Fr David’s sermon for The Sunday of the Ancestors of Christ, 17th December, 2017
Today’s Gospel surely reveals insensitivity, or perhaps insensibility, when three men make excuses to avoid an important and life changing invitation to the rich man’s feast. And there were more than three, because so many places were unfilled. Of the three, one had bought a piece of of land, another a yoke of oxen and the third, perhaps with a more reasonable excuse than the others, had married a wife. All three and others missed out because of their lack of sensibility ( lack of capacity to feel, understand and be sensitive to the situation).
Our Philip Gorski has written a paper entitled, ‘Comfortably Numb’, with the sub-title, The Demon of Insensibility, as understood by various important Fathers of the Church. Alongside this I suggest, complacency, which the Abba Dorotheus describes as the mother of all failings. With complacency, we take things for granted and may even become indifferent. The Fathers tell us that we should often remember death in our thoughts. This may sound morbid to the modern era but it is part of the reality of life; there comes a time when each one of us passes from earthly life to the life beyond. We must not be complacent, believing that the God of Love who has done so much to reveal Himself to us and help us should therefore be taken for granted. St Paul says, ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling’. When we pass into the next life, it will be awesome and fearful. We shall come into the presence of God, how will we react? Will we be able to recognize and respond to the Glory of God, presented to us, or will it seem, as Metropolitan Kallstos points out, like a burning fire. Will we be sufficiently prepared to see Glory and enter into the promised life of Heaven, or will we only see a consuming fire. The Gospel story, inviting us to the banquet, is most apt at this time of year as we prepare of the Feast of the Nativity. So many around are indifferent as they revel in self indulgence, they are not sharing with us the Feast of the Nativity. Whether they know it or not, they are celebrating again the pagan festival of Saturnalia, the Roman midwinter feast of misrule. In Roman times this lasted for several days, now, for some, this misrule last the year round; self indulgence prevails, complacency abounds, God is not recognized and if He is not recognized in earthly life, how will He ever be recognized in the life beyond?
For us the path is clear, we honour the child in the manger in Bethlehem. We honour him not only as the Messiah foretold by the Ancestors of Christ, but we have the additional blessing of knowing that he is no other than God Himself, come to be with us, to restore us, to enable us to become what we were always designed to be. He is Our Savior. We cannot afford to be ‘Comfortably Numb’ in the face of such a great blessing. We cannot be complacent, and in any way fall into the life trap of the world around. Rather we kneel with devotion at the crib of the newborn King, even Christ our King and our God.
The Entry Into The Temple Of The Most Holy Mother Of God
At a remote monastery deep in the woods, the monks followed a rigid vow of silence. This vow could only be broken once a year at Christmas, by one monk, and the monk who spoke was permitted to speak just one sentence.
One Christmas, Brother John had his turn to speak and said, "I love the delightful mashed potatoes we have every year with the Christmas roast!" Then he sat down. Silence ensued for 365 days.
The next Christmas, Brother Michael got his turn, and said, "I think the mashed potatoes are lumpy and I truly despise them!" Once again, silence ensued for 365 days.
The following Christmas, Brother Paul rose and said, "I am fed up with this constant bickering!"
I hope the significance of this joke will become apparent shortly!
Last night we celebrated the vigil for “The Entry Into The Temple Of The Most Holy Mother Of God” here at St Aidan’s Church. We began with vespers and we listened to three Old Testament Readings. The first was a reading from Exodus Chapter 40; we Listened to God’s instructions to Moses for building and arranging of the Temple & tabernacle. The second reading was from the 1st Book of Kings. Here we were given a description of the dedication of the Temple. The third of our readings was from, the prophet Ezekiel speaking of the door of the sanctuary closed to all men and by which God alone enters.
