Sunday, November 29, 2015

Walking "as Children of Light" in a Darkened World: What We May Learn from the Rich Young Ruler in Preparation for Christmas in the Orthodox Church

Ephesians 5:8-19
Luke 18: 18-27
            Every once in a while, it is good for something or someone to shake us up, to challenge us to see ourselves as we really are.  Just like our eyes adjust to the darkness, we tend to adjust to whatever we are used to, to whatever has become comfortable or routine.  That is why we need the lights to come on so that we will wake up and see reality.  Though it is not always pleasant, it is necessary if we want to improve in anything or to move forward with our lives.      
            The fellow in today’s gospel passage was certainly not looking for someone to shake him up, for he thought that he had fulfilled all God’s commandments since childhood.  So Jesus Christ challenged him to go well beyond what he was accustomed to.  He told the rich young man to sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him.  That made the man very sad because he loved his money.  It had probably never entered the man’s mind that he had a problem with loving his wealth too much.  He had likely never thought that his riches posed any spiritual problems for him at all.  He was not aware that he was addicted to them.  But because of this hard teaching from the Lord, his eyes were opened to the state of his soul and he did not like what he saw.
            St. Paul told the Ephesians that they too had to open their eyes to uncomfortable truths.  In contrast to the shameful ways of living commonly accepted in their pagan culture, these Christians were to walk as children of light. They were not to be as sleepy as someone who has had too much wine and rich food, but wide awake and alert so that they could respond faithfully to the many challenges that they would encounter.  That is how they would be able to respond prudently to the opportunities that they had to shine with the light of Christ in stark contrast to the darkness of the world’s corruption.
            If we want to follow St. Paul’s guidance today, then we have to hear and respond to a calling from our Lord that is as stark, demanding, and shocking as the one He gave to the rich man.  For we too easily fall into a comfortable routine that keeps us from recognizing the truth about how we stand before Him.  For example, we can all come up with a list of religious activities in which we participate with some level of regularity.  Some we know so well that we could almost do them in our sleep.  We may at times say the words of our daily prayers, read the Scriptures, or attend services while our minds are elsewhere.  We may fast, give to the Church and the needy, or prepare for Communion and Confession by simply going through the motions that have become so familiar to us over the years.  To make matters worse, we may pat ourselves on the back for our religious observances and take pride in presumably being more faithful than other people we know.  If we have dozed off spiritually, it is all too easy to fall into a fantasy about ourselves that is really nothing but an illusion in which we are nowhere near seeing the truth about ourselves in relation to God.  If that is true of us, then we will lack the power to shine with the light of Christ in contrast to our darkened world. 
The Nativity Fast provides us all with a much-needed wake-up call.   For if we are to become fitting temples to receive our Savior at His birth, we cannot simply hide in the darkness and remain as we have been.  Instead, we must enter into the light.  We must shine with the heavenly glory like the star of Bethlehem that attracted the Magi.  They were Gentiles who were drawn to the Messiah of Israel by a shining light.  We must become that light for a world that thinks of Christmas as something between an outdated cultural celebration and an opportunity to improve the economy.  We must become that light for a world that wanders in darkness, looking for every distraction possible from truly encountering the One born for its salvation.  And if we have fallen into such a routine practice of our spiritual disciplines that our lives are no different from what is normal in our culture, then we will fail to make a credible witness to the world that the birth of the Savior really matters.
Christ showed the rich young ruler that he was spiritually asleep by telling him to give up his riches.  He showed us all how spiritually dull we are by how He interpreted some of the Ten Commandments, which He mentioned in today’s gospel reading.  The Lord said that “You shall not commit adultery” prohibits not only physical unfaithfulness to one’s spouse, but also the lust that so easily leads to it.  (Matt. 5: 27ff.)  He taught that “Do not kill” prohibits not only murder, but also the anger and insults that motivate people to kill one another. (Matt. 5:21 ff.)
In a culture which is ignorant of the dangers of lust, we must not been blind to trends that would form us as people enslaved to our desires for physical pleasure.  Scandalous images that not so long ago would have been illegal, or at least highly regulated, are readily available to everyone now through the Internet.  Popular music, films, and television portray depravity of various forms in a positive light and often present chastity, abstinence, and fidelity as unrealistic or oppressive.  Many have replaced any serious discussion of morality with an uncritical endorsement of anything related to romantic feelings or desires of whatever kind.  Our society’s rates of divorce, abortion, children born outside of marriage, and sexually transmitted diseases are sad indications of where these trends have led.  It is not hard to predict that these indicators, as well as their impact on future generations, will become even worse in years to come.       
