Christmas-Season of Anticipation, Sorrow & Joy

   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 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 can 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 40 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. 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 where people are putting forth extra effort to pray and prepare themselves 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 our relationships with each other. It is not different than 2,000 years ago when the shepherds and the wise kings were struggling to find the baby Jesus and the seeds were being planted for King Herod?s jealous and murderous plan to preserve his 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 has 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.? During this time of Advent we are given the tools to help us renew our knowledge and relationship with Christ, to put Him on, to wear Him.

   How do you think the Three Holy Youths, Azarias, Misael and Ananias were 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 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 did. Is it any coincidence that we celebrate these faithful persons on this the Second Sunday before Christmas and December 17th.

   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.

   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 preparation for the banquet so when the servant calls us in, we?re ready, willing and able to go. Don?t get caught off-guard and be caught-up in worldly pursuits and then be tempted to make excuses. Jesus said the banquet must be full (v.23) and St. Paul reminds us that Christ is all and in all (v.11).