Sunday Before Nativity

Sermon Sunday before Nativity

CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST !!! 

O land of Zabulon, land of Nephtali, and the sea-coast, and beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. O People walking in darkness, see a great light; ye that dwell in the region and shadow of death, a light shall shine upon you. . . . For unto us a child is born, and a son is given, whose government is upon His shoulder and His Name is called: Angel of a great Counsel, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, King, Prince of Peace, Father of the age to come. 

   Today we hear of a rather lengthy genealogy. What is the point of this? other than to torture the deacon or priest who must read it?

   The point is that Jesus Christ, the Word, became flesh — real flesh with real ancestors — sharing in our humanity, putting on ALL of it. For there are some stellar names here: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David. There are also some less than stellar names: Rahab was a harlot. Ruth was a gentile outsider. We are reminded that David committed adultery with Bathsheba. We are reminded of a slew of bad kings and a few good ones. Yet He is before all generation as Isaiah told us: “who shall declare His generation?”

   Another reason for this genealogy is to put in relief the promise of God to Abraham, that in his offspring all the nations would be blessed. . . . his offspring, not his offspringS. Abraham was promised that one would arise from his lineage. 

   It is worth noting that in Luke’s genealogy that there appears some figures that were of the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe. Yet even Luke’s genealogy, which goes all the way back to Adam, is mostly of the tribe of Judah, the Royal line. Thus Christ is both our King and our High Priest. 

   But this genealogy starts with Abraham . . . Abraham who is called from his citizenship with his city to have his citizenship solely in God. . . Abraham who is given the promise of a son in whom all nations would be blessed . . . but Abraham had to wait. . .  and Isaac was born of Sarah when she had almost past the age of childbearing . . . so the world must wait until the Son of God is born of a young Virgin who has only recently entered the age of childbearing. Isaac is born as the son of promise. And so Jesus is born as THE PROMISE. 

   Yet He comes from prostitutes and adulterers: He took upon Himself our broken nature: ALL OF IT — that He might heal our brokenness. As Isaiah said: He bears our sins and is pained for us. . . He was wounded on account of our sins, and bruised because of our iniquities. And by His bruises we are healed. 

   And so we have 14 generations times 3. That’s 42 for all you Sci-Fi nerds and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans. 

   Just as Jesus would put the care of His mother with His disciple John, so now God puts her care with Joseph. And the language is different from her cousin Elizabeth’s experience. In Elizabeth and Zachariah’s case it is “she shall bear you a son”. In Mary’s case it is “she shall bring forth a Son”. And the Son she brought forth was not just to Mary and Joseph, but to the whole world. 

   And “He will save His people from their sins.” There had been other messiahs before, that had saved the people from this or that enemy: the barbarians, the Greeks, the Babylonians. But Jesus will save His people from their sins. This is a new type of Messiah above any other messiah. He is not A messiah; He is THE MESSIAH. 

   Mary has been chosen to bring forth God in the flesh. He takes His flesh from her. He Whom the universe cannot contain, is contained in the womb of the Virgin. This is the coming paradox that we will celebrate shortly. The paradox of God, Who IS beyond all time and culture and space, enters into time and enters a culture and inhabits a space. This is best expressed by our hymns which we will hear next week: 

Today He Who holds the whole creation in His hands is born of a virgin. He whose essence none can touch is bound in swaddling-clothes as a mortal man. God, Who in the beginning fashioned the heavens, lies in a manger. He Who rained manna on His people in the wilderness is fed on milk from His mother’s breast.

O inexpressible mystery 

and unheard-of paradox; 

the Invisible is seen;

the Intangible is touched;

the Eternal Word becomes

accessible to our speech;

the Timeless steps into time;

the Son of God becomes

the Son of Man.

Today, He holds creation in the hollow of His Hand is born of a Virgin. He Who in His being cannot be handled, as a mortal is wrapped in swaddling rags. God, Who of old established the heavens in the beginning lies in a manger. He Who rained Manna on the People in the desert is nourished with milk from the breast. The Bridegroom of the Church summons Magi. The son of the Virgin accepts their gifts. We worship Thy birth, O Christ. Show us also Thy divine Epiphany. — Christmas Royal Hours, 9th hour

   And it is no accident that this last hymn echos the last half of Holy Week. The irmos that is used on Holy Saturday Matins, and again at Nocturnes, right before the Paschal Matins:

Do not Lament me, O Mother, seeing Me in the tomb, the Son conceived in the womb without seed, for I shall arise and be glorified with eternal glory as God. I shall exalt all who magnify thee in faith and in love.