            Orthodox Christians must be wide awake to the dangers posed for a life of holiness by our culture’s blindness to the moral and spiritual significance of sex.  We certainly must not allow that blindness to take root in our hearts and lives.  Instead, we must “walk as children of light” by identifying and rejecting all that would corrupt us in the relationship between man and woman.  It will not suffice simply to remind ourselves that unmarried people should abstain from intimate relations and that married people should be faithful to their spouses.  For if we are formed by our society’s celebration of self-indulgence, we will lack the strength to resist sexual temptation.  Instead, we must keep a close watch on our hearts and minds, refusing to welcome into them anything that fuels the passion of lust.  At the same time, we must fast, for the settled habit of gratifying the desires of our stomachs weakens our ability to control other desires for bodily pleasure.   We must respond prudently to the challenges posed by our culture, which means doing all we can to grow in mindfulness and appropriate forms of self-denial.  These practices are necessary to wake us up to the dangers of the uncritical celebration of pleasure that our society promotes.     
            The same mindset, of course, encourages the anger and hatred at the root of murder, for they grow from the refusal to let anyone stand in the way of getting what we want in any area of life.  Most fundamentally, we must refuse to be formed by ways of thinking and living that lead us to worship ourselves and our desires as the highest goods.  That was the basic problem of the rich young ruler, which was why He needed Christ’s hard teaching to open his eyes to how weak he had become spiritually, especially in relation to his possessions.

In the remaining weeks before Christmas, we need to take up the disciplines of the Nativity Fast with deep personal commitment and focus if we are to gain the strength necessary to enter into the salvation that our Savior brings to the world at His birth.  Advent is the time to be wide awake and devoted to prayerful preparation to receive the Lord into our lives in new and holy ways.  Now is the time to wake up and shine with light in a world all too comfortable with darkness.  At the end of the day, that is what it means to get ready for the birth of our Messiah.    

Sunday, November 22, 2015

On Becoming a Holy Temple like the Theotokos: Homily for 25th Sunday After Pentecost and the 9th Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

Ephesians 4:1-7
Luke 12: 16-21
            It is sadly ironic that the time of year leading to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ has become for many a time of great distraction from the spiritual life.   Shopping, decorating, parties, and social gatherings of various kinds—and figuring out how to pay for them-- so easily turn our attention away from the blessed opportunity given us in the weeks of Advent.  There is nothing wrong with any of these activities, but they often take on a life of their own and take precedence over true spiritual preparation for the great feast of Christ’s birth in the flesh.  By seeking to grow in holiness through the disciplines of the Nativity Fast, we do something very strange in a culture that “is not rich toward God.”
            Of course, being distracted by worldly cares is nothing new.  That was the problem of the man in the parable from today’s gospel lesson, for he saw the meaning of his life simply in his material possessions.  When he thought that he had enough to sustain him for a long time, he decided to relax and indulge himself in pleasure:  eat, drink, and be merry.  But that night God required his soul and he lost everything, including himself.  As Christ said, “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
            The tragic terrorist attacks, wars, and humanitarian disasters that have been going on for years in the Middle East and elsewhere should remind us all that true security and salvation are not found in the wealth, power, or politics of this world.  No earthly regime is capable of ushering in a realm of perfection, and even the strongest and most developed nations and societies are not immune from struggles as old as Cain and Abel.  Wealth and power never have and never will conquer sin and death, and we must refuse to allow worldly agendas of any kind to distract us from finding the meaning and purpose of our lives in our Lord, God, and Savior  Jesus Christ, Whose Kingdom is not of this world.  To do anything else is to follow a path that leads only to despair, as the rich fool in today’s parable discovered.
