|12 - Barns and Temples, Nov 19, 2017|
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Today is the first Sunday of Advent. This is a beautiful word from the ancient Latin Tradition of the Church to describe this most blessed season when we prepare for Immanuel – God with us! – who “comes to” us; or is it when we raise our minds on high to “come” in spirit “to” Bethlehem? This morning, let’s reflect on this morning’s Gospel parable in its liturgical setting of Advent.
Over the next 40 days, the ruler of this age (cf. Eph 2:2) will be assaulting us from almost every quarter to “come to” the malls and shopping centers and to use our “plentiful harvest” to make our homes into barns overflowing with worldly treasures in the promise that we are entitled to take our ease, and to give ourselves over to eating and drinking and making merry. This is Santa’s big scene; and yes: this, Alfie, is what it’s all about; this, Miss Peggy – Christmas time in the city, shoppers rushing home with their presents – since you’re asking, this is all there is.
So, why, in the midst of all this surfeit is everyone so miserable, especially this time of year? I know many who resent this season. They find it exhausting, unbearable, even depressing, and they feel relief when Christmas finally has come and gone and they can return to their mundane routines.
Dear faithful, let’s get above all the bustle; or rather, let’s get beneath it to hear not the silver bells of Santa’s big scene but the bells of the Church singing out to us in the song of Anna crying out to the all-holy Virgin: “Go, my Child, to Him who gave thee to me. Go into the place none may enter. Learn its mysteries and prepare thyself to become the pleasing and beautiful dwelling-place of Jesus, who grants great mercy to the world!” (FM 171). Hear Zacharias the priest calling to the Virgin in amazement (ek-stasis? This word is of the mystery of the LORD’s Tomb, the Font of Resurrection!): “O Gate of the LORD! Unto thee I open the gates of the temple, for I know that from thee shall be born God the WORD, who grants great mercy to the world!” (FM 171) Hear in the Spirit of the Church “Heaven and earth rejoicing as they behold the spiritual Heaven, the only Virgin without blemish, entering the House of God, there to be reared in reverence.” (FM 170)
So, why have we come to the Church this morning? We do realize, do we not, that the Church is calling us not to take our ease, not to eat, not to drink and make merry, but to turn away from the noise and distractions of the barnyard, away from the cupboard in order to go into the closet of our soul?
Regardless of our worldly occupation, in the Church we are all gardeners of the soul. It’s not the ground but our souls that we work in order to yield a bountiful harvest not of the ground but of the Spirit. Advent for us in the Church opens not with “Black Friday”. It begins with the Entry of the Theotokos into the Temple. We find our joy not in shopping bags and barns but “in secret,” in the Paradise we take possession of in the cave (FM 278).
Let us attend! Let us open our ears inward and look at what we hear in the sacred stillness of the Church this morning!
The rich man looked at the barns his dreams of plenty drew in his mind and imagined the easy life they would give him. I ask you also to look at “Christmas time in the city” and consider its affect, how it works on your soul. Now, turn the eye of your soul to the vision, or rather to the icon drawn in your mind from the hymns of the Church of the Virgin as the Living Temple of God entering the Gates of the Temple to take up her dwelling in the Holy of Holies, to prepare herself to become the dwelling place of Jesus, the greatly compassionate One who grants great mercy to the world, and feel its affect, how it works on your soul.
I ask you to see what’s at the center of “Santa’s big scene”, “Christmas time in the city”. Now I ask you to see what’s at the center of this Feast of the Theotokos’ Entry. You should see the Temple; more precisely the Holy of Holies; more precisely yet, the Theotokos reared by an angel in the Holy of Holies; and more precisely even yet, the inner life of the Theotokos wholly engaged in what St Gregory Palamas calls the “true activity” of the “prayer of the heart”; and in this, you should see at the center of the Feast “He Who Is” (Ex 3:14), the LORD God who dwelt in the Holy of Holies. And, you should see that His Glory – as Ezekiel the prophet foresaw – will very soon leave the Temple of Jerusalem to take up His eternal abode in the Sanctuary of the Living Temple: the womb of the Most Holy and ever-Blessed Virgin Theotokos!
In this, you should see that the Temple of the OT – both as Moses’ moving Tent of Meeting and Solomon’s immovable Temple of Stone – was but the figure, the outline of the Theotokos. She is the true Temple of the OT, its living substance in whom it finds its perfection; for, she is herself the Temple of the OT who brings forth the Temple of the NT, the Temple of Christ’s Body (Jn 2:19-21). And in this, you should see, you should begin to feel the visceral vibrance of the Faith of the Holy Orthodox Church, the human warmth and divine beauty of her most essential substance: it is the inexpressible love of the Mother for her Son and our God, and of the unfathomable love of the LORD of all for His Most Holy, Most Beloved Mother! What human being does not know this love, intimately and immediately, from his own deep heart, even if it is only in his dreams?
Dear faithful, call Alfie and Miss Lee to come and listen! No, you listen! Let us attend! What’s it all about? This: that we might be created into a New Man and built into a holy dwelling place of God in the Spirit of God, and so made to be heirs of the riches of His Heavenly Father’s goodness and longsuffering (Rom 2:4), His wisdom and knowledge (Rom 11:33), so that we might come to know the Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, the Light of His Glory shining in our hearts (2 Cor 4:6).
So, may I ask: for which Christmas do you find yourself wanting to prepare? Under which Tree do you begin to feel the stirrings of that heavenly “joy in secret” the world cannot take away: in the barns of the rich man or in the humble cave of Bethlehem?
I presume you are here this morning because you desire the joy found under the Tree of the Virgin in the Cave. Then, let’s turn away from the world with her, and in our love for her and in her joy, let’s follow her into the Temple of our body and soul, into the Sanctuary of our heart. During these 40 days, let’s make an honest effort to take up the “true activity” of prayer. Let’s close the doors of our eyes and our ears to the hustle and bustle of Christmas time in the city, and let’s turn our ears inward to hear and feel the LORD Jesus in the temple of our body and in the sanctuary of our heart. Let’s take up the fast to empty if you will our barns of gluttony and greed, even to come away from the barns altogether and let’s be attentive to the call of the Church crying out to us to raise our minds on high and to come in spirit to Bethlehem to behold the Virgin hastening to the cave to give birth to God, who through her comes to be in the flesh that we may come to be His dwelling place in the Spirit.
For Today, “Having opened the gates of the Temple of God, the Glorious Gate (the ever-Virgin Mary) through which human thoughts cannot pass, and going into the place that none may enter, she herself now urges us to enter with her and to delight in her divine marvels, and to learn the mysteries of Immanuel: God With Us!
This, Alfie; this, Miss Peggy, this is what’s all about! This is all there is! Amen! (FM 175 & 171)