Christ is born! Glorify Him!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we begin a new year, the Apostle speaks of endings – his end, that is to say, his time has come to go “’the way of all the earth’” (3 Kg. [1 Kg.] 2:2). As King David of old to his son and heir to the throne, Solomon the Wise, so St. Paul speaks his parting words to his young protégé, Timothy, Bishop of Ephesus.
Of course, just as appropriately, the Evangelist Mark speaks to the Church of a start, that is, of “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk. 1:1-8). What follows, then, in those 16 successive chapters of St. Mark is nothing less than the glad tidings of the Good News of Jesus Christ Himself, the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary. Christ God is the Gospel, even as proclaimed by the angelic hosts of Heaven that night over the plains of Bethlehem to those elect shepherds watching their flocks by night, “’Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!’” (Lk. 2:1-20). The Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is the Son of God. God wrapped in the flesh and blood of mortal man is God’s peace, God’s righteousness, God’s good will toward men warped by sin and infested with death. “’[T]hou shalt call His Name Jesus,’” declares the angel to Joseph the Betrothed of our Lady and Guardian of our Lord, “’for He shall save His people from their sins,’” and, ultimately, from death itself (Mt. 1:18-25; Jn. 1:29).
We start anew, then, this new year in the best way possible: with God, Emmanuel, His only-begotten Son sent forth in due time “for us men and for our salvation” (Is. 7:14; 8:10; Mt. 1:23; Ga. 4:4-7; Nicene Creed). “’For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life.’” Why? “’For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved’” (Jn. 3:16-17). “’As I live,’ saith the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will you die, . . . .?’” (Ek. 18:23; 33:11). If we repent and devote ourselves to Jesus Christ and His eternal Kingdom, that is, to the Kingdom of His Gospel, these days yet unscathed by corruption looming ever before us will, in fact, be blessed – blessed with the very Presence of Christ God and His grace! For God is with us!
But, let us return to the Apostle. In light of his impending martyrdom, he shares some last thoughts with Timothy. His words, however, are just as appropriately spoken to us as well, words we would do well to heed and to enact in our own lives as we stand on the threshold of this new year. Summed up in one thought (though it is not so easy): we should live this life before us with the end always in view, just like St. Paul. The end anchors the beginning; the end colors the now; the end gives direction and provides a focus and a goal for our living. Unfortunately, it has become cliché, but it remains nonetheless true: live today as though it is your last. We start at the end so that we might live in the now; the ending gives us a new beginning. The end, beloved, has a distinct way of fine-tuning things and of bringing clarity to those who hold Christ God dear to their hearts and close to their souls, who place their faith in Him, along with their hope, for He and He alone is “’the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, [the First and the Last,] . . . Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty’” (Rv. 1:8, 11; 22:13). He is the Eternal Now in Whom adheres the past, the present, and the future simultaneously.
So, as is the custom of making new year resolutions, let us see what St. Paul offers us to live by in these days yet unmarked. He gives to Timothy – and to us – a fourfold counsel: “But watch thou in all things.” In other words, be spiritually vigilant, a vigilance that can only be meaningful in prayer. “[E]ndure afflictions,” for they will surely come, especially to those who desire to live godly lives (2 Tm. 3:12). It goes without saying that we enter the Kingdom of God through much tribulation (Ac. 14:22). But, He Who is the Passion personified promises even to us, “’[B]e of good cheer: I have overcome the world’” (Jn. 16:33). “For whosoever is born of God [by water and the Spirit] overcometh the world. And this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:4).
“[D]o the work of an evangelist.” This might sound odd, but we are to be Gospellers, that is, souls who tell forth the glad tidings of Heaven that Jesus Christ is born. Go, tell it on the mountain! Speak it in the valley. Declare it in the darkness as well as in the light. Show forth the praises of God Who has called us forth out of sin and death and trampled down the devil by His dying and rising (1 Pe. 2:9-10). Tell others what great things God has done for us sinners! “By the Cross joy has come into all the world!” (Troparion).
“[F]ulfill thy ministry” entrusted to you in the waters of the Mystery of Holy Baptism. Baptism is foundational to us all, be you clergy or laity. In the waters of regeneration we have put on Christ God and have been made sons of God who have been taken from out of the world and sanctified by God for His holy benevolence (Jn. 17:1-26; Ga. 3:26-29; Ts. 3:4-8). “But you are a chosen generation,” declares St. Peter to us,
a royal priesthood [in Christ God], a holy nation, [God’s] own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (Dt. 7:6-8; 14:2; 26:18-19; Ts. 2:14; 1 Pe. 2:9-10).
