19 - Sunday Before Theophany, January 3, 2010

II Timothy 4:5-8

Mark 1:1-8

Christ is born. He clothes himself in our humanity and restores it to its original beauty. Think on this for a moment. God becomes flesh and dwells among us. The prophecy of Isaiah, God is with us, now becomes clear. God is with us not simply as being among us but as being in us, in our own human nature as the principle of our being. And, we can put on Christ by coming to His body, which is His Holy Church. We put on Christ by coming to the waters of Holy Baptism as to the River Jordan. In those waters, the old Adam whose values and loves are of the flesh are put to death, washed away, and we put on Christ as a Robe of Light. We are clothed with God. We are raised up out of the waters to a higher life, a spiritual manner of living. In the waters of our earthly sexual life the Living Waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit have been mingled and there is now in the womb of our earthly, sexual life the spiritual Seed of divine life waiting for us to turn in repentance to the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight that He may lead us to the royal doors of the Bridal Chamber of our heart and to the second birth as children of light, born from above, and lead us into His Kingdom of Light. This is in accordance with our original beauty. This is what is most natural to us. That is why this Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is salvation: the deliverance of our souls from the darkness and the full healing of our souls and bodies to life eternal.

According to our Scripture readings this morning, the Good News of the Gospel begins with the announcement of a path, a way that is found in the desert. The Holy Spirit speaks to us in the Church and reveals to us that the “desert” is our own human nature that had grown barren, i.e. lifeless like a desert, because of sin. The Spirit reveals to us in the Church’s liturgical texts that this path of the Lord is found in the River Jordan that flows through the desert – i.e., the waters of Holy Baptism that flow in the Church through the desert of human life. For, the Lord makes haste, so the Church tells us in her liturgical texts, to bear the creation down into the stream in order to bring it to a better and changeless path.[1] Those who descend into the stream and who find the better and changeless path ascend to God,[2] borne up in the current of Christ, the River of Joy, as He is called by the Psalmist and the Church.[3]

And indeed, one steps into the hymns and prayers of the Feast as into the River Jordan and an unbounded spiritual joy is felt palpably. The riddle of St John Climacus’ words finds its source, for standing in the midst of the Feast, soaking in the hymns of the Feast, the sights and colors, the sounds, the fragrance of the Feast, one does indeed feel that one begins to see in an unseeing way a spiritual light that bathes the world in a white radiance. The eyes of one’s soul begin to see the thick darkness of this life opening in mystical joy onto a path that ascends to God – the better and changeless path of the Lord that descends into the cave of Bethlehem and passes through the desert in the River Jordan and makes its way to the tomb of Pascha and beyond into the Kingdom of Light of the Blessed Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior of the World.

What more can the Church proclaim or do to encourage us to repentance? Where do we think the path of this life is taking us if not to the tomb? Do we fear the agony of the Cross? Is that why so many of us who call ourselves Christians are Christian only in name while we walk the broad and easy path of the world? Let’s not be deceived: we are each one walking a path. Call yourself whatever you want to call yourself. If you are not walking the straight and narrow path that ascends to God, you are walking the broad and easy path that descends into hell. Both paths, actually, go into hell. Both paths take you into the tomb; but only the straight and narrow path is the better and changeless path of the Cross that opens the tomb onto heaven. Only the better and changeless path descends into the River of Joy, into the mystery of Jesus Christ who flows, in the Living Waters of His Holy Spirit, in the midst of the sorrows of this life and bears you up into the eternal life of God unto the healing of soul and body.

Let us understand what the Christian Faith is and what it means to be a Christian. The Christian Faith is a mystical way, a spiritual path of Light in the River of Joy who stands in the stream of this life. It is the way that leads to the healing of soul and body. The Christian Faith isn’t alien to the world. It meets us in the desert, the emptiness of our soul as the way of God, the way of divine healing that touches us at the point of our barrenness, our weakness, our darkness, our sickness, our sin in order to raise us up to wholeness and to life in the Spirit of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. To be a Christian, one comes out of the city of the world and into the desert, into the barrenness and emptiness of one’s soul, to lay aside every excuse in the confession of one’s sins, one’s darkness, one’s self-will and self-centeredness to the Savior who became flesh and dwelt among us, and to descend into the Living Waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit. In the confession of our sins, we put on Christ and then we take up our cross – our sickness of soul and body – and we follow Christ onto way of the Lord found in the desert of our earthly life, in the barrenness and emptiness of our inner life. We follow Him who is the River of Joy down into the stream of our own inner being, to find in our own human nature and in the midst of our own everyday life the River of Joy who reveals to us the better and changeless path that ascends to God.

The Christian Faith is the secret way of the Lord that meets us in the desert of our life. That means that we must turn away from the city in repentance to make our way into the desert of our inner life and to the River Jordan, to the waters of Baptism and to the sacrament of confession that flows through the desert. In the desert of our own soul and heart, that is where we come upon the royal gates of the Church that open this life onto Christ, the River of Joy standing in our midst, illumining the darkness of this earthly life to reveal the better and changeless path that ascends to God. To be a Christian means to take up the Cross that turns this life into a mystical adventure and to set out on the hidden way of the Lord that takes us to the tomb of Pascha, to our death in the Lord, the death of our old man, the death of all that is ugly and sick and dark in us, and into our re-birth as sons and daughters of the light, children of God born from above. If we in fact take up our cross and step onto the better and changeless path of the Christian Faith so that we are not just called Christian but actually are becoming Christian, we begin to live an evangelical koan, a mystical parable: a life in which death is destroyed by death and strength is revealed in weakness, a life of goodness, a life of purity, a life illumined and enlivened by Christ’s own Heavenly Spirit in the joy of His Resurrection, the life for which we were originally created in the beginning and to which we are now called in the mystery of Christ Jesus.

And so I urge you to come to the Feast, not just with your feet but with your mind and your heart. Look to yourselves and to what you truly love, what you truly desire. I will tell you straight out that you are deceived, you prove yourself ignorant of yourself and that you are still asleep, still in darkness, if you do not see that it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Heavenly Bridegroom who comes at Midnight, that your heart truly desires. Even from the Feast of Pentecost He already is calling us to the mystery of His Baptism in the River Jordan: “Let him who is thirsty come to Me and drink, and from his belly will flow rivers of Living Water. I am the Light of the World. He who follows Me will not walk in darkness but he will possess the Light of Life.”[4]

Brother, sister! Come to the Lord Jesus Christ! Come to the River of Joy who stands in the midst of the River Jordan, in the midst of the Church, in the deeps of your own human nature, in the midst of your own daily life. Turn around! Repent! Open your eyes, open your ears. Wake up! Lay aside every excuse, and come! Come to the Feast! Come to the Lord and Savior of the world, the Light of the world who illumines everyone who comes into the world of His creation, and discover the mystical joy of the cave, the joy of Pascha in the River of Joy, Christ Jesus Himself our Lord, our Creator and our God. Amen! The Joy of the Feast be with you!

[1] Festal Menaion 377

[2] FM 383

[3] Ps 35:9 (LXX); FM 295, 302, 306 passim.

[4] Jn 8:12