will come again – we say this at every Divine Liturgy, in the Creed, the “Symbol of Faith” – He will come again, in glory, to judge both the living and the dead. Will we recognize Him when He comes again? Will we acknowledge Him to be our King and our God?

We should be looking for Him, you know – we should be getting ready. Yes, the time of preparation for the feast is drawing to a close; but that doesn’t mean that we are ready to meet Him when He comes again. How else are we to make sense of what has happened in the past week on the other side of the world, where an earthquake triggered a tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean, killing over 123,000 people, some of them almost 3,800 miles away, in Somalia, on the east coast of Africa? The news reports sometimes refer to it as “a disaster of Biblical proportions” – acknowledging that there are powers at work in the world that are beyond our ability to comprehend, much less control. Some ask: Was this the wrath of God? Was this a punishment? We must certainly say that, if nothing else, this must be taken as a warning. There will be wars, and rumors of wars; nations rising against nations, and kingdoms against kingdoms; famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in diverse places. Are we living as if the great and terrible Day of Judgment could take place at any time? Are we ready for His coming again?

The first time our Lord, came, there was no room for Him at the inn; and He entered this world in a cave, where animals were stabled. When He comes to each of us now, reaching out with love, we must ask ourselves: is there room for Him in our hearts? And even if there is room, what is the condition of our heart? Have we labored to clean it and to air it out, so that it is bright and fresh and a pleasant place to dwell? Or have we allowed our hearts to be stables, or worse than stables, filthy, unclean, and no fit place for our Lord and King to enter, much less dwell?

Brothers and sisters: We rightly look forward with joyful anticipation to the time when we celebrate our dear Savior’s birth. We rightly fast, and pray, in preparation for the celebration of the feast. But let us not drop our guard, or be less vigilant in addressing our sins and passions, even as the feast is now at hand. In the midst of the feast, let us always recall that He will one day come again – and that day may be closer than we can even imagine. And so we must ask: are we prepared for when He comes again?