We have heard St. Paul’s exhortation. Let us now ponder how this holy Apostle, chosen of the Lord, sees his life through the lens of the end (which will be for him and all who love the appearing of Jesus but the beginning). The Apostle is at-one with his departure because he rests in confidence that, despite once being a vicious enemy of Jesus Christ and His Church, he has lived his life by faith in Christ Who loved him and gave Himself for him (Ga. 2:20). He rests in the mercy of God for sinners among whom he counts himself as first (1 Tm. 1:15). Though this Apostle has suffered exceedingly (not only for the Gospel but possibly in penance for his sins), he nonetheless abounds in hope and faith in Jesus Christ. “[F]or I know Whom I have believed,” he confesses, “and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that Day” (2 Tm. 1:12). He is prepared for death because of his faith lived in the now.
It is interesting (at least to me) that Sacred Scripture frequently sees our lives and speaks of us in terms of Tabernacle and Temple language – a liturgical language, a language of worship. The Apostle uses such language here. “For I am now ready,” he says, “to be offered” or “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, . . . .” He sees himself in terms of prosphora, of being God’s prosphora. Prosphora means “offering.” It is the round loaf of bread prepared especially for the Bloodless Sacrifice from which is extracted the Lamb that will become the very flesh of Christ God and the remaining portions the Antidoro – the blessed bread – which we partake of after the Eucharist that have been set apart but not consecrated such as the Lamb.
But, we also think here of the offering up of the blood of grapes in the making of wine that will be consecrated here to become the very blood of Christ God, given and shed for us for the remission of our sins – the very Body and the very Blood of Calvary. St. Paul perhaps sees here the parched and exhausted king, David, who in the midst of a fierce battle cried out in longing to drink of the waters of the well of Bethlehem, but could not bring himself to do so in remembrance of the great cost to his men who had fetched him the waters. So, he poured them out as a drink offering, offering them up to God, and fasted from them (2 Kg. [2 Sm.] 23:13-17). The Apostle sees his whole death and life as a total offering up to God, a sacrifice made to God, a veritable act of worship in a true and literal sense. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service [worship]” (Rm. 12:1-2). St. Paul invites us to insert ourselves into the riven side of the Crucified Holy One of God and to be poured out likewise in love for the sake of God and His world. Only in this offering up of ourselves – body, soul, and spirit – will we find ourselves this new year (1 Th. 5:23).
To be able to say as the Apostle at the end, “I have fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the Faith,” is our goal. “My end has compelled me,” says the Apostle, “to live my life in Christ God and by Him.” Here he is using athletic imagery, maybe even imagery of being a good and dutiful soldier in fighting a good fight. Nevertheless, only those who compete are blessed. Only those who complete are rewarded for their perseverance and endurance. There was a day and age in which I used to run five miles. But that’s a lot. So, I used to set for myself smaller, more attainable milestones along the way, but always with the end in sight as my ultimate victory. I make it here so I can get there. The end, so to speak, kept me running and it influenced what I was doing at that present moment. It wasn’t easy, but it was attainable. Many times I wanted to stop, give up, and give in. But, I pressed onward and upward even though I was tired, even though I wanted to stop because of the craziness of it all (Pp. 3:12)! It helped also to have a partner to run with, a Timothy, if you will. We run this race to glory, beloved, in community with other believers, with the Church. If we are saved, we are saved in community, in a fellowship of other believers, the Body of Christ; if we are condemned, it is all alone by ourselves. Soldiers and athletes alike must prepare for they have been set aside for the fight and to compete.
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me on that Day – and not to me only, but unto all those also who love His appearing.”
The crown of Life (Jm. 1:12; Rv. 2:10), the crown of Glory (1 Pe. 5:4) awaits us having been won for us by Jesus Christ. In a way, it is ours to lose! Yet, what does Sacred Scripture teach us? It teaches us that we must finish the course and complete the fight. To those who endure; to those who are faithful unto death. This is the language of Scripture. Athletes competed for earthly crowns, temporal glory. But we are athletes of Heaven who compete for crowns that are eternal and beyond our feeble imaginations! However, it is not the crown per se we chase after or that drives us, but the One Who was crowned with thorns for our salvation and Who bestows the trophy on those who complete the course. He is our hope, our goal, our destination. We yearn to hear those words of His, “’Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Thou hast been faithful in a few things . . . Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord’” (Mt. 25:21, 23, 34). God, Who is our perfect End because He is our Beginning, will indeed have the last and final word. St. Paisius the Athonite says this is what helped him keep his sanity in the midst of an insane world.
Beloved, on this first day of the new year, “let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God.” Let us make Jesus our priority, seeking Him and His Kingdom first, above all other things, assured that all these other things will be added unto us according to His good will and good pleasure (Mt. 6:33; Lk. 12:31-32). Let us look unto Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Man, “the Author and Finisher of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him,” urges St. Paul, “Who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls” (Hb. 12:2-3). “Fight the good fight of faith,” as St. Paul encourages us to do, “lay hold on Eternal Life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tm. 6:13-16). “’[L]ift up your heads, [beloved,] for your redemption draweth nigh’” (Lk. 21:28).
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Christ is born! Glorify Him!
2 Tm. 4:5-8