   If we did complines for the Eve of Christmas Eve we would hear: “Be not amazed, O Mother, beholding Me now as a babe, Whom the Father begat from the womb before the morning star. For I have come openly to restore and glorify with Myself the fallen nature of mortal man, that magnifies thee in faith and love.”

The feasts of Nativity and Pascha are clearly connected. 

   We must prepare our hearts to receive Him Who comes to be born of the Virgin for our salvation, as a little child. How do we prepare? We prepare by fasting (as you are able), by prayer, by alms — by making peace with our brothers and sisters as much as we are able . . . (for we receive the King of Peace) — by softening our hard hearts by coming to confession and communion — by uniting ourselves to our neighbors and (as St. Dorotheos of Gaza said) thereby uniting ourselves to God — by humbly approaching God, Who has become Man for our sakes. 

Beatitudes

Beatitudes

   The Beatitudes are a ladder of spiritual progression; they can be used to measure where we are in our spiritual life. Augustine calls it “the perfect pattern for the Christian life”. It is a sequence of progression on our way.

   Jesus calls “blessed” the conditions of life that we consider to be wretched. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: Blessed are the humble. For most of us this is a life-long struggle. If we acquire other virtues, we still must work on humility till our last breath. We must be conscious of both our sin and our need for God. Humility is the chief of virtues; without it none of the other virtues matter. We must love both God and our neighbour. It means, also, that we must not be encumbered by wealth. We must not let our stuff begin to own us.  

Blessed are they who mourn: Those who mourn for their own sin; those who morn for the sins of others, not in a judgemental way, but in a loving compassionate way. It is to see abuse and mourn the affect of it both on the abused and on the abuser. Those of us who grieve can see the pointlessness of what the world considers to be worthwhile. “Bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of  Christ.”

Most of us, myself included, are still working on these first two. 

Blessed are the meek: Those who are patient, those who do not think that they are better than others, those who are able to be taught by the simplest. The meek would rather bear an offense than to commit one. In the Epistle to the Galatians we read of patience , kindness, gentleness, self control are all aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit that meekness summarizes. 

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: Those who seek justice for not only themselves, but for others — especially for others: for often when I seek justice for myself, my ego is what is driving it. 

The Righteousness of God’s will — not my will. Here we must remember that Righteousness has to do with our covenant relationship with God. In our case the covenant is sealed by Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist; for He is our bread and He is our drink. Rather than hunger and thirst for the things the way our world wants us to do, we must hunger and thirst for communion with God. 

Blessed are the merciful: Those who love and work to know how to forgive others. Blessed are the Compassionate. We are all beggars before God. We must be compassionate to the beggar before us, for we too are a beggar before God. We visit this in the Our Father, where we ask for God’s forgiveness of our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Jesus will, in another place extend this compassion to our enemies. The Fruit of the Spirit is kindness

Blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God: Here Jesus sets forth for us the natural progression of Theosis. We work with God to purify and cleanse our hearts, to end our double mindedness. When we are cleansed we are illumined and can see the uncreated light. Then we proceed to unity with God. Unless the eyes of our heart are clean, the light they would see will be painful. Love is one of the ways we cleanse our heart; Love as St. Paul describes it in 1st Corinthians 13. “Now we see in a mirror darkly but then Face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know, even also as I am known.”

Blessed are the peacemakers: This is a natural progression from having cleansed our hearts. First we make peace within ourselves, then with ourselves and others, and then between others. Through this we become sons of God. First we must make peace with ourselves; then we must make peace with others. Much of the peacemaking with ourselves happens through the cleansing of our heart. Again this points us to our relationship with Christ; for as St. Paul observes: “He Himself is our peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. This peace is one of the aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit. “For if we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.”

Blessed are they that are persecuted for Righteousness sake: When our lives have shown forth the previous virtues we will shine a light on those who do not want a light to be shown. We have many outstanding examples of such persecution from heathens: The royal passion bearers, St. Elizabeth of Moscow, and St. Tikhon Patriarch of Moscow, a confessor for the faith. The first three centuries of the Church has thousands of martyrs who were killed by heathens; in the last century millions of martyrs who were killed by the godless. 

But this will not only come from outside the Church, but as some of us here have experienced, it may well come from within. John Chrysostom and Kyril of Alexandria are both saints of the Church, yet Kyril persecuted John through envy. If we look at the prophets of old, they were not killed by heathens; they were killed by their own people. So also some of those who have been charged with watching over us have done evil to us.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My Name’s sake: Jesus tells us we will be slandered, and we have been slandered; Jesus tells us to expect witch-hunts; and there have been witch-hunts. Brothers and sisters, I say this not to incite anger in you, or fear, for the very next thing Jesus says is:

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven: Rejoice! for God’s Kingdom rules over all. Rejoice! for the reproaches here on earth are as nothing compared to the Kingdom of God. Rejoice! for our glory comes from glorifying the King of the Universe. Rejoice! for He comes to us in our poverty! Rejoice! for He is the consolation of our mourning. Rejoice! for He comes to us in meekness! Rejoice! for He is the fulfillment of Righteousness! Rejoice! for He is our mercy! Rejoice! for He is cleansing us and saving us! Rejoice! for He is our peace!

Beatitudes

Beatitudes

   The Beatitudes are a ladder of spiritual progression; they can be used to measure where we are in our spiritual life. Augustine calls it “the perfect pattern for the Christian life”. It is a sequence of progression on our way.

   Jesus calls “blessed” the conditions of life that we consider to be wretched. 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: Blessed are the humble. For most of us this is a life-long struggle. If we acquire other virtues, we still must work on humility till our last breath. We must be conscious of both our sin and our need for God. Humility is the chief of virtues; without it none of the other virtues matter. We must love both God and our neighbour. It means, also, that we must not be encumbered by wealth. We must not let our stuff begin to own us.  

Blessed are they who mourn: Those who mourn for their own sin; those who morn for the sins of others, not in a judgemental way, but in a loving compassionate way. It is to see abuse and mourn the affect of it both on the abused and on the abuser. Those of us who grieve can see the pointlessness of what the world considers to be worthwhile. “Bear one another’s burden and so fulfill the law of  Christ.”

Most of us, myself included, are still working on these first two. 

Blessed are the meek: Those who are patient, those who do not think that they are better than others, those who are able to be taught by the simplest. The meek would rather bear an offense than to commit one. In the Epistle to the Galatians we read of patience , kindness, gentleness, self control are all aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit that meekness summarizes. 

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: Those who seek justice for not only themselves, but for others — especially for others: for often when I seek justice for myself, my ego is what is driving it. 

The Righteousness of God’s will — not my will. Here we must remember that Righteousness has to do with our covenant relationship with God. In our case the covenant is sealed by Baptism, Chrismation, and the Eucharist; for He is our bread and He is our drink. Rather than hunger and thirst for the things the way our world wants us to do, we must hunger and thirst for communion with God. 

Blessed are the merciful: Those who love and work to know how to forgive others. Blessed are the Compassionate. We are all beggars before God. We must be compassionate to the beggar before us, for we too are a beggar before God. We visit this in the Our Father, where we ask for God’s forgiveness of our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Jesus will, in another place extend this compassion to our enemies. The Fruit of the Spirit is kindness

Blessed are the clean in heart, for they shall see God: Here Jesus sets forth for us the natural progression of Theosis. We work with God to purify and cleanse our hearts, to end our double mindedness. When we are cleansed we are illumined and can see the uncreated light. Then we proceed to unity with God. Unless the eyes of our heart are clean, the light they would see will be painful. Love is one of the ways we cleanse our heart; Love as St. Paul describes it in 1st Corinthians 13. “Now we see in a mirror darkly but then Face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know, even also as I am known.”

Blessed are the peacemakers: This is a natural progression from having cleansed our hearts. First we make peace within ourselves, then with ourselves and others, and then between others. Through this we become sons of God. First we must make peace with ourselves; then we must make peace with others. Much of the peacemaking with ourselves happens through the cleansing of our heart. Again this points us to our relationship with Christ; for as St. Paul observes: “He Himself is our peace, Who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us. This peace is one of the aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit. “For if we live by the Spirit let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another.”

Blessed are they that are persecuted for Righteousness sake: When our lives have shown forth the previous virtues we will shine a light on those who do not want a light to be shown. We have many outstanding examples of such persecution from heathens: The royal passion bearers, St. Elizabeth of Moscow, and St. Tikhon Patriarch of Moscow, a confessor for the faith. The first three centuries of the Church has thousands of martyrs who were killed by heathens; in the last century millions of martyrs who were killed by the godless. 

But this will not only come from outside the Church, but as some of us here have experienced, it may well come from within. John Chrysostom and Kyril of Alexandria are both saints of the Church, yet Kyril persecuted John through envy. If we look at the prophets of old, they were not killed by heathens; they were killed by their own people. So also some of those who have been charged with watching over us have done evil to us.

Blessed are you when men shall revile you and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for My Name’s sake: Jesus tells us we will be slandered, and we have been slandered; Jesus tells us to expect witch-hunts; and there have been witch-hunts. Brothers and sisters, I say this not to incite anger in you, or fear, for the very next thing Jesus says is:

Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven: Rejoice! for God’s Kingdom rules over all. Rejoice! for the reproaches here on earth are as nothing compared to the Kingdom of God. Rejoice! for our glory comes from glorifying the King of the Universe. Rejoice! for He comes to us in our poverty! Rejoice! for He is the consolation of our mourning. Rejoice! for He comes to us in meekness! Rejoice! for He is the fulfillment of Righteousness! Rejoice! for He is our mercy! Rejoice! for He is cleansing us and saving us! Rejoice! for He is our peace!

Forgiveness

Most people, when they say to others “forgive”, they mean stop processing the pain, because your pain makes them uncomfortable. The only way of healing is through the pain — and it is only through the pain that true forgiveness can happen. 

Forgiveness is a process. . . it lives after the processing of grief and of facing abandonment. 

True forgiveness is a process that takes us deep into ourselves and our own pain. It is not the same as excusing the abuser. It cannot be forced; it cannot be accomplished by saying mere words. It cannot be rushed, for if it is rushed it is false. 

Forgiveness is a journey. . . . a journey into a wound that someone has made in us. . . . only to discover that the wound is deeper than this person who wounded us, and that there are a lot of other people in this wound, and one of those includes myself.

Until we forgive the darkness in ourselves, we do not know what forgiveness is.

Herod Destroys Himself and Others

Sermon Sunday after Nativity

CHRIST IS BORN!!

   Today we celebrate the leave-taking of Nativity. It is also the Sunday after Nativity, so we celebrate the kinsmen of the Lord: Joseph the betrothed, David the King, James the brother of the Lord. 

   James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. When the council of Jerusalem is called, it is James who presides over it. It is likely that James was the son of Joseph from an earlier marriage. The words of that time were not so concerned with describing the precise relationship. Cousins, siblings, half siblings were covered under the same word. The icon of the escape to Egypt often will depict James prodding the donkey on while Joseph attends to Mary. 

   Wisemen from Babylon have just left; and Joseph takes Mary and Jesus into Egypt. This is to indicate the what Christ will accomplish is for all mankind. Christ and the Holy Family leave a dangerous place to trek the desert to go into another country for safety. Just as Abraham did before Him, He leaves the city of His birth. Just as Israel (Jacob) did before Him, He goes to Egypt for safety. He becomes a fugitive. 

   And the reason for their escape into Egypt was that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. 

Herod was not a very stable person; some might call him mad. When he was troubled (which was often) Herod’s court had to find ways of dealing with him. He sees a threat to his position, and he reacts in fear. In his fear he has many young children killed, including two of his own sons. In his fear, he destroys all that he should have loved, including himself. 

   And his actions wound others — . . . . deeply. . . . with the deepest of wounds. . . . mothers watched their little sons being murdered before their eyes. Ramah was the seat of the judge Deborah; Ramah was the home of Samuel the priest, the last of the judges and the first of the prophets. Ramah was the seat of the tribe of Benjamin, whose mother was Rachel. There was a memorial to Rachel near Bethlehem. The Gospel quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping and wailing; Rachel would not cease weeping for her children —  because they are no more.”

   The proto martyrs of proto martyrs. . . . all because of the ego, and fear of a madman who was their ruler. . . . .all because of his fear and obsession. 

   How can we apply this to ourselves? Herod is such an extreme case that it is easy to think that this cannot possibly apply to us. But let us not think that this is just about someone else. 

   What are some of the things we obsess about? that we have our ego bound up in, that we have let our fears make decisions for us — and don’t see how we are destroying what we love?

   The Word of God took on our flesh from the Theotokos — took on our wounds, but without wounding Himself as we often do, to the astonishment of the demons who would never think of what we freely do to ourselves. He took on our flesh so that He could heal our wounds and bring us to salvation. 

 

   The Eternal God became a little child — humbled Himself for our sake, that He might live this human life that we usually mess up, so that He could reclaim it for Himself and offer it to His Father. 

   By His death He conquered our enemy — death, . . . and made a path for us to His Kingdom. 

   By taking on our humanity, He, the Eternal invisible God the Word became visible. . . a little child. 

Nativity Sermon of St. John Chrysostom

Today we have a guest blogger — St. John Chrysostom

THE NATIVITY SERMON OF ST JOHN CHRYSOSTOM

“I behold a new and wondrous mystery!…”

My ears resound to the shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but loudly
chanting a heavenly hymn!

The angels sing!
The archangels blend their voices in harmony!
The cherubim resound their joyful praise!
The seraphim exalt His glory!

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead herein…on earth and man in heaven. He Who IS above now, for our salvation, dwells here below; and we who were lowly, are exalted by divine mercy!

Today Bethlehem resembles heaven, hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices and in place of the sun, witnessing the rising of the Sun of Righteousness!

Ask not how this is accomplished, for where God wills, the order of nature is overturned. For He willed. He had the powers. He descended. He saved. All things move in obedience to God.

Today, He Who IS, is born. And He Who IS becomes what He was not! For though He is God, He becomes man – while not relinquishing the Godhead that is His…

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the Heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him angels, nor archangels, nor thrones, nor dominions, nor powers, nor principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Yet He has not forsaken His angels, nor left them deprived of His care, nor because of His incarnation has He ceased being God. Behold, kings have come, that they might serve the leader of the hosts of heaven; women come, that they might adore Him who was born of a woman so that He might change the pains of childbirth into joy; virgins come, to the son of the virgin…infants come, that they may adore Him Who became a little child, so that out of the mouths of infants He might perfect praise; children come, to the Child Who raised up martyrs through the rage of Herod; men come, to Him who became Man that He might heal the miseries of His servants; shepherds come, to the good shepherd who has laid down His life for His sheep; priests come, to Him Who has become a high priest according to the order of  Melchizedek; servants come, to Him who took upon Himself the form of a servant, that He might bless our stewardship with the reward of freedom; fishermen come, to the Fisher of humanity; publicans come, to Him who from among them named a chosen evangelist; sinful women come, to Him who exposed His feet to the tears of the repentant woman.

And that I may embrace them all together, all sinners have come, that they may look upon the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!  Since, therefore, all rejoice, I too desire to rejoice!, I too wish to share the choral dance, to celebrate the festival! but I take my part, not plucking the harp nor with the music of the pipes, nor holding a torch, but holding in my arms the cradle of Christ!

For this is all my hope! This is my life! This is my salvation. This is my pipe, my harp!

And bearing it I come, and having from its power received the gift of speech, I too with the angels and shepherds sing:

Glory to God in the highest! and on earth peace good will to men!”

How we treat our children: an American Abomination

How we treat our Children: an American Abomination

Jeremiah 6:13 “For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.

14 They have healed also the wound of the daughter of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

15 Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush: therefore they shall fall among them that fall: at the time that I visit them they shall be cast down, saith the Lord.

16 Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.

In our country today abominations are happening daily: Abominations of abortion, abominations of forcibly removing children from their parents. Both are abominations. One group seeks to justify the first abomination; another group seeks to justify the second abomination. Some are pointing to the other abomination and insisting that it somehow justifies commiting the other abomination, as if we are ourselves children going to our parents who ask “DID YOU?” and responding with “BUT HE”.

There is no justification. Jesus offers His harshest condemnation to those who offend the children: “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.”

Both of them are abominations. We are wounding our children and ourselves; a wound that affects them, and us for life. With Jeremiah the prophet we must condemn both, for both treat the Image of God as something to be thrown away. In Jeremiah’s day, he condemned the offering of children to Ba-al Molech. Today we are offering our children to be thrown away. We must stop doing this, or we must face the judgement of God through His prophet.