            Even as we are horrified by the grave problems of the world and want all the nations to protect the innocent, uphold justice, and establish a lasting peace, we must remember that what we as Orthodox Christians have to offer the world is not an opinion or an agenda about anything, but most fundamentally our example of a holy life in union with Christ.  St. Paul urged the Ephesians “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another with love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  We must treat one another, and indeed everyone with whom we come in contact, in ways that show visibly what our Lord’s salvation means for a world in which people so easily hate, fear, and harm one another.  We must provide an example in our own lives that shines like a candle in the darkness, drawing others to a way of life worth living and dying for.  If we do not, why should anyone care what we have to say?  If we do not, can we really proclaim with integrity anything different from what is said by the rich and powerful fools of the world who ultimately worship themselves?  
            Yesterday, we began celebrating the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, which commemorates the three-year-old Virgin Mary being brought there by her parents Sts. Joachim and Anna.  She entered the Holy of Holies and grew up in the Temple in prayer and purity as she prepared to become the living temple of the Lord by accepting Christ into her life in a unique way as the Theotokos, the Mother of God.  This feast calls us to follow her blessed example by intentionally preparing to welcome the Lord into our lives at Christmas.  Because of His birth as the God-Man, as the Second Adam, we are all able to become His living temples by the power of the Holy Spirit.
            Doing so requires, however, that we follow the example of the Mother of God, who opened her entire life to Him.  Temples are places of offering and sacrifice, and who offered and sacrificed herself more to the Lord than His Mother?  Imagine her courage in freely consenting to the message from the Archangel Gabriel that God had chosen her for this unique role and ministry.  She was prepared to accept that unbelievable challenge by those years in the temple in which she laid aside distractions in order to focus on the one thing needful of hearing and obeying the word of the Lord.  The calling of this feast, as well as of the season of Advent, is for us to follow her example in turning away from all that diverts our attention from becoming ever more holy temples of God, for we want to receive Christ as fully as possible into our lives at Christmas.           
            An initial step in doing so is to ask in what ways we have refused so far to join our lives to His.  For like the rich fool, we have all viewed at least some of our blessings as ends in themselves. If we have made our money, possessions, and pleasures the measures of our life, we will begin to find healing from this sin by giving to the needy of our time, talents, and treasure.  The way to combat a settled habit of self-centeredness is to get in the habit of serving others, of taking tangible steps to reorient our lives toward our neighbors in whom we serve and encounter the Lord.  Especially in a season so corrupted by commercialism and selfishness, we should all find ways to show Christ’s mercy to others by generously sharing our attention and resources with those who truly need them.  Of course, that includes the members of our own families whom we so often neglect and take for granted.
            In order to become faithful temples of the Lord, we must also pay attention to what we allow into our hearts and minds.  Some things, of course, simply do not belong in a holy temple.  In our world of round-the-clock entertainment, news, social media, and video games, it is so easy to fill our eyes and ears with messages and images that inflame our self-centered desires and fears, and which encourage us to view ourselves and others in unholy ways.  The problem is not simply with pornography, but also with so much media designed primarily to get us to consume more of it.  These messages are ultimately intended to make money for those who sponsor them, not to make us holy.  Think and pray about what you fill your eyes and ears with on a regular basis because you can be sure that it is shaping your soul one way or another.  If it fills you with anger, lust, envy, pride, fear, or despair, hit the off button. And if it does not help you become more like the Mother of God in welcoming Christ more fully into your life, then it would be better to turn your attention elsewhere.
            Above all, we must devote ourselves to prayer during the weeks of the Nativity Fast.  Most fundamentally, that is how we welcome Him into our souls.  That means turning our attention to the Savior in humility, opening our worries, fears, weaknesses, and failures to Him. The same Lord Who was born in a barn wants to be present in our broken lives, healing and blessing us so that we will shine brightly with His holiness in a dark world.  He wants to make us His living temples, brilliant with the divine glory.  For that to happen, we must set aside time and energy each day to turn away from distractions and center our lives on Him.  That is how His strength will empower our weakened souls.       
