15 - Call to the Christmas Feast, Dec 15, 2013

Colossians 3:4-11

Luke 14:16-24

From its liturgical setting, it is clear that the Great Dinner in this morning’s Gospel parable is the Feast of Christmas given by God the Father; and, He is sending out His servant to call all of us to the Feast celebrating the Nativity of His Son, our LORD Jesus Christ, from the Virgin Panagia.

In this Christmas setting, the servant sent out by the Master becomes the Archangel Gabriel; the House of the LORD, which He wants to be full (v. 23), is the Cave of Bethlehem: the House of Bread, the Living Bread, Jesus Christ, that comes down from Heaven. (Jn 6:51) We, then, are the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind who have been called to the Feast, because the LORD’s own, did not receive Him. (Jn 1:11) Those who come to the Church for the Feast of Christmas are like the shepherds who leave their sheep, their worldly cares, in order to see this thing that has come to pass. (Lk 2:15)

The word translated as this thing (Greek: rema) that the shepherds want to see, means: a word that has been uttered to become sound, a spoken word: i.e., a word that has become manifest to the senses. Clearly, St Luke means to proclaim that the thing, this rema, that has taken come to pass in Bethlehem is the Incarnation of the word of the prophets. The Word of God that was spoken to the prophets has becomeflesh to dwell among us. (Jn 1:14) The Son and Word of God, who is invisible and incomprehensible, has emptied Himself to be born in the flesh of the Holy Virgin, and has made Himself manifest to the senses. As Isaiah the prophet foretold:  “The Glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.” (Isa 40:5) And, as the Church sings out at the Morning service (Matins): “God is the LORD and has revealed Himself to us!”

What, then, is the food and drink of this Great Feast? “Make ready, O Bethlehem, for Eden has been opened to all! For, truly, the Tree of Life has been sown in the Virgin’s womb. Eating from it we shall not die as Adam but live, for Christ is born, renewing the image that fell of old.” “What’s for dinner,” if you will, is the Fruit of the Tree of Life. But, that is the body and blood of Christ, born of the Virgin as the Tree of Life, served at the Church’s Holy Eucharist as in the Cave of Bethlehem. “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you,” the LORD tells His disciples. (Jn 6:53)

But, how did the shepherds, when they came to the Cave of Bethlehem, eat and drink the body and blood of the LORD Jesus Christ before His Passion?

I think we see in the shepherds prostrating in worship before Christ and His Holy Mother in the Cave an icon of the Church’s Eucharistic Feast. At the Church’ “Great Feast” of Holy Eucharist, Christ is “divided yet not disunited; He is eaten yet never consumed.” Rather, “He sanctifies” – He glorifies, He makes holy, He deifies – “all who partake of Him.” For, Christ is the Living Bread that comes down from Heaven. He is not of the world; and the Holy Eucharist of the Church in which He gives His own flesh and blood as food and drink is not an ordinary dinner. It is a Heavenly dinner; it is in the world but it is not of the world.

I think that the shepherds ate and drank Christ as they were bathed in the uncreated Light of His Glory (II Pt 1:3) that radiated from “His holy face.” Bathed In the uncreated light of Christ’s Glory, they were bathed in His Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit is the Glory of the LORD, and they were made partakers of His divine nature. (II Pt 1:4)

For, having partaken of Christ in Holy Eucharist, the faithful sing out: “We have seen the True Light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit!”

This would mean that the shepherds first partook of Christ’s divine nature when they heard the proclamation of the angel – the servant of the Master in this morning’s parable – when they were keeping watch over their flock by night; for, it says that “an angel of the LORD appeared to them, and the Glory of the LORD shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.” (Lk 2:9)

The word of the LORD is not empty or vain. Whether it is the spoken word of the prophets, the angels or of the holy apostles, or the Word of God incarnate, whether it is Logos or rema,it is filled with the Glory, the Holy Spirit of God.

