Christ is in our midst! He is and ever shall be!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today brings together a confluence of several feasts. It is for us the feast of the Circumcision of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ according to the Flesh. The very name of the feast continues the theme of the Incarnation, that is, God takes on the meat of humanity. He becomes flesh, and so as a male under the Old Covenant with Abraham, He must needs be circumcised in His flesh on the eighth day of His Birth as a sign and seal as an heir of this Covenant (Gn. 17:9-14; Lv. 12:3). The Son of God fulfills the Law from which He does not deviate. This will become more clear to us in His Baptism by the hand of the Forerunner (Mt. 3:15).
It is also the feast of our Father in the Faith, St. Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappodocia. It is the Liturgy bearing his name and handiwork which we celebrate today. He is the lead-off batter, if you will, for the new year which we likewise celebrate today. We could say perhaps that this memorializes and concretizes for us the reality of God’s grand entrance into human history, that God our God acts within the very events of our history, that God does not stand aloof or apart from the world of His creative Mind and hand as deists would want to say. Deism employs the image of a clockmaker who, after fashioning a clock with his own hands, winds it up, sets it on the mantlepiece, and then walks away never to intervene or to interfere with its ticking away. The God embedded in the Incarnation of our Lord and joyously celebrated and served in this Divine Liturgy of His Body and Blood is not the God of the deist!
And, finally, it is the Saturday before the Theophany of Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ – our next major feast of the Lord. Today is the “ordinary” day, if you will, distinguished as being the Saturday of the 27th week after Great and Holy Pentecost, as our Church calendar counts the days. Again, driving home in this season of the incarnational truth and reality, that our God, Almighty and fearsome as He is, is an extraordinary God Who is found in the very midst of the ordinary more often than not. He comes as a vulnerable Infant into this old unfriendly world without fanfare or parade or overture. He uses a star of the heavens to declare His glory to some amateur astronomer-philosopher-kings who follow it to the place where the young Child lay (Ps. 18 :1; Mt. 2:1-12). Even the glorious hymn of the heavenly angelic choir is muted for all intents and purposes on that most holy and glorious night of nights. It seems the shepherds, along with their flocks, were the only ones in attendance at this grand concert and were its sole beneficiaries, Bethlehem still fast asleep and oblivious to the divine event unfolding in its sleepy little village (Lk. 2:1-20). As a vulnerable Infant, He entrusts Himself to flesh and blood parents – His most holy and immaculate Mother and His pious Guardian and step-father, Joseph. They are charged with His wellbeing. They will provide for His needs, bring Him up in the streets of the backwater town of Nazareth, and they will guide Him. Under their divinely ordained parentage, He will “increase in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” And, though their Master, He will be their dutiful Son, willingly subjecting Himself to them (Lk. 2:51-52).
It seems to me this truth alone is worthy of our contemplation on this first day of a new year – the 2022 year of His Nativity. God Himself puts on our flesh and blood, intervenes in our history, and voluntarily submits Himself to the very ones whom He has created – all divine acts of the most profound love imaginable by us – and for no other reason but love. “For us men and for our salvation,” says it all (Nicene Creed). His love exceeds and transcends our puny thoughts, ultimately, culminating in the greatest act of love possible – His sacrificial offering up of Himself on the Cross for the life of the world and for its salvation (Prothesis)! For there is no greater love than this by all accounts (Jn. 15:13)! If we would incorporate but a smidgen of His humility into our lives for this new year, how much better off would this world be, if not ourselves? A smidgen would make us into saints!
Today, I have chosen the Sacred Scriptures assigned for this Saturday before the Theophany. The Gospel announces the looming Baptism of our Lord by focusing our attention on the baptism of John and his preparatory message: “’Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’” (Mt. 3:1-11). The King Who so troubled Herod is now at hand and with Him brings His heavenly Kingdom into the midst of this world. It is the Kingdom of His Father and He thrusts it into the midst of our lives. “’Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, . . .,’” fruits worthy of the very Kingdom that collides with our lives, our hopes and dreams, our aspirations, our fears, our troubles, and our toils. Crucial to the coming Kingdom is our confession of all that impedes the King from reigning in our lives; of the obstacles most often erected by us to keep God and our neighbor at bay. Not only is our confession worthy of repentance but to turn again and amend our lives, departing from all that divides us and fragments our lives, and to return to God to find healing in our union with Him – with Christ God – Who comes to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and with Heaven’s fire! Like rods of iron, to use an image employed by the Fathers, we are thrust into the heavenly forge where we are made to partake of its purifying and refining fire, partaking insofar as we are able of the divine nature being offered to us for our salvation (2 Pe. 1:4).