            Now is the time to follow the Theotokos’ example of becoming a living temple of the Lord.  Most of us have decades of experience in foolishly worshiping ourselves and the things of this world.  Let us use the remaining weeks of Advent to stop following the bad example of the rich fool and instead to become more like the Mother of God.  Surely, there is no better way to prepare for the great feast of Christmas. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Christ is Our Peace": On Learning to See Enemies as Neighbors and Fellow Citizens of the Household of God

Ephesians 2:14-22
Luke 10: 25-37

         The recent terrorist attacks in France, Lebanon, and Baghdad, as well as the crash of the Russian airliner likely due to a bomb, are horrible reminders of how hatred and spiritual blindness keep many people from seeing those of different beliefs and heritage as their neighbors or even as human beings. That was certainly a common attitude in the time and place in which Jesus Christ was born for the salvation of the world.  For example, the Romans thought that they alone were civilized humanity, the human race itself, in a way that justified their occupying Palestine and oppressing the Jews (and many others) in cruel ways.  The Jews thought themselves superior to the Gentiles and especially hated the Samaritans.
            When Christ followed His first sermon in Luke’s gospel with the reminder that great Old Testament prophets at times had blessed Gentiles and not helped Jews, the crowd literally tried to kill Him.  And if that were not enough, Luke also provides us with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which concept was to the Jews a shocking contradiction in terms.  If there was any group of people whom they did not view as their neighbors, it was the Samaritans. From their perspective, there could be nothing good about any of them.  Unfortunately, such ways of thinking are all too familiar to us today.  
            In these dark times, we must remember that our Savior was born to overcome such hatred and division.  As St. Paul wrote “Christ is our peace.”  He unites Jew and Gentile—all humanity-- in Himself, for He fulfills the ancient promises to Abraham, the law of Moses, and all the teachings of the prophets, making it possible for all peoples and nations to become truly human through faith in Him as the God-Man. He destroys the pathetic competing definitions of who is worthy of being treated as a human being, as someone who bears God’s image and likeness.  He does that through the Cross by which He conquers sin and death.   These are the consequences of our estrangement from the Lord and the cause of our estrangement from one another. Our alienation from other people is a sign of our alienation from God.  Through Christ’s victory over the grave and Hades, those who had been strangers and foreigners to the spiritual heritage of Israel—and bitter enemies of one another-- are now made “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” 
            Ancestry and nationality are irrelevant in His Kingdom. When St. Paul wrote that Jew and Gentile “both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” and are “members of the household of God,” he was referring to people of all nations and cultures who have faith in Christ. Regardless of who we are by worldly standards, we join together in the Orthodox Church as the building blocks of a holy temple with Christ as the chief cornerstone and the apostles and prophets as the foundation. We are “built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” along with all the other members of the Body around the world, from generation to generation.  That is the perspective from which our worldly divisions are shown to be ultimately meaningless.  As those who have died to sin and risen to new life in Christ, we must be vigilant in refusing to define ourselves or anyone else by the petty rivalries over which our Lord has triumphed, or to harbor hatred in our own hearts even for those who commit terrible crimes.  For if we do so, we abandon the way of Christ and risk losing our own souls to the forces of darkness.  “Christ is our peace,” and His Church must be a light of reconciliation shining in the darkness of bitter hatred.  The same must be true for each of us as members of His Body.         
That is a message that many people do not like to hear because it destroys the basis of our prideful inclination to build ourselves up by putting others down, by defining our worth in contrast to other people’s worthlessness.  That is precisely what the lawyer in today’s gospel lesson was trying to do by asking “And who is my neighbor?”  He was trying to justify himself by narrowing down the list of people whom he had an obligation to treat as human beings.  That was a very self-serving question that he probably expected to be answered in a way that would encourage him to think of his own people as worthy and everyone else as unworthy.  Of course, the Savior shattered those expectations by telling a story in which righteous Jewish leaders disregarded the obvious and profound needs of one of their own nation, while a hated Samaritan cared for the man with extraordinary generosity.
Of course, this parable shows us that whoever is in need is our neighbor, no matter who the person is.  There are no boundaries to our obligation to love, even as God’s love knows no limits. If we ourselves as Gentiles and sinners have become heirs to the promises to Abraham through Christ’s mercy, who are we to say that anyone is not deserving of our care, attention, and forgiveness? The parable also shows us that true righteousness is not limited by nationality or ethnic heritage.  In this parable, it is also not limited by religion, for it is the Samaritan who loves his neighbor as himself.  He obeyed God’s law more faithfully than did the Jewish priest and Levite.  Perhaps he reminds us of those in the parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25 who are surprised to learn that they served Christ when they served those in need. 
