Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It is Time to Get Ready for Christmas: Homily for the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers in the Orthodox Church

             Today is the Sunday of the Holy Forefathers, when we commemorate all those in the Old Testament who foretold or prefigured the coming of Christ, from our first father Adam to the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary.  We remember today that the Incarnation of our Lord did not simply occur one day out of the blue, but was the fulfillment of God’s plan to bring humanity into His divine life, which took many generations to fulfill.  No one was forced, of course, to prepare for our Lord’s coming.  Today we honor those who responded in freedom to God’s calling, who accepted His invitation to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.  And in this season of the Nativity Fast, we want to be like them.  For we all face powerful temptations to pay more attention to worldly cares than to welcoming Christ into our lives.  
            Today’s gospel text reminds us of what is at stake.  When a great man invited people to a great feast, they all had better things to do.  They turned down the invitation because they had land to inspect, oxen to test, or family responsibilities.  In other words, they did not want to attend and made excuses out of their everyday obligations. So their places at the banquet were taken by the most unlikely of party guests:  the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame.  Strangers from the highways and hedges came to the celebration, but none of those who were originally invited tasted of the supper.
            The Lord often used the image of a great feast for the Kingdom of God.  This parable reminds us that many of the religious leaders of Jesus Christ’s own people refused to accept Him as the Messiah, while many disreputable people—such as tax collectors and others of low standing, including even Gentiles—did accept Him.   But we would miss the meaning of this passage if we think that it refers simply to what happened long ago to other people.  Just as they were, we too have been invited to the Heavenly Banquet, to the life of the Kingdom of God.  Unlike the people of the Old Testament, we have more than the Law and the Prophets to foreshadow the coming of Christ.  We have Him, living in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit; nourishing our souls with His Body and Blood in the Eucharist; we are members of His Body, the Church; He is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride.  He has brought us into the life of the Holy Trinity by grace.  We could not ask for more.  
            But unfortunately, we often act just like those who refused to attend the great banquet in today’s gospel lesson because we use our daily habits and concerns as excuses not to accept the great blessing and glory to which our Lord invites us.  We do so because we make false gods out of just about all the blessings God has given us.  Instead, of seeing that our work, family, health, friendships, and even our recreation and pastimes have their proper place only when we offer them to the Lord, we so often choose them instead of God.
            So we worry instead of pray; we would rather obsess about our problems and indulge our desires than serve our neighbors, forgive those who have offended us, and find healing for the damage that we have done to our own souls. Instead of making our life a Eucharist and offering of every bit of who we are to the Lord for blessing and fulfillment, we try to live on our own terms.  And when we do, we turn away from the greatest blessing of all, from participation in the eternal life of our Lord and His Kingdom.  And consequently we shut ourselves out of the great banquet and turn away from the unspeakable glory that is ours in Christ Jesus.   
            St. Paul reminded the Colossians to put their sins to death, for they are all forms of the idolatry that have brought corruption and misery into our lives. Everything from anger and slander to sexual immorality and covetousness are symptoms of the “old nature” that Christ came to heal for all humanity.  Yes, we really are all invited and enabled to turn away from those corruptions and to have our lives put in order by the Second Adam.  
            The problem, of course, is that we are good at excusing ourselves from accepting the invitation.   We tend to prefer the corruption and decay, the way of the first Adam, the old man, over that of the Second Adam, the new and true man, Jesus Christ. The problem is not with the good things of life that draw our attention, it is with us.  We make false gods of our families and friends, our possessions, our daily responsibilities, and just about everything else in life.  Pride, anger, lust, greed, and other passions tempt us mightily to believe that satisfying our desires is more important than loving and serving God and neighbor.  We do not even have to appear overly sinful in order for this to happen, as it is easy simply to define ourselves by what we like to do each day, the problems that we face, and what we think is necessary for a good life.  If we are not careful, these ways of thinking will become temptations that lead us to become like the people in the gospel lesson who really believed that they had better things to do than to share in the great joy of the Lord’s banquet.
            Christmas, of course, is a banquet, a great feast.  It is a celebration of our salvation in the God-Man Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God Who became a human being in order to unite our fallen, corrupt humanity with divinity, to bring us from mortality to immortality.  No matter how seriously we have taken the Nativity Fast so far, we all have a choice whether we will use the next ten days to prepare to enter more fully into the blessed truth and reality of this feast.  And it is clear what we need to do:  to confess our sins and repent, as we do in the Sacrament of Confession that we should all take during Advent; to be generous to the needy with our resources and attention; to fast in a way appropriate to our spiritual strength and life circumstances; to open our hearts, souls, and minds to God deliberately and regularly in prayer; and to be mindful, keeping a watch over our words, thoughts, and deeds.
            As those who practice them know, these spiritual disciplines will not make us saints overnight and none of us does them perfectly.  Fortunately, that is not really the point.  Instead, these disciplines are our way of accepting the invitation of the Lord to the banquet of His Kingdom, of putting Him first before the routines and worries of life.  They are how we fight our passions, resist our temptations, and do what we can to prepare to receive Him at Christmas.  They are what Advent is all about.
            Christmas will be here soon.  Regardless of whether your tree and lights are up or how much shopping you have left to do, the most important part of the preparation is spiritual.  Will we be ready to welcome Christ into our lives at His birth?  Will we be ready to accept the invitation to the feast?  I certainly hope so. For we stand at the end of a very long line that goes back to Adam, the first-created; that extends through Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Ruth, David, Bathsheeba; Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; that includes Joachim, Anna, and the Theotokos. 

            The good news of Christmas is that in Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of all God’s promises are extended to people like us, who are poor, blind, and lame with sin, who suffer from the pain, weakness, and corruption of life in the world as we know it, and who certainly are not yet perfect.  The good news is that, in the Babe of Bethlehem, even unlikely people like you and me are invited to take our place with the Holy Forefathers and Foremothers of Christ in the heavenly banquet and to shine with the light of heaven, with the Divine Glory.                Now is the time to stop making excuses and get ready for His coming, to get our lives in order for the feast, and to prepare to receive Him with the fear of God and faith and love.   

No comments: