|15 - Sunday of the Forefathers, Dec 14, 2008|
Enter into the spirit of this morning’s Scripture readings and you can feel the Church’s excitement mount as she prepares for the birth of her Son and our God, Jesus Christ. “When Christ your life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory,” writes St Paul.
The world stews over the economy. Wall Street is caught up in buying and selling. Young men and women live in dreams of courtship. Shoppers rush home with their presents. Kiddies fortunate to live in affluence watch their presents pile up under the Christmas tree and dream of Santa Claus bringing them lots more toys and goodies on his sleigh.
But the Church looks in another direction. Her eyes are on the heavens and she retreats into a lowly cave. The Bride and Mother of God keeps her thoughts and feelings to herself because she knows the world will not understand; indeed the world has no interest in her child so caught up is it in the riches of today that perish tomorrow. But the faithful who love the Mother of God and who love to sit at her feet and listen to her quiet lullabies, can feel her joy of rising anticipation as she prepares to deliver her first-born Son, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God With Us!
Today is the Sunday of the Forefathers. We honor the ancestors of Christ. Next Sunday, our Gospel reading will recount the genealogy of the Savior. Such boring reading this is for worldly ears; but such an ineffable glory it reveals to ears trained on the lullabies of the all-holy Theotokos.
For the Son in her womb is not of man but of God. The seed that sired him is of the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father. And yet, this Son of God who is not of the materia, not of the being of this world, conceived in the holy womb of the blessed Theotokos, has a genealogy. He has earthly ancestors, and they have names, like Joachim and Anna. This human genealogy is the gift given to him by the Blessed Virgin who consented to become his Birthgiver. She gave him our humanity. Such a gift: infected with the toxin of death and corruption; darkened by anger, hatred, lust and greed, envy, jealousy, conceit and pride – and yet it is precious to the Lord. Why? Because it was created in his image and likeness. When it is true to itself, it possesses a boundless warmth and goodness. It is capable of a friendship, a kindness and generosity and an intimacy that know no bounds. It is the Lord’s own creation, and he made it that men and women might become partakers of his own divine nature, communicants of his own life eternal, and become heirs to the godly riches of immortal life in all goodness and light.
With her eyes on this heavenly prize, the all holy Theotokos fell in love with God. With heavenly joy she turned away from the world and all the silver and gold it offers, and she danced into the temple of God. In the sanctuary of the temple, she was fed by the angels as the Israelites were fed the manna from heaven. She is the embodiment of the Old Testament, the heart and soul of the Old Testament. She is the mystery veiled in all the images of the Old Testament. It is the mystery of the human heart’s natural, inborn love for God and the immortal life of heaven God offers the world in his Torah. The Torah, of course, is the veil of Christ.
When the Theotokos was born on earth, the love for God that is the heart and soul of the Old Testament was unveiled and showed its face; the beautiful face of the Theotokos. And when she received the Seed of the Holy Spirit into her womb, and gave birth to Christ, the Torah was unveiled and showed its face; the face of Jesus Christ, the face of the glory of God the Father, the glory of grace and truth.
St John the Evangelist writes of this sacred mystery: “From his fullness we have all received, the fullness of grace upon grace. The Law was given through Moses. Grace and Truth have come to pass through Jesus Christ.” We have received the fullness of grace and truth because the Blessed Virgin Mary spurned the world. She trampled on the head of the serpent as she danced into the sanctuary of the temple, and with her face turned toward God she received his Spirit into her womb. She received his fullness and was clothed in his glory even as he clothed himself with our humanity that she offered to him. Because of her gift to him, he who transcends time became historical; he who is invisible was made visible. He partook of our poverty that he might make our fleshly clay godlike. He entered the darkness of this world fallen into forgetfulness and indifference of God, and he filled it with light, the light of divine love. In the Theotokos’ love for God and in God’s love for the Theotokos, he who is God became man. He who is Spirit became flesh and dwelt among us. And now all who receive him are granted the power to become children of God born not of flesh and blood but born of Christ and his Bride, the Church, children raised up from death to life to become like their Mother, the Theotokos, receivers of God, receivers of his fullness, the fullness of his glory that is the glory of God the Father, the glorious fullness of his grace and truth that are not of this world but of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father.
Dearly beloved faithful, it is good that you have withdrawn from the hustle and bustle of tinsel town Christmas to make your way this morning into the cave of Christ’s holy Church, that you may see and remember what happened to you in your holy baptism; and that you may come into the living presence of the Theotokos and feel in your heart her growing joy as she prepares to give birth to Christ the Savior, her Son and our God, and that you might renew your resolve to enter into her joy and make yourselves ready for Christmas by putting to death in you love for fornication, for impure desires of the flesh, lust and passion, covetousness and greed and every other love that is not completely given to God. For, beloved faithful, your life is no longer the life of this world. It is Christ Jesus. Your life is no longer subject to the rise and fall of the world’s economy; your treasure is no longer to be found in the shops and stores of the world; and the “story” that gives your life meaning is no longer a fairy tale of Santa Claus coming down the chimney to give you lots of toys and goodies from his sleigh – while so many millions around the world languish in hunger and poverty. Your life is Christ Jesus. Within your fleshly members God himself is to be found, for he has received from his beloved Theotokos our humanity, our flesh. Within the soil of your very own soul, the seed of heavenly light has been sown, a light that shines with the glory of heavenly grace and truth, radiant beams from the holy face of Christ the Savior, our life who appears to us on the blessed feast of Christmas.
The Church comes to us this morning in the Father’s invitation for all to come to his banquet. It is the call of the Church, the body of Christ, to come out of darkness and into the light. The call comes to us this morning as did the angels to the shepherds in the fields, and to the wise men studying the heavens. The Church proclaims to us the Good News that unto us a Child is born; unto us a Son is given. And like the servant of the Lord calling us to his banquet; and like the angels urging the shepherds, so the Church urges us this morning to go to Bethlehem to find the child wrapped in swaddling clothes. She urges us in the words of St Paul. He is telling us exactly how to rise up with the shepherds and to make our way in spirit to Bethlehem: “Put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness. Put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, because you have put off the old nature with all its deeds. [In your baptism, and in the practice of Christ’s holy commandments] you have put on the new man which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of the one who created you.”
In the days remaining, let’s remember who we are and whose we are. As we go about fulfilling our worldly obligations, let us not stay in the world. Let us be raising our eyes inwardly to heaven as we make our way in our heart to Bethlehem. Remember the poor, the needy, the orphan. Keep up on your daily Scripture readings, your daily prayers. Come to the Church as though to the Lord’s banquet offered to us in the cave of Bethlehem as often as you can. In the divine services of the Church, immerse yourself in the prayers of the Theotokos and all the saints, so that through their prayers, you may keep your heart and mind on Christ Jesus who is our life, so that when he appears you may appear with him in his glory. In the joy of Christmas, may we receive from his fullness grace upon grace. Beholding the face of Christ our Savior, the face of the Father’s grace and truth that has been revealed to us in the fullness of his grace, and in the Theotokos’ love for God may we go forth from the joy of Christmas to Pascha and unite the death of our earthly members to Christ’s death on the Cross, and in union with him, rise up with him in the joy of the grace and truth of his holy Resurrection. Amen.