|15 - SUNDAY OF THE FOREFATHERS. INVITATION TO A GRAND BANQUET, Dec 11, 2022|
When Christ who is our life appears, St Paul says to us this morning, then you also will appear with him in glory. [Col 3:4 RSV] St Paul is referring to the LORD’s Second Coming; but his word is relevant to the LORD’s first coming, to Christmas. My attention is drawn to: ‘When Christ who is our life appears.’ For, in fact, Christmas is not when the Son of God first comes into the world. That happened nine months earlier, when the Son of God was conceived in the Virgin’s womb and became flesh. Christmas, rather, is when the incarnate God first appears in the world.
And, when He appears visibly in the world, the forefathers of Christ join chorus with us who have become children of God through Holy Baptism and we all with one voice hymn the Blessed Virgin Mary with awe, with wonder, with love and devotion: ‘Heaven was struck with awe, and the ends of the earth were amazed that God has appeared in the flesh, and that Thy womb, became more spacious than the heavens. Wherefore, the ranks of men and angels magnify Thee as Theotokos – the Birthgiver, even the Mother of God! [Wed Compline Ode IX]
For what are we to make of our own human nature that we, through the Most Blessed Virgin, become God’s Mother, and He becomes flesh and blood with us? Through the Blessed Virgin, God becomes a partaker of our nature; and through Her giving birth to God in the flesh, we are able to become partakers of the divine nature [2 Pt 1.4].
Note that it is the forefathers with the holy angels, and with us who love Christ and believe in Him, it is we who sing our hymn to the LORD’s Holy Mother when He first appears in the flesh at Christmas. Before He appears visibly, in the flesh, at Christmas, He has been hidden in His Mother’s womb that, because it became the throne of God, became more spacious than the heavens. But what does that mean for us if not that our own nature, in the hidden man of our heart, was opened out into the deep beyond all things, and we received God into the very root of our being, in that point where we suddenly burst into being at the Father’s command? Can you not see that what the visible appearing of God the WORD in the flesh at Christmas reveals is that, before, He was hidden deep in our own nature so that He is kin to us as the Image in whom we are made?
And He is our life, says St Paul. He is our life; we are not our life; our life is not our life because our life is death. As soon as we are conceived in the womb of our mother, we are immediately placed on a trajectory that ends in death.
Christ our life is the true Light coming into the world, the Light that shines in the darkness which the darkness cannot overcome. The Great Banquet of this morning’s Gospel is the Feast of Christmas. Christmas is the Feast of the true Light coming into the world, the Light that shines in the darkness of the cave, an image of the darkness of the world, an image of the darkness of the human heart that has become deceitful and desperately corrupt. Study the icons of Christmas and see how the Light that illumines the darkness of the cave is not a candle but the Christ Child lying in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, surrounded by the frankincense and myrrh of the wise men. Already, in the Holy Light of Christmas, the eyes of faith can see Him lying in the Tomb wrapped in fine linens anointed with spices by the holy myrrhbearers made wise who, with the shepherds, draw near in faith and in love to see in the Light of Christ shining in the Cave, and in the Light of the Resurrection shining in the Tomb, the mystery hidden from the ages: ‘Christ is born!’ ‘Christ is risen!’ ‘Christmas in you!’ ‘Resurrection in you!’ ‘The Life and Light of Christ God in you!’ Christ is in you, Life is in you because Christ God has come into the world.
When you come to the Orthodox Church that has been from the beginning, you are coming to the Great Banquet; you are coming to the True Light who has come into the world. You are coming to where the invisible mystery of the hidden man of our heart is made visible. Here in the Church is where His coming into the world appears. It is made visible in the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship. And in the visible mystery of the Holy Eucharist, His Body and Blood become our invisible food and drink. The Divine Liturgy of the Church, then, is the Great Banquet. It is truly a great banquet; it is a cosmic banquet that reaches back to embrace the First Day together with the Last Day, for it is the Feast of Christ the True Light, Our Life, coming into the world. Partaking of Holy Eucharist visibly, we partake invisibly of the same Body and Blood that destroyed death by His death, the same Body and Blood that was born of the Virgin Mary, the same Body and Blood that ascended in Glory. We are partaking of the Light that illumines our darkness; we are partaking of Christ our Life Who has destroyed our death by His death; we are partaking of Resurrection, Life and Glory.
Many of us see our world, our country, descending into a darkness humanity has not seen before. Seeking to create himself without God, man has been committing suicide for centuries for suicide is the inevitable outcome of murdering God (St JPopovich, p. 62). But Christ, the True Light whom the darkness cannot destroy, has come into the world and has appeared to us at Christmas. In His Holy Virgin Birth, we see Him our Life dwelling among us; and in His Holy Resurrection, we see what our life on this earth means.
But, as the churches left the biblical proclamation of ‘God With Us!’ and as those calling themselves Christians replaced the Wisdom of God with their own wisdom, they lost their saltiness, they lost their light, they became blind to Life; and they have become indistinguishable from the lifeless darkness of the world. They fell away from the Body of Christ and became but worldly religious institutions. They lost divine grace and their saltiness, their power to raise the dead to life. They have become darkened, unable to illumine those in darkness. No longer protected by the Church, they have become easy prey, if not purveyors, of the lie of the anti-Christ who is able to deceive with relative ease the minds of more and more so-called Christian souls. Having lost the healing protection of the Church, they easily fall into the conceit of their own wisdom, and they become unteachable and unreachable by ‘the Light that shines in the darkness.’ Loving darkness more than the Light, because their deeds are evil, ‘they call evil good and good evil; they put darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!’ [Isa 5.20]
But as the darkness cannot extinguish the Light, neither can it put out the LORD’s call to, ‘Come to the Light! Come to the Great Banquet! Come to the Cave! Come to the Jordan! Come to the Tomb! Come to the Mountain of the Ascension! For all things are now ready!’ Come to the Christ who is in you! Come to the Light that shines in the darkness, which the darkness cannot extinguish! Come to the Church!
St Paul is telling us how to come to the Light radiating from the Cave, from the banquet hall within you: ‘Put to death,’ he says, ‘your members that are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, uncleanness, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language.’ And how do we do this? St Justin Popovich, for one (who I’ve been reading lately), tells us: ‘Through prayer and fasting, through grounding your life in the ascetical life of the Church and in her liturgical and sacramental worship,’ so that the words of the Church, the words of Light and Life, Resurrection and Glory, are what feed and shape your understanding and not the words of the world, the words of the darkness and of the lie.
Dear faithful, through this ascetical life of the Church’s liturgical and sacramental worship, as it becomes the substance of our life, then it is that Christ God will be conceived in the womb of our own heart as He was conceived in the womb of the Most Beloved Virgin Mary. He will be hidden in us, but He will be powerfully active in us; for He will be transfiguring us into a New Creation so that when He appears in His Second Coming, we also will appear with Him in Glory, for we will have become ourselves living incarnations of Christ our Life! This is my light, the source of my hope in the present darkness! Amen!