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.
In the single story of the healing of the man with legion demons, we are blessed with three life lessons. First, when we feel that we are totally consumed and overwhelmed by the struggles and temptations of life, we can always find enough power to come to Christ for healing. Second, although demons are in fact real, they have no power over us unless God Himself or we give them power. Third and finally, we learn that God does His work and blesses others through our offerings. When we embrace these three life lessons, we receive God’s blessings.
As we learn in the Parable of the Sower found in Luke 8.5-15, we are told that God is the Sower and the Seed in the Word of God. We are told that sometimes we hear the word of God when our hearts are too hard to accept His Word, and the demons come and steal it away. We are told that sometimes our hearts are like the rocks or the thorns, and we hear the Word of God but never bear fruit because of the struggles and temptation and pleasures of life.