Today, along with the Epistle, we have heard two Gospel Reading, one for Today (Luke 12: 16-21) [Our Lord’s warning against greed & anxiety]. The other for Tuesday, when we commemorate the Entry into the temple of the Most Holy Mother of God (Luke 10:38-42,11:27-2) [Mary & Martha]
There is no account for this event in the gospel of either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. If we want to read about the entry of the Mother of God in to the temple, we must look beyond the we Bible and turn to the Gospel of James, also known as the “Protoevangelium of James”, this is an apocryphal Gospel probably written about AD 145. The Gospel of James expands backward in time the infancy narratives contained in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. It presents a narrative concerning the birth and upbringing of Mary herself. It is the oldest source, outside the New Testament, to assert the virginity of the Mother of God not only prior to, but during and after the birth of Jesus. Let us listen to what is written about the entry of the Mother of God into the temple.
So, why these readings? Are these reading connected? What are they telling us?
Remember, first we have God’s instructions to Moses for building and arranging of the Temple & tabernacle; a temple of stone. This is followed by the description the dedication of the temple - built of stone. This was then followed by a prophecy that speaks of the door of the sanctuary, of the temple built of stone, being closed to all men, A Door by which God alone enters. That all seems logical and simple enough doesn’t it?
The bible, like Holy icons, must always be understood on multiple levels. Although the OT readings all refer to a temple built with traditional materials, it would be wrong of us to simply see these three passages as referring to a stone built temple. These three passages should be seen as having their object, not only as the Jerusalem Temple, but also in the child Mary. The one who enters the stone temple as she prepares to become the living temple. The all pure child, she who will bear the God -Man in her womb, is led into the house of the Lord. Listen to the words for the Kontakion of the Feast;
“The all-pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Bridal Chamber and Virgin, the sacred treasure of the Glory of God, is led today into the house of the Lord, and with her she brings the grace of the divine spirit. Of her God’s angels sing in praise: `She is indeed the heavenly Tabernacle’.
On the Central analoy today we have two icons. We have the icon of the Feast together with, what is known as, the “Icon of the sign”. This icon of the Mother of our Lord shows her standing in prayer. Her arms are raised, a posture known as “Orans”. Christ is shown enclosed in a circle in her womb. This name `Icon of the Sign’ is a reference to the words recorded in the prophecy of Isaiah;
Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son,
And shall call His name Immanuel
The Living temple contains the living God-man.
We are now five weeks away from Christmas, the season of Advent in the Western Church. Advent is a time of waiting, a time of pregnancy; the seed of the kingdom of God has been sown. it will germinate at Christmas, sprout at Theophany, grow through Lent, blossom at Pascha, and fruit at Pentecost. And through everything the Living temple continues her life of service; Her vocation being fulfilled through holy stillness, an inner silence in the depth of the heart. It is a silence that allows her to wait and to respond to God with great love.
In the second of our Gospel readings today we heard how Mary, the sister of Lazarus, follows the example of the Ever-virgin Mary. She waits! She sits at the feet of her Lord waiting in faith and obedience; attentive to His words.
There is a common, but erroneous understanding, that Mary’s sister, Martha, is rebuked for her busyness. She is not! The rebuke she receives is not for her ‘serving’ but for her complaining and for being distracted, worried and troubled. Martha’s attitude is in direct contrast to the attitude of her sister; Complaining not silent, worried and troubled not attentive. There is no inner stillness.
As we begin to prepare for Christmas we need to choose how we will prepare and for what it will be that we are preparing for. The assault as already begun, switch on your TV or Radio and you will soon be told what it is you need to eat at Christmas, what to drink, what you will need to wear, what to watch and listen to, what gifts your friends and family would love you buy for them, etc, etc, etc.
As a child I would write a letter to Santa. For many that tradition has been replaced by the `Argos Catalogue’ and a highlighter pen!
We have a choice to make! We can, like Martha, allow ourselves to be troubled and worried, we can allow ourselves to be distracted.
Or, like the rich man in today’s Gospel reading we can work to accumulate goods and wealth; we can eat, drink and be merry!
Alternatively, we can choose to quiet the clamouring anxieties and desires of the season. Like Mary, we can choose the better part. We can choose to sit at our Lords feet and await. Like the Living temple we can prepare ourselves for our Lords coming. We can strive to attain an attitude of prayer and holy stillness, an inner silence in the depth of the heart which will allow us, like her, to respond to God with great love.
The choice is ours –
Which kingdom shall we choose?
The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of Goods?
Through the Prayers of all our Holy Fathers… Amen