On the Sunday before Epiphany each year, the Church recalls the opening verses of the Gospel According to St Mark, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ…” (Mark 1.1) which recalls St John the Baptist’s invitation for us to a life of repentance. Repentance is a word that recalls the imagery of returning to the beginning, where it all began. Repentance is a word that means to change the way with think and look at life.
Choose to fight on God’s Side As the Gospel teaches us, just moments after Christ was born, the world turned against Him. King Herod killed thousands of innocent children in his attempt to kill Christ. Throughout history the world and the Devil has been at war with God, and we are caught in the middle. Although, living in America we do not fully understand what it means to live in persecution, hearing the Gospel stories of persecution and watching the nightly news coverage of persecuted Christians gives us a glimpse of what it means to fight on the side of God in this war.
On the Sunday before Christmas, the Church reminds us of the earthly ancestors of Christ going back to Abraham. This long list of names is not for lack of purpose. In this ancient custom of recalling our ancestors, we recall both those who have been faithful and those who have not been so faithful. This annual custom of the Church of recalling the ancestors of Christ reminds us how much God loves us. From the very beginning of creation, God has always had a relationship with humanity as His People.
In the Parable of the Great Banquet, we learn that God’s invitation for us to join Him around His Table, is dependent upon our free will. As the story goes, after those who made excuses to be excused from the banquet, the Master found others to attend in their place. They were not begged by the Master to reconsider, nor will we be begged by God to reconsider when we use our free will to reject God’s invitation to join Him around His Table in Church. God will not force us to join Him, but He will find others to fill His Church and He will find others to fill our spot in heaven.
Around this time of year, I get many requests from faithful Orthodox Christians, those who may not be in Church often, but recognize that something is special about this time of year, for some sort of “something” they can do special to prepare for Christmas. Often this is in response to their coming into contact with a western advent calendar, or a variety of Christian holiday countdown activities. The same, of course, is true during Great Lent, but for some reason I tend to get extra frustrated this time of year.
One of the most misused verses (there are many) is, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Luke 18.27) Too often Christians use this verse to defend their own agenda claiming that as Christians, “All things are possible with God,” but that is not the correct context of this verse. The question Christ was answering was, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18.26) It is impossible for us to save ourselves. We need God. We can’t do it alone!
As we prepare for our annual Thanksgiving Feast this week, we are called to see the gifts given to us by God not for our own use only, but for those who are in need. Rather than spending a life of greed and hoarding our gifts just for our own use, we should have a life of gratitude. We must reconfigure the idea of Thanksgiving as a day for us to be generous to those who are struggling and life a life of gratitude.
When confronted with the question, “What do I must do to have eternal life,” Christ challenges the lawyer to answer the question for himself? Realizing the lawyer had been caught, He again tries to trap Jesus. “And who is my neighbor?” Christ offers the Parable of the Good Samaritan. After realizing that the Samaritan was the example for eternal life, Christ says, “Go and do likewise.” If we want to have eternal life, we must learn to love as the Samaritan loves.
Each of us have received special gifts from God, not for us to keep to ourselves, but to help others. In the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we learn what happens when we horde our blessings for our selfish desires. The time has come for us as Christians to become unmercenaries and offer our gifts and talents to others without charge. Whether are doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers etc., when we offer our gifts to those in need, we will become known like Saints Cosmas and Damian the Unmercenary Doctors.