23rd Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on Incarnation and Second Coming

One of the most beautiful and beloved pieces of classical music for Advent, this holy season of preparation for Christ’s holy Nativity, is Bach’s popular cantata “Sleepers awake!”  The title refers to a common theme of the Holy Scriptures, and, therefore, of our Orthodox Faith, that of alertness and readiness to meet the Lord, a theme of particular import as we prepare for Christ’s coming in-the-flesh at His holy Nativity.   The meaning of the word, “Advent,” means “coming” and reveals to us the central meaning and purpose of the Nativity Fast.   

As we look to Christ’s holy Incarnation, the Lord’s first coming in-the flesh, made spiritually present to us through Christ’s holy Church this Nativity, we also are called upon to ready ourselves for His Second Coming.  Advent is never just about looking to the past; it’s also about bringing that past spiritually into the present and our future.  In looking back we also look forward to a second Advent, that of Christ’s glorious SecondComing.  St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes, “We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.”  

The Nativity Fast, Advent, is, then, an opportunity to progress in our unity with Christ, to advance in our faith, to worship and serve God with a more fervent heart.  We strive to so use the Fast, that, like our Orthodox forebearers, we too may learn to live to be alert, ready to meet the Lord at His Second Coming, putting Christ first and before all things the world has to offer.  In the early Orthodox Church of the first centuries, being a Christian meant that you could be arrested, tortured, and martyred for your faith in the one, true God at any time.  Likewise, Christ having ascended in glory, the Church lived in a constant state of expectation that the Lord would come again and that they would prostrate themselves before the Judgment Seat of Christ.  We who are here today are even closer to that final day that will begin the day that has no end.  

Indeed, this is the truth we commemorate every Vespers service as we sing the Gladsome Light, Phos Hilaronin the original Greek, the oldest hymn of the Church outside the Scriptures.  We’re called to live with eternity before our eyes, to put away the temporal distractions that lull us into spiritual lethary and slothfulness so that we can be ready for the Day of Christ’s Judgment.  

That we may be ready when Christ comes, both to meet us in His Incarnation made spiritually present to us in the Feast and that we may make the most of this holy Nativity Fast in spiritual preparation for “the Winter Pascha,” another name for Holy Nativity, we’re urged to exercise great vigilance this holy season of preparation.  

Our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned that we be watchful, “awake”, alert, to the needs of our souls, of our need for life with Him, because He knows and reveals to us that this is the difference between true life and a living death. He reveals to us that in caring for the needs of our souls now, we are also preparing them for their need then, when He shall come again to judge the living and the dead.  Do we know and are we in communion with Him who is Life itself or do we preoccupy ourselves with the things of this world to the neglect and lethargy of our eternal souls?  That is really the perpetual question we ask ourselves this holy season of the Fast.  

And so, during this Nativity Fast, Advent, we heed the prophets’ warnings, to rouse ourselves from sleep and renew our zeal for life with God, the only true life there is.  “Therefore, St. Paul says in Eph. 5:14, “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”  This is the choice laid before us: life with God or death without God.  

Modern man is particularly challenged to keep these words because we so easily live in the relative comforts and distractions of our work-a-day world, where we surround ourselves with material safety and distraction, which serves to ‘numb’ the hunger of our souls for more of our Life-source, God, our Creator and Savior Jesus Christ.  Most of the time, people may not feel they ‘need’ God because their days are filled with such distraction and entertainment; their physical or material needs are met and they live in relative ease.  

St. Paul calls on us to “redeem the time, because the days are evil.” People walk around, busy in their lives, and forget God.  Evil ensues, by definition.  Without God, evil ensues.  Where God is, there is true love, light, peace, the truth of God.  Where God is forgotten, there’s no accountability, no bounds to human behavior.  

For this reason, St. Paul warns us in Eph. 5:11, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.”  Most agree that we live in a post-Christian, some even say, “neo-pagan” era.  “Religion” comes in a new guise, that of secular humanism and nihilism.  So what are we to do besides exposing the darkness, as St. Paul puts it?  Today’s Epistle gives us a deeper understanding, reminding us that we, the Church, For we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”  God saves us by His grace, a great act of mercy He continuously pours out on us. We respond by faith, which is itself an act of volition that manifests itself in the fruit that we produce for Christ and His Church.   

Because God loves us to such a great extent, more than you and I can fathom, He warns us, beckons us, to redeem the time, that is, to learn to number our days, to make use of them for repentance and deification, growth in faith and unity with Him, participation in His divine life.  Each fasting season is this opportunity to redeem time, to shake off spiritual lethargy, to flee from immorality, readying ourselves for His awesome and glorious Second Coming, and ministering to others, bringing Christ’s light and truth to bear on our lives and theirs.  

You and I have the opportunity this Advent to become more and more Christ-minded, to turn to Christ whenever we sin, that is, to repent, and then, whenever we’re tempted, and then, whenever and at every time and season as we progress in the life of faith, bearing witness before those trapped in darkness but beloved by God.  It’s not man that saves man, but God who saves man and calls him back to His first beauty through the life in Christ and communion with the Holy Trinity as we learn to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in us, becoming His workmanship in Christ Jesus.  

Redeem the time, love those around you in need. Love them enough to hold up to them the truth of Christ, a life of repentance, a model of the life in Christ.  Confess the sins that the world no longer has a conscience to confess or the discernment to recognize. Speak the truth in love and strive with all your heart to live out that truth of Christ in your daily life.  Model the faith humbly, vulnerably, to all those around you.  Share with others who are fallen away, skeptics who are following the way of the culture in its secularism and hedonism, the truth of what God is doing in your life, forgiving, healing, saving, grounding you and I to Him Who is Eternal Life.  

As we make use of the opportunity to grow in faith this holy season to prepare for Christ’s Incarnation.  Know that you are also doing what is necessary to prepare for His glorious Second Coming as well.  “Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”   

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Epistle:            Ephesians 2:4-10

Gospel:            Luke 13:10-17