Christmas- Anticipate & Prepare

   During this time preceding the holidays, our life becomes very busy with office parties, concerts, pageants, programs, buying gifts, decorating our homes. It?s a time or a season of anticipation. These rituals and traditions are based on the Feast of Christmas. Sometimes, because of the craziness of activity and the nature of some of these celebrations, we tend to forget, as they say, the reason for the season?the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.

   Our Orthodox Christian Tradition is trying to send us different message. Through the forty day Fast of Advent, the Church is telling us, slow down, try to be quiet and still, examine your soul, humbly give and help those in need. Most people don?t open their presents until Christmas Day knowing that opening them before will spoil the surprise and take the air out of that special day. We sense that the anticipation of discovering the gift is just as important as the joy of realizing and using the gift. Through signs and touch-points like the singing of the Katavasias of the Nativity in the Orthros services during Advent, the Church message is the same, relish the anticipation of the Feast of Christmas, don?t spoil the joy by pre-celebrating with festive parties and the like.

   We know that this holiday season is not a joyful time for many people. It may remind them of painful memories of the past or the lack of love and healthy relationships in their life. This lack of joy is also related to demonic activity. After all, we?re in fast period, putting forth extra effort to pray and prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. When we try to bring ourselves in closer relationship with Jesus Christ, the Devil tries just as hard to spoil that effort. He sends forth his demons to stir-up trouble in our hearts and in our relationships with each other. It is no different than 2,000 years ago when the shepherds and the wise kings were struggling to find the baby Jesus and Satan was planting seeds in King Herod?s heart that would sprout into a jealous and murderous plot to preserve his own power.

   Today?s epistle reading of the Holy Forefathers of Christ from St. Paul?s Letter to the Colossians 3:4-11 is instructive in this regard. St. Paul suggests a different type of murderous plot. He says that in order to prepare for ?when Christ appears? (v.3), that we must ?put to death things like fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire and covetousness? (v.5). St. Paul goes on to tell us that we should ?put-off anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, lies and deceit? (v.8-9). His words imply that these latter bad habits are being forced upon us and we must resist them.

   St. Paul further reminds us to ?put on the new man? (v.10). The aforementioned negative behavior is part of the old, corrupt and fallen human nature. It has nothing to do with our new human nature given by Christ in baptism and, as St. Paul adds, ?renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created it? (v.10). It?s like going to your closet every morning and trying to decide, ?Do I wear my old, worn-out raggedy, and dirty suit/dress or do I wear the nice, new, clean and bright outfit?? That begs the question, ?What?s that old, dirty outfit doing in my closet anyway? I should throw it away and get rid of it forever.? During this time of Advent we are given the tools to help us renew our knowledge and relationship with Christ, to put Him on and to wear Him.

   Every year, on this the second Sunday before Christmas, our celebration of the Holy Forefathers of Christ includes the Three Holy Youths, Azarias, Misael and Ananias, whom we learn about in the Old Testament book of Daniel. How were they protected from Nebuchanezzer?s rage-filled fire? Because they had put on the grace of God and the fire became like dew. How do you think Daniel himself stopped the devouring mouths of the lions? Because he put his faith and trust in God, Daniel couldn?t stop those lions, but God could and He did.

   We are called, despite the evil machinations of the devil and his demons, to be joyful and loving in coming of Jesus Christ. Without a continual faith and focus on Him, we will be distracted and consumed by the pain and depression and sorrow of the world around us. Interestingly, in the verses immediately preceding today?s epistle, St. Paul says, ?For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God? (v.3). One interpretation is that, if our life is ?hidden? then it must be found and that requires a search. And if our ?life is hidden with Christ?, then we must seek Christ in order to find our life. In that same little passage, St. Paul tells us where to find Jesus. He says, ?seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set you mind above, not on things on the earth? (vv.1-2). Each of us must ask ourselves, how much of Advent, so far, has been spent on seeking things above versus earthly stuff below? And how will I spend these remaining two weeks preparing for to find Jesus hidden in the cave of my heart, or lying in the dirty manger of poor, homeless, smelly, hungry person? Think about it.

   In today?s Gospel, the Parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14:16-24, we are reminded that we are invited to the same dinner table of the Lord as the poor, the crippled the blind and the lame (v.21) and for that matter, the angry, depressed and anxious. We are also invited to prepare for the banquet so when the servant calls us in, we?re ready, willing and able to go to the Messianic Feast of Heaven, which is above, which is offered every Sunday Divine Liturgy. Don?t get caught off-guard and be swept-up in worldly pursuits, which are of things below, and then make excuses for missing the Banquet or coming late. Jesus said the banquet must be full (v.23) and St. Paul reminds us that Christ is all and in all (v.11).

   The Virgin Mary literally gave birth to Jesus. The human flesh that Christ, the Son of God, puts on, is from her. When we receive the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, is not the same seed being planted within us? While we do not literally give birth to Christ, He can become incarnate in us through our words and actions. The opposite is true as well. Satan and his works can be born through what we say and what we do or what we don?t do. Even if we have not so far, use the rest of Advent to anticipate and prepare for the coming of Christ as a personal and a communal event of His Body, the Church. This, of course, starts with each one of us and our family and our whole parish family of St. George so that we may celebrate together fully and completely on December 25th. Amen!