As we begin the Nativity Fast, the 40-day period of preparation for Christmas, we want to become more like that Good Samaritan who cared so conscientiously for someone who thought of him as a hated enemy. Even as Christ was born to save the entire world, including those who tried to kill Him from infancy, we who are in Christ must become icons of His humble love that knows no bounds.  We especially must abandon all attempts to be like that lawyer in the parable who wanted to justify himself by narrowing down the definition of a neighbor. There may well be people in our families, workplaces, neighborhoods, and schools who view us as their enemies. There are others whom we probably view as our enemies, including those we do not know personally.  That should be no surprise, as Christ Himself had enemies and told us to expect to be treated as He was. And when that happens, we must follow His example. Remember that when they nailed Him to the Cross, the Lord prayed “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  The leaders of the Jews and the pagan Romans collaborated in His crucifixion, and He prayed for them all. 
Most of us have lots of room for growth in forgiving our enemies, treating everyone in need as our neighbors, and overcoming the many divisions that separate us from others.  If being faithful to Jesus Christ were a simple matter of receiving a commandment and obeying it perfectly, we would not need the spiritual disciplines of Advent to help us gain the spiritual strength to welcome Him anew into our lives at His birth.  Preparing for the Nativity requires much more than simply observing the American holiday season or even going to late-night services on December 24.  It requires deliberate, intentional steps that will open us to the strength necessary to manifest Christ’s life in our own, to be so united with Him that we shine with His holiness, love, and mercy for a broken and distorted world.  He is the healing and restoration of what it means to be a human being in the image and likeness of God.  He invites us to participate in Him as the God-Man, calling us to become like an iron left in the fire of the divine glory.     
             Let us do that by finding ways to help those we view as strangers, foreigners, and enemies in our own lives.  Let us do that by mindfully refusing to accept even our own thoughts about who is worthy of our time, attention, and service.  Let us do that by reaching out to someone this Advent who needs our friendship, support, and encouragement, as well as by struggling to cleanse our hearts of hatred toward anyone. When nourished by prayer and fasting, these acts of forgiveness and service will become blessed channels for preparing our souls as mangers for the Prince of Peace.  And then, by God’s grace, we will grow in our ability to love and forgive, and bear witness to the salvation that our Lord has brought to a world that still knows hatred and division all too well. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Getting Ready to Get Ready: Preparing for the Nativity Fast in the Orthodox Church

Hebrews 2:2-10
Luke 8:41-56
            Some good things are a long time coming.  We know that in our own lives, relationships, and accomplishments at work, school, or elsewhere.  The best things in life are worth waiting for and require our patience and preparation.  
            That is true of how salvation has come to the world through our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.  The many generations of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament prepared His way.  God’s messengers, the angels, instructed them through the Law and other announcements and actions.  His prophets called the people to faithfulness in anticipation of the Messiah, the One anointed for the fulfillment of all the promises to Abraham both for his descendants and all the people of the world who respond with faith to the Lord.
            Today we are one week away from the beginning of our time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah, for the birth of Jesus Christ.  Neither merely an angel nor a prophet, He is truly God in the flesh. The Nativity Fast, which we often call “Advent,” begins on November 15, forty days before the great feast of Christmas.  The weeks leading to the Nativity of the Savior do not have the bright sadness of Lent, as they are a joyful time of getting ready to celebrate Christ’s birth by receiving Him anew into our lives as we take our place with angels, shepherds, prophets, and generations of righteous people from all over the world who have rejoiced that the Son of God has become one of us, bringing broken and suffering human beings into the very life of God, Who made us in His image and likeness.   
            We will fast, pray, confess our sins, give to the needy, and forgive our enemies during the coming weeks so that we will have the spiritual strength to celebrate Christmas properly, which means welcoming the Savior into our lives at His birth.  Of course, anyone can make a cultural observance of Christmas.  But something as profound as the Incarnation, the joining of divinity and humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ for our salvation, requires more than putting up a tree or going to a party.  It requires that we unite ourselves personally with the One Who comes to save us, that we prepare the way of the Lord in our own souls.    That is what the Nativity Fast is all about as a season of joyful anticipation, a time of getting ready to enter more fully into the salvation of the world.
