18 GOD WITH US, January 8, 2023

Ephesians 4.7-13

Matthew 4.12-17

We say on the Feasts, ‘The Joy of the Feast be with you!’ What is this Joy of the Feast in which we greet one another?

On Christmas, the Son of God is born of the Virgin and God is with us visibly, audibly, tangibly! When Christ is raised from the Jordan, John sees the heavens open and he hears the voice of the Father sounding from Heaven: ‘This is My Beloved Son!’ He sees the Spirit descending from Heaven and resting on Jesus in the form of a dove. Theophany shows forth the ‘Joy’ of the Feasts who is with us. It is God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with us in the Person of the God-Man, Jesus Christ, Son of God now become Son of Man through His birth from His Virgin Mother, woman who is become Theotokos, Birth-giver of God. And the Joy of the Feasts is with us in our flesh and blood; but the Joy of the Feasts who is with us is not of this world. It is the Joy of the Holy Trinity in Heaven, and the world cannot take it away from us.

This Joy, this God With Us, is not with us as being alongside us, as you and I are alongside each other. This Joy is in us for through our baptism, it has become our life that now lives in us, the eternal Life of God that now lives in us. It is the mystery of God hidden from the ages, the Joy of ‘Christ in you,’ the Joy of the Kingdom of Heaven within you,’ because the Son of God became flesh, and in the flesh, He descended to the root of our being inside of us where we were dead in our sins and trespasses and languishing in the darkness of hell. And having filled all things with Himself, He has filled all things with Joy. He has filled our darkness with His uncreated Light the darkness cannot put out. He has filled our death with His eternal Life that death cannot hold. For when death receives God in the flesh, it bursts like old wineskins receiving New Wine.

But when we who were dead in our sins and trespasses receive this New Wine that is the Blood of God in the flesh, it is our death that is shattered and we are raised to life—not to the biological life of this earth, filled as it is with suffering and sorrows, destined for the grave, but raised into the uncreated and eternal Life of the Holy Trinity that is now with us in the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

And if God is with us, then it is uncreated Light, eternal Life and Heavenly Joy that are in us. God With Us, Emanuel, Jesus Christ, is in our darkness, He is in our death. The Heavenly Joy of the Holy Trinity that the world cannot take away is in us. The uncreated Light of the Holy Trinity the darkness cannot extinguish is within us. The eternal Life of the Holy Trinity is in us because Christ Jesus, the Mystery of God hidden from the ages but revealed now to His saints in these last days, is in you!

Dear faithful, we should know that darkness and death are not abstract ideas because we live in them. We experience them in our despondencies and depressions, in our loneliness and fear, in the enmity that comes between us and sickens us with anger and bitterness. We experience them in the weakness of our body, subject as we are to maladies of both soul and body, the miseries of old age, the grief that seems to drain all meaning out of our lives when we lose our loved ones to the grave.

The joy that we know in this world of darkness and death is fleeting at best, unstable, easily changed in a moment into anger or sorrow. This joy of the world is not the Joy of the Church that fills all her feasts; for, dear faithful! The Church is not an earthly institution or a human organization. The Church is the Body of Christ. The gates of hell cannot destroy the Church because Christ has destroyed hell! The Incarnation did not come to an end when Christ the God-Man ascended in Glory. It has continued on earth in the Church which, as the Body of Christ, now extends, in the flesh of Christ risen from the dead, from the uppermost heights of heaven in the bosom of the Father to the lowermost depths of hell, filling all things with the Joy of the Holy Trinity in ‘the Light of Christ that illumines all’ with the uncreated Light of the Holy Trinity radiating out into the world from the altar of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that is, in truth, the Body of Christ – and not the religious opinions of men. This Joy of the Holy Trinity is the Life that lives in the Church, the Body of Christ. This Joy is the Heavenly Spirit we are immersed in when we are immersed in the Font of our baptism; it is this Joy of Christ’s Heavenly Spirit that we receive as our food and drink in Holy Eucharist, when we partake of the flesh and blood of the New Humanity of Christ Jesus Our LORD, God and Savior.

And this Jesus, the incarnate Joy of God, the eternal Life of God in the flesh, the uncreated Light of God the darkness cannot extinguish, this is the Jesus who comes out of the wilderness this morning and into Galilee. Dear faithful! Do you remember what the angel said to the myrrhbearing women at the Tomb of Christ’s resurrection? ‘Lo! He goes before you into Galilee!’ There is a mystical theology hidden in ‘the Jordan’ of this morning’s Gospel. This Jesus who comes into Galilee this morning is the same Jesus Christ who goes ‘before you into Galilee’ in the Joy of his Resurrection. The land in the shadow of death, this Galilee of the Gentiles that Christ enters in this morning’s Gospel is the Galilee of your own daily life. And the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand in your daily life because Christ is going before you into your everyday life; Christ in you, in His Resurrection and in His Ascension, is leading you through the days of your life up into the Heavens of His Ascension that were opened when He was raised from the Jordan!

Dear faithful! This is the Joy of the Feasts that is with you. Resting on Jesus Christ in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of creation, the Heavenly Spirit of God moves over all mankind as He moved over the waters of creation. And this Christ, who is risen from the dead and ascended in Glory, now stands in the waters of our soul waiting for us to open the door of our heart so that He can pour His Heavenly Spirit into us as the River of Joy that comes down from Heaven above. Ezekiel saw the Heavenly Spirit of God coming into the world from the Temple of the Holy Virgin as a snow-melt River (Eze 47.1-12). It poured into Galilee all the way to the outlet of the sea—i.e., into the grave and out into the deep beyond all things, into the Kingdom of Heaven that was opened at the Jordan. And that River did not become more shallow as it flowed into Galilee. It grew deeper and swifter until no one could wade through it anymore. That River was the Heavenly Spirit of Christ. If we would but immerse ourselves in it in our daily life, as we were immersed in it at our baptism, it would carry us through the days of our life, healing us wherever it touches us in the deeps of our soul, and giving us the eternal Life of God that is the Light of Christ who illumines all.

Our Savior, the River of Joy, tells us what we must do to live in this Heavenly Joy. We must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and lose our life for the sake of Christ and His Gospel. What is His Gospel? It is His victory over death and hell! It is His Joy that fills all things and heals everything it touches; It is His Light that illumines all and that gives the eternal Life of God to all who receive it!

Who of us does not gladly deny himself or does not long to lose his life for the sake of his beloved? Every day, every hour, every minute, let us strive to call our mind again and again, as often as we find it wandering, back into the presence of the God-Man Jesus Christ, the mystery of God who is in you. Let us strive to live in prayer, to center our mind on the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us be students of Holy Scripture, reading the Scriptures not in the darkened vanity of our own wisdom but in the Light of the Church’s Wisdom, Jesus Christ. Let us nourish our souls on the prayers of the Church. Let us educate ourselves with the teachings of the holy fathers of the Church. Let’s entertain ourselves not with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life that are of this world that is passing away, but with the lives of the saints. Let us work to stop prancing around as though we were gods, and let us begin to confess our sins in a broken and contrite heart. Let us not set our accomplishments before God in the expectation that we are entitled to His good pleasure; but let us offer to Him the infirmities of our soul and cast them into the River of Joy, into the Blood of Christ God, to be washed away, so that our souls are no longer sated with the scorn of those who are ease or the contempt of the proud, but are made clean, ready to be filled with the Light and Life of Our LORD Jesus Christ in the Joy of the Feast! Glory to Jesus Christ! The Joy of the Feast be with you! Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Amen!