In the apostolic Epistle penned to Bishop Timothy, we heard the concluding words of St. Paul. Though personally written to his protégé in the Faith, we, however, would do well to listen in and attend to the Apostle’s wisdom which is divine Wisdom. His words will profit us spiritually if we pay them heed in these days of the new year, and they will help us to bear fruit worthy of our lifelong repentance. St. Paul tells us that he writes “these things” “so that you may know how to conduct yourself in the House of God, . . . .” This is more than proper etiquette though such isn’t precluded. It is rather life in Christ which is life in His Body which is life in His Church, “the Church of the living God,” says the Apostle, “the pillar and ground of the Truth.” This understanding is critical for us because it is foundational. It is the fundamental truth underlying our life in Christ and it is that upon which we build ourselves up on as we pray in the Holy Spirit (Ju. 1:20). We are to give place to, that is, we are to submit ourselves just like our Lord to those who have been given authority over us, which is to say, to the Apostles and the Truth they espouse and have preserved in the House of God, “the Church of the living God.” Pay no attention to speculations or fanciful imaginings, St. Paul tells Timothy, but rather to “sound doctrine.” This sound doctrine – time tested and divinely revealed – gives form and shape and substance and life to our faith and our morals (1 Tm. 1:1-11). Rest assured in this faithful and trustworthy Truth: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tm. 1:15). Stake the salvation of your souls on this, beloved, and do not drawback from confessing with the Apostle, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner!” You can’t go wrong. It keeps us ever rooted and humble. It will save our souls. For, like Timothy, we, too, are to “wage the good warfare,” Paul says, against all that opposes God, His Church, and our salvation (1 Tm. 1:18).
The Apostle bids us to pray for and to make eucharist, that is, to offer up our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving “on behalf of all and for all.” Why? Because it is meet and right to do. Because in the tranquility of all those who govern over us lies our peace. This is “good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour,” we’re told, because it is God, manifested in the sole Mediator between God and men, “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth” (1 Tm. 2:1-7). St. Paul goes on to speak of modesty within the Body of Christ, how to behave modestly, and how proper Church order is to be found in the creation of Adam and Eve (1 Tm. 2:8-15). He goes on to outline the qualifications for both Bishops and Deacons (1 Tm. 3:1-13). All of this, remember, is to give us a good grounding and to guide us in our proper conduct “in the House of God, which is the Church of the living God.”
But, I would like to re-visit for a moment that apostolic thought on how our God, the true and living God, how God desires – yes, God is moved by eros, love for us – how God desires all to be saved and “to come to the knowledge of the Truth.” Where does this Truth reside, this divinely revealed knowledge exist? Where can we go to find this Truth? Where do sinners such as ourselves go in order “to come to the knowledge of the Truth,” the Apostle speaks of, the Truth that is not simply truth in general, but the Truth, the Truth that has the power to save us?
To Jesus Christ, you might say. It’s a no brainer. Go to Him for He is “’the Way, the Truth, and the Life’” (Jn. 14:6). There is no other to whom we can go who has the words of Life (Jn. 6:68). That was Peter’s conclusion as well, so we are in good company. Others might say that we must go to the Holy Spirit if we want to know the Truth that saves. He is the promised Spirit of Truth Who will guide us into all the Truth (Jn. 14:15; 16:13). And, again, we would not be wrong because it is our Lord Jesus Who has so instructed us. He assures us that what He has taught the Spirit also teaches because the Spirit of Truth cannot do otherwise (Jn. 16:13-14).
But, the question is: where do we go to find Jesus and His Life-giving words? Where can we go to find the Spirit? And, the answer is quite clearly – the Church of the living God. The Church is the House of God. And, according to St. Paul whose word can be trusted, this Church is “the pillar and ground [foundation, bulwark] of the Truth.” Why? Because she is the depository of the Faith, the divinely ordained guardian of the divinely inspired Scriptures which are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Tm. 3:15, 16). She and she alone preserves the words of Eternal Life spoken by the sweet lips of God Himself in the flesh. She and she alone is the Body of Christ Who is her Head, “the fullness of Him Who fills all in all” (Ep. 1:22-23). She and she alone is the Temple of the Holy Spirit Who indwells her and abides in her (1 Cr. 3:16-17; 6:16; 2 Cr. 6:16). If we want to find Jesus Christ, we go to where He is found just as the Magi found the Lord in His house. We find Him in the Church as surely as in the manger. The Church is the enfleshment of this God “’manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.’” She is “the pillar and mainstay of the Truth.” She is God’s “mighty fortress,” if you so dare to believe, against whom the powers of Hell, having assembled its engines of warfare, cannot nor will not prevail (Mt. 16:18). This is the promise of our Lord. For she is the house of Wisdom built upon seven pillars (Pr. 9:1). It is the Church’s faith, her hope, and her love that is the buttress of our lives lived these ordinary days in Christ God.
Holy brethren, we can little afford in these days to diss the Church God has called into existence from all eternity or to ditch her as though she is just a fashion accessory we can choose to put on or not. She is “the pillar and ground of the Truth,” our mother and womb. Without her we are powerless. Without her we cannot dare nor ever hope to be Christian. Ever one with her Lord, we cannot do anything without her who is the Ark of our salvation (Jn. 15:1-17).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
1 Tm. 3:14-4:5