As we all know, the world in which Christ was born was not a place of perfection where all was sweetness and light.  Some sought to kill Him from His birth, and St. Joseph had to lead the infant Jesus and the Theotokos to Egypt for their physical safety.  Christ was born as a vulnerable baby in the same world of suffering and pain that we know all too well.  It is the world experienced by Jairus in his grief and by the woman with the flow of blood in her chronic illness.  It is the same world filled with war, terrorism, hatred, strained marriages, broken homes, and every sort of depravity, decay, and loss.  And in a season when our culture tells us to shop, eat, drink, be merry, and pretend that all is well, many will experience these pains even more powerfully than usual.  We will soon be in what many people find to be the most stressful and difficult time of year.  
There is, of course, no magic solution to the problems of the world or our own personal struggles.  But the weeks of Advent lead us back to today’s epistle reading:   “As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to Him.  But we see Jesus, Who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the Pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
 The Savior entered fully into the corruption and danger of our world, voluntarily suffering so that our path of struggle would not be in vain, but become a blessed entrance to eternal life.  His unimaginably profound love is manifested through the humility of His birth, life, and death—through which He conquered all the corruption and pain of our fallen humanity in His glorious resurrection.  That is how He brings us into His glory when we endure suffering faithfully and obediently.  That is how we participate in His glory as we share in His life, which requires dying to sin, taking up our crosses, and serving Him in our neighbors, especially “the least of these.”  
Who in the Church would not praise this way of living?  Talk, however, remains cheap; truly to prepare our hearts and souls to receive Him at Christmas requires much more than pious words and warm feelings.  It requires actions that grow from a courageous mind and a humble heart.  The woman with the flow of blood certainly had the courage to confess openly that she had touched the hem of Christ’s garment and found healing for her illness, which had made her unclean and isolated for many years.  She fell down before Him trembling and said out loud what she had done and revealed the deep pain and embarrassment of her life. The Lord said that her faith had made her well and then she left in peace. Courage is not the absence of fear, but doing the right thing in spite of our fears.  And sometimes the greatest courage is shown not by superheroes, but by perfectly ordinary people who simply reach out to God for mercy and healing as best they can one day at a time.
  We must be courageous in refusing to be overcome by the fears and doubts that may fill our minds this Advent.  Perhaps difficult circumstances of whatever kind seem more real to us than the new life of Christ.  Maybe we despair of ever finding health for our bodies, healing of broken relations with others, the strength to reorient our lives toward God, or hope for a world with so many problems.   When done with humility, the spiritual disciplines of the Nativity Fast help us to remain focused on our Savior, Who entered into more suffering and pain than we can possibly imagine for our salvation.  Because of Him, even our most difficult struggles may become pathways to share more fully in His victory over all evil and corruption. He was born to sanctify every aspect of human existence.  No dimension of our life in the world is a stranger to Him or His salvation.  We must have the courage not to despair because He is born truly to save and bless us in our much less than perfect world.
In addition to courage, we also need humility as we begin to prepare for Christmas.  Did you notice the humility of Jairus in today’s gospel reading?  This upstanding leader of the Jewish community humbled Himself by falling before the Lord and asking for His help in healing his daughter.  And even when all was lost and others were laughing at Christ, Jairus and his wife had humble faith and were amazed at the miracle.
The spiritual disciplines of the Nativity Fast are tools to help us grow in the humility that we need in order to be amazed at the birth of our Lord in a world that often laughs at those who view Christmas as anything other than a mere cultural celebration or a season of shopping and socializing.  Fasting from the richest and most satisfying foods is a way of humbling ourselves before God, gaining some strength in resisting self-centered desires, and freeing up resources to share with the needy in whom He is present to us.  Confessing our sins is at the heart of humble repentance, of acknowledging how we have fallen short and receiving the strength to heal from our self-inflicted wounds.  What could be more fundamental to true humility than taking the time each day to call to Him from the depths of our souls?   That is the discipline of prayer.  And there is surely no greater opportunity for humility than forgiving our enemies and asking forgiveness of those whom we have wronged.
For many of us, life will soon get very busy all the way to New Year’s and Theophany. Now, in this week before Advent begins, is the time to prepare to cultivate the courage and humility that we need to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by welcoming Him anew into our lives. Now is the time to get ready to enter more fully into His life, for He is the salvation of the world.