16 - Sunday of the Forefathers, Dec 13, 2009

Colossians 3:4-11

Luke 14:16-24

The great supper in this morning’s Gospel would be the marriage banquet celebrating Christ’s marriage to His Bride, the Church. This is the mystery of the Lord’s incarnation: His becoming flesh and dwelling among us, the mystery of Christmas. This union of God and man in Jesus Christ is the mystery that was hidden in God for ages. Here in the season of winter, as the darkness lengthens and seems to be overtaking the light, God the Word who created all things comes in the flesh, born of a Virgin in a dark and lowly cave letting those who sit in darkness see shining a great light that knows no evening; for He is the Son of the Father, who is the Author of Light.[1]

This Child is the Wisdom of God who by His appearing in the flesh makes Himself known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places according to His eternal purpose in creating the world.[2] Here is the revelation of the mystery that was kept hidden for many ages.[3] The revelation of this mystery hidden from before the ages is the proclamation of the Gospel; it is the meaning of Christmas: God incarnate, God With us, the union of heaven and earth, of uncreated and created, of the Spirit and the flesh in the Person of the Son of God, Jesus Christ whom we worship as our Lord and God, is the mystery of God hidden from before the ages. He is begotten timelessly from the Father, and yet He comes forth in time to be born of a Maiden who has not known a man. He who cannot be contained is contained in a cave. He upholds all things in the hollow of His hand, and yet He is held in the arms of the Holy Virgin. He gives food to all, and yet He is nursed at the breasts of the Blessed Virgin. He is the Great King who made the heavens and earth; and yet He comes in haste to enter a small cave that He may make us great who had grown small, and that, as transcendent God, by His poverty without measure, He may enrich us who had grown poor.[4] The Creator is made a child and through His birth, He shapes everything afresh, making us new once more, leading us back again to our first beauty.[5]

Christ is born! This is the proclamation of the Gospel. God the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us! Why? Because He is the only Lover of mankind. He is Love, according to the witness of St John the Theologian. By His love, according to the witness of the holy fathers of the Church, God thirsts to be thirsted for; He longs to be longed for; He loves to be loved.[6] By His love, He desires to belong not to Himself but to His creature, and so He goes out of Himself. He relinquishes His transcendence in order to become flesh and to dwell among us, that He might make us His own, even to the point of death on the Cross that He might deliver us from death, giving Himself in His Holy Resurrection to us as our spiritual, mystical food so that we might become partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal, and be made to belong to Him as our beloved and so be raised up to what the fathers call an “erotic union in the Spirit” that surpasses and excels all other unions.[7]

This supper of God the Father we recognize as the Holy Eucharist of the Church. According to the testimony of the Church’s liturgical texts, this Holy Supper of Christ our God is served in Eden; for, in the birth of Christ, the cave opens onto Eden. Those who come in spirit to Bethlehem, those who keep the Feast of Christmas in the spiritual joy of the Feast are they who make their way in the Spirit to the cave of Bethlehem and back to Eden. Through their baptism, they are clothed in Christ who clothes Himself with us; and in Christ they are given a divine rebirth and led back to their original beauty as they were made in the beginning in the image and likeness of God.

Let us note that this is a mystery; it is specifically the mystery that was hidden before the ages in God and that has been made manifest in these days in the mystery of Christ. It is a mystery: that means that it is hidden and remains unseen even when it is seen because it is the mystery of divine love. It calls out to the human soul to come to the great supper in the joy of Christmas, the joy of Immanuel, God With Us, the joy of God the Word become flesh and dwelling among us, even to the point of uniting Himself to our death that by His death He might destroy death and give us His own divine life that we might become one with Him in the erotic union of the Spirit that surpasses and excels all other unions. Because it is a mystery, we won’t see the glory, the wonder, the ineffable depths of its joy if we do not direct our eyes in repentance away from what is seen towards the unseen; i.e., if we do not direct our eyes to see beneath the surface into the love of our own heart in order to take up the ascetic discipline that is required if we are freely to give our love no more to the world but to the love of God.

So, why did those who were invited not want to come to the master’s great supper? We each one have to look in our own hearts and determine if we are one of those who are rejecting the invitation, and if we are, why we are rejecting it. The invitation is to all of us to become children of God, partakers of the divine nature, communicants of life eternal. If we do not find ourselves in love with divine love and the beauty of the Gospel, why aren’t we? What do we love that we are so insensitive, so indifferent to the beauty of the Gospel that proclaims to us the mystery hidden from the ages of God becoming one with us that we might become one with Him? Perhaps we don’t see it as beautiful? Why not? What about being raised up to become a partaker of the divine nature and a communicant of life eternal in the erotic union of the Spirit that surpasses and excels all other unions is not beautiful?

But if you are here this morning because you do see its beauty, and because you do want to respond to the Master’s invitation, then let us learn from St Paul how we go about accepting the invitation and begin making our way in spirit to Bethlehem to look with the eyes of our soul on the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the Lord of all: “Put to death,” he says, “what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry (it is idolatry because in covetousness, we love what is not God, what is not of the Spirit, and what is therefore not eternal). Put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth.” Put all of these away because you have been baptized. There is a life in you already, by virtue of the grace of your baptism that is of the Spirit. So, don’t live the life of the earth anymore. Live the life of the Spirit. This requires work on our part. It requires ascetic discipline, both outer and inner. These virtues of the divine life of God granted to us in the sacraments of the Church we must consciously and intentionally put on, as St Paul says in our epistle reading this morning: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

We put on the love of Christ: we put it on freely, of our own choice, in taking up the ascetic disciplines of prayer, fasting, spiritual reading, self-control, in a spirit of mindfulness and repentance, as an expression of our desire to come out of ourselves in love for Christ who loved us by coming out of His transcendence to put on our human flesh to make us who were poor rich in the Spirit.

In this mind of the Church’s ascetic disciplines, we as Orthodox Christians should be calling out to each other: let’s retreat from the hustle and bustle of tinsel-town Christmas and let’s come together to the worship of the Church as to the quiet stillness of the cave that opens onto Eden. Let’s all go to the great supper, the Holy Eucharist, of the Master in the cave, that He gives to the poor, the lame, the blind – i.e. to us who are so rich in the things of the world but poor in the things of God – that He might make us new again and lead us back to our first beauty in His own Image and likeness because of His great love for us. Amen.

[1] Festal Menaion, p. 213

[2] Eph 3:9-11

[3] Rom 16:26

[4] Festal Menaion, p. 213

[5] Festal Menaion, p. 212.

[6] Philokalia II, p. 281.

[7] Philokalia II, pp. 281-282