Having seen this great thing that they came to see, having come into the presence of the Christ Child and having been bathed in the Glory that shone from Him, as happens to all those who draw near the sacramental mysteries of the Church in faith and love, we see the shepherds leaving the Cave of Bethlehem as do the faithful when they leave Holy Eucharist. It says that the shepherds returned. We can say that they repented, resolved to strive from day, from this hour, from this moment to love God above all else and to do His holy will. It says that they returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. (Lk 2:20) So also the faithful, having received the most pure body and precious blood of Christ the Savior in Holy Eucharist, sing out: “Let our mouths be filled with Thy praise, O LORD, that we may sing of Thy Glory, For, Thou hast made us worthy to partake of Thy holy, divine and life-creating mysteries!”

The Great Dinner of Christmas that the Church calls us to this morning is a Feast of heavenly joy, for the Glory of God, the Heavenly Spirit, is given us to eat and drink – we are eating and drinking heavenly joy – in the Living Bread and the Living Cup of the LORD’s glorified body and blood given us from heaven, that we may become communicants of life eternal in the never-ending joy and fellowship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

I trust that you are here this morning because you want to accept the invitation of the LORD’s call; you want to come to the Great Dinner. Let us therefore turn to this morning’s epistle. St Paul, I believe, is telling us how we go about responding to the invitation of the LORD’s call.

Your life, he says, is hidden in God with Christ. (Col 3:3) Indeed, Christ is your life, if you have received Christ in Holy Eucharist. He now is hidden in your heart. Your heart has become the Cave of Bethlehem; for, it is now the House of Bread, the Living Bread that comes down from heaven. You have become a temple of God; for Christ is in you. Through the Church’s holy mysteries, the Glory of God has overshadowed you and conceived in your soul the living Seed of God, our LORD Jesus Christ.

Therefore, St Paul says, “Set your minds on the things that are above, not on the things of the earth.” (v. 2) The “things that are above” are the mysteries of Christ that have been sown in your heart through your participation in the Church’s Holy Mysteries, as the Church herself makes clear to us when she calls us to the Feast, in effect casting St Paul’s exhortation in the colors of Christmas: “Raising our minds on high,” she calls out to us, “let us go in spirit to Bethlehem; and, with the eyes of our soul let us look upon the Virgin, as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the LORD of all.” (Festal Menaion, p. 201) The mystery of Christmas, the Kingdom of Heaven, is within you.

And, this – setting our minds on the things above, raising our minds on high – this is how we go about accepting the LORD’s invitation to the Great Dinner of the Christmas Feast. It is but the word of the LORD to Jeremiah: “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?” (Jer 4:14) St Paul goes on to explain how we set our minds on the things that are above, how we wash our hearts from the evil thoughts that lodge within us. He says, “Put to death your earthy members.” But here, most interestingly, he is not talking about our bodily members but about the base desires that “lodge”, if you will, “in our hearts”: fornication (the word is porneia, pornography; for the Christian that means sexual lust, whether acted out or just imagined in the mind), uncleanness, passion, evil desire, covetousness, anger, malice, blasphemy, foul speech, lying.” (vv. 5-9) These are the earthy members that belong to the old man in us. These, St Paul tells us we are to take off – like lepers taking off our torn rags, to clothe ourselves in the new man, Christ, our life who is already hidden in us if we have received Him in the sacramental mysteries of the Church.

St Paul is setting before us the hard inner work of taking up our cross. That cross is given to us in the Church in the form of the ascetic disciplines of prayer, fasting, acts of mercy, confession. It is by taking up this cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines that we put to death our earthy members and make our way to the Great Dinner, to sit at table and to make ourselves ready to receive the LORD as our food and drink and to make us a new creation.

Brothers and sisters, the LORD calls us to His Great Dinner! He is inviting us to come eat and drink heavenly joy, divine love, sacred peace. He calls us to partake of His own Glory and virtue, His own divine nature! II Pet 1:3-4) In the short time that remains before Christmas, let us be resolved to turn, to take up our cross, and begin now to make our way to the Church on Christmas Day and to the real Christmas in the Cave of Bethlehem, the “House of the Living Bread” that is our own heart, and to bathe our bodies and souls in the divine Glory of the LORD. Amen.