|09 - The Gerasene Demoniac, Nov 1, 2009|
We are this morning only two weeks away from the season of Advent. While the world prepares for the coming of Santa Claus, our Mother, the Church, begins to prepare for the joyous celebration of the coming into the world of the Son of God. This morning, let’s ready ourselves for the blessed season of Advent by contemplating this morning’s Gospel story as an icon of Christmas.
“When He came upon the earth…” Here is an icon of Christ’s descent from the Father on high to be born in the flesh of the Blessed Virgin Panagia. “…A certain demon-possessed man from the city met Him.” A certain man can be rendered in the Greek as “everyman.” It says he came out from the city. Let’s take the city as an image of the society of the world governed by the wisdom of human opinions and enslaved to man’s own reasonings. The demon-possessed man, then, is “everyman”, you and me, who lives in the city of man, governed by the wisdom of our own opinions. In this city of man, some of us believe there is a God; some of us believe there isn’t a God; others say they simply don’t know. But it doesn’t really matter. Whether theist, atheist or agnostic, we all live in the city; and we all worship a god of our own making, either a personal “religious” God who is but the projection of our own ego, or a political or philosophical ideal that functions as our god, even if we don’t call it god.
“When he saw Jesus,” it says, “he cried out and fell down before Him and cried out with a loud voice: What have I to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I beseech you, do not torment me!” At this point, the demons are doing the talking. But they are in torment. Jesus has already commanded them to come out of the man; and, the verb used here to describe the man falling down before Christ is also used for the act of worship. In this, we see that for all their power, the spirits of darkness could not keep him from coming to worship Jesus if he wanted to; and it is clear that he wanted to. This tells us that we are free to come to Jesus and worship Him if we want to.
How do we exercise that freedom? Sincere confession in the spirit of repentance is how we master the dark spirits in us and place ourselves in position to receive the gift that Christ would give us: the gift of salvation, the gift of healing and deliverance from the darkness.
Here is our lesson for this morning: we need to stop talking, stop pontificating, and start listening to the Word of God calling out to us in the Church, and allow it to penetrate to the division of our soul and spirit like a sharp two-edged sword to reveal to us the hidden thoughts and intentions of our heart. Otherwise, we remain in the city, even though we are in Church.
Let’s not be deceived by the civility of our religious piety. We need to look closely to discern if that’s not but a veneer, a garment of fig leaves we’ve woven to hide the thoughts and intentions of our heart. We must look to ourselves lest we go through the rites and forms of religion without ever being touched by the Spirit that dwells in them. Of this morning’s demon-possessed man, it says that “He did not live at home. He lived in the tombs.” What about us? In our secret heart, where do we live? In what are we finding our comfort and our hope and our joy? The Good News of the Gospel, the Word of God, or the noisy emptiness and glitzy darkness of tinsel-town Christmas?
Let’s call on St Silouan to help us puncture the veneer of our religious civility to confront the darkness that may have taken possession of us in our secret heart. St Silouan says in Wisdom From Mt Athos: “If you think evil of people, it means you have an evil spirit in you whispering evil thoughts about others.” “If you have upbraided or passed judgment on or vexed your brother, your peace is lost. If you have been boastful, or have exalted yourself above your fellows, you have lost grace. If you do not drive away immediately the wanton thought that comes to you your soul will lose the love of God and confidence in prayer. If you are fond of power, or of money, you will never come to know the love of God. if you have followed your own will, then you are conquered by the enemy, and despondency will come upon your soul. If you hate your fellow it means that you have fallen away from God, and an evil spirit has taken possession of you.”
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus asks the demon-possessed man his name. Who are you? It seems to me that this is like Jesus standing before us in the sacrament of confession and asking us to identify the spirits of darkness with which we have wittingly or unwittingly, voluntarily or involuntarily identified ourselves.
In the Church we see Jesus. We see Him in the icons, in the sacred rites of the Divine Liturgy, in the holy mysteries of His Holy Eucharist, in the saints. We are free to come out of the city, to bow the necks of our bodies and our soul before Him in the spirit of repentance, to let His Word penetrate to the division of our soul and spirit and to the thoughts and intentions of our heart, so that we will be ready to tell Him the spirits of darkness that possess us in our secret heart.
The demon-possessed man confessed the name of the spirits that had seized him, and the Savior delivered him. The man was found at the feet of Jesus clothed and in his right mind.
We, too, were delivered from the evil one, from all his demons, from all his hosts and all his pride in our baptism. We were clothed with the Robe of Light. Do you remember how we came to the baptismal font? We came by way of the sacrament of confession.
Do you remember the joy of your baptism? Was that joy a fairy tale like tinsel-town Christmas? No, it was of the Spirit and it was real. It was no fairy tale. Both from our baptism and this morning’s Gospel we learn how to abide in the joy of the Savior’s gift of salvation that we receive in the mysteries of His holy Church. We come out of the city to meet Jesus in the spirit of repentance and in the confession of our sins.
Clothed in the robe of light and in our right mind, we now look up in the joy of the Church, and with the eyes of illumined souls, we are granted to see Him coming to the earth in the glory of Christmas. We hear the Church calling to us as the angels called to the shepherds: With great joy come to the City of David and find the Savior, Christ the Lord, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger – the manger of your heart.
As we draw near to the blessed season of Advent, I say to you as the shepherds said to each other: “Come, let us go even now to Bethlehem and let us see this word that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” We make our way to Bethlehem by taking up the fast and by calling on the Lord in prayer in the spirit of repentance and confession to awaken our soul’s hunger for the love of God and to put ourselves in position to receive the gift of Christmas: the salvation of our souls.
The Lord said to the man healed of the demons: “’Go into your house and report what God did for you.’ And so he went throughout the whole city, proclaiming what Jesus had done for him.” We can say with certainty that the man went throughout the whole city proclaiming the joy of the Savior’s gift of healing in the joy of the Savior’s gift. Let us show our love for the Savior by praying for one another, asking that the Savior would grant each one of us to come to know the healing joy of the Savior’s salvation. If ever we come to know that joy, I dare say that each one of us will go forth throughout the city – in our schools, our places of work, and in our own homes – proclaiming the joy of Christmas in the humility and love of Christ who saves us. Amen.