St. Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wilkes-Barre, PA
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CHRISTMAS SERMON 2008
It was a night that seemed like most others. People returned to their homes and were going to their own beds. But not all the people, because for this one family, it was a great trip that they were on, to be taxed for the census of the emperor, and as they had tried to find a place to spend the night, they found that there was no room for them, except in a cave that was used to house and feed some poor sheep and animals.
It was there that the greatest even of all time took place, a birth famous not because of its place, nor the wealth and fame of its family, but because of the one born.
This one had been given many titles by the great prophets of old who fortold his coming:
Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Child of the Virgin,
But the one title that best describes the child born in the cave of Bethlehem is the title: IMMANUEL – GOD WITH US.
This is what the Apostle Paul notes so beautifully in his letter which we hear this night:
“When the fulness of time was come God sent forth his son, born of a woman, that we might receive adoption as Sons. And because you are now sons and daughters, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father‘”.
The very heart of our Orthodox Christian belief is centered in this truth of Immanuel. That the eternal Son of God became a human being, born of a Virgin.
We call this truth the Incarnation, the reality that God came in the flesh and remains forever the God-Man. His divinity joined to our humanity forever.
This wonderful gift is what we celebrate so powerfully this night. And what is most wonderful about it is that because God took us in his Son to be his adopted Children we now can truly call God Father. And not just Father, but the word ABBA that St. Paul speaks of tonight is the Hebrew word that means DADDY.
God want us to be that close to him in his son.
I wish all of you a blessed Christmas and pray that the joy of this night will fill your hearts with thankfulness to God for the love that he gives us in the birth of his Son into our world. God has given the gift of the very best, so now take him, open him and live with him that gift in the center of your life, now and ever and unto the ages. Amen. Christ is Born!
Quote of the Holy Fathers
A brother went to see Abba Silvanus on the mountain of Sinai. When he saw the brothers working hard he said to the old man, “Do not labor for the food which perishes (John 6:27). Mary has chosen the better part (Luke 10:42).” The old man said to his disciple, “Zacharias, give the brother a book and put him in a cell without anything else.” So when the ninth hour came the visitor watched the door expecting someone would be sent to call him to the meal. When no one called him, he got up, went to find the old man and said to him, “Have the brothers not eaten today?” The old man replied that they had. Then he said, “Why did you not call me?” The old man said to him, “Because you are a spiritual man and do not need that kind of food. We, being carnal, want to eat, and that is why we work. But you have chosen the good portion and read the whole day long and you do not want to eat carnal food.” When he heard these words the brother made a prostration saying, “Forgive me, Abba.” The old man said to him, “Mary needs Martha. It is really thanks to Martha that Mary is praised.”
It was fitting that she, who had kept her virginity intact in childbirth, should keep her own body free from all corruption even after death. It was fitting that she, who had carried the Creator as a child at her breast, should dwell in the divine tabernacles. It was fitting that the spouse, whom the Father had taken to himself, should live in the divine mansions. It was fitting that she, who had seen her Son upon the cross and who had thereby received into her heart the sword of sorrow which she had escaped when giving birth to him, should look upon him as he sits with the Father. It was fitting that God’s Mother should possess what belongs to her Son, and that she should be honored by every creature as the Mother and as the handmaid of God.
St. John of Damascus (8th century)
It is necessary to establish a pattern of going to church as often as possible, usually to Matins, Liturgy and Vespers. Have a longing for this, and go there at the first opportunity and if you can, stay without leaving. Our church is heaven on earth. Hasten to church with the faith that it is a place where God dwells, where He Himself promised to quickly hear prayers. Standing in church, be as if you are standing before God in fear and reverence, which you express through patience, prostrations, and attention to the services without wandering thoughts.
Saint Theophan the Recluse (19th century)
The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.
Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia (4th century)