28th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily for Sunday after Nativity

The Nativity of Christ is never just a one day celebration for the Orthodox faithful.  It’s important for us as Orthodox in this land to keep the Feast, to remember what it means to ‘baptize’ the culture with the light of the truth of Christ and His holy Church.  If we truly want to bring Christ to bear on this society, we have to keep the fullness of the Orthodox Faith and bring it to bear on this culture, rather than let the culture water down our precious faith once delivered to the Saints (Jude 3).  If Christmas becomes more about gifts and entertainment and a feeling, rather than worshipping God who has born in a manger for us and for our salvation, then our celebration of Christmas will still leave us hollow, unchanged by this encounter with God offered us by His Incarnation-in-the-flesh.  If that worship involves just the service of Nativity and we fail to avail ourselves of focus on Christ, then we contribute to the increased secularism of the holiday so widespread today in our culture. 

So, on this Sunday, the Sunday After Nativity, a day on which the Church assigns special readings, we’re called upon to be mindful that we’re still in the midst of our celebration of Christ God’s holy Nativity, that we need to be here, worshiping Him, the Creator who has become one of His own creation in order to renew the human race.  We are to shake off all indifference to those around us and share our joy with the world: that same joy that the shepherds expressed at hearing the Good News from the holy angels and which, likewise, the magi, expressed in their exuberance to follow the star and to present their gifts and worship the new-born King of Kings.

In the midst of such joy and reverence, we also must recognize that the story of Christ’s Nativity is also one of being separate, alonebut not lonely, for where God is, there is always fullness and all that would otherwise appear as empty or lacking from a temporal perspective, is filled to overflowing with eternal meaning:  Joseph and Mary find no room in the inn but are welcomed by the animals in the cave that became Christ’s manger and which foreshadows His burial in the tomb when He harrows hades, raising the souls and bodies of some of the faithful to eternal life.  

Soon after Christ is born, as we read in today’s Gospel, Joseph receives word from an angel that he must flee with the child to Egypt.  Imagine!  From their harrowing journey to Bethlehem with Mary in travail and unable to find a place to rest and give birth, now, they must also flee. Jealous Herod has all the infant boys under two slain in his prideful fear and ignorance concerning the nature of Christ’s Kingdom.  Then, after several years, after their return to Israel, Joseph and family flee again, this time to Nazareth.  You could say that Christ’s early years were spent “on the run.”  What courage and faith and trust in God Mary and Joseph demonstrate to us! 

Christ God Himself tells us, that if any man would come after Him, he must take up his cross and follow Him.  From His birth, to His early childhood, to His ministry, the cross, the grave, Christ goes before us in His example of being “set apart.”  

So, let’s recognize how hard it is to be a Christian today; many often feel like they’re going it alone.  So many around them: family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students are all living largely secular, godless lives.  Research shows us that the number of those considering themselves Christians is in sharp decline; what Christianity remains is often on one’s own terms and superficial, and, therefore, of minimal impact on how one lives his or her life.  This leaves those striving to live out the life in Christ, to take up that cross, in a seeming lonely place—in their families or among their neighbors or classmates—in possessing the fear and love for God, in submitting themselves to the Gospel and the Orthodox Faith and life in Christ.

So yes, you and I may sometimes feel alone in living out our faith in Christ when so many seem to find it so easy to reject Him and His Church, to reject the reason we celebrate Christ’s holy Nativity—that Christ God has come to give us all “second birth” (John 3), a new identity in Him by “water and the spirit”.  In teaching us to take up our cross, God instructs us that this world is not, cannot be, our true home if we are to inherit eternal life.  Just as there was no room for Christ in the inn, so too, this world rejects Christ, makes no room for Him in their hearts.  

The Good News is that those whose identity is grounded in Christ and His Church, who have put on Christ through baptism and become His adopted sons, who have rejected the hold of the world, and are committed to struggling against it, who have made Christ and the worship of Him the center of their being, are neveralone.  The Good News brought by the Archangel reminds us of this truth: “You shall bear a Son and His name shall be called, ‘Emmanuel’ (God with us).  “God with us” is manifested in and through our life in the Church. When you and I avail ourselves of the Church, her prayers, Sacraments, and worship, we’re not only joining the angelic chorus with all the Saints, we’re also assured that in our striving and struggle to follow Christ faithfully, we too will be victors over the world. The holy icons also remind us of this truth—Emmanuel is with us; Christ is reflected in the faces of the Saints, is seen and experienced in the Holy Gifts at the Eucharist, and in the divine hymnody and worship of His Church.

This is why it’s so important that we make time for Christ first, that we make our worship and communion with God the focus of our lives and not just another ‘thing’ added to a long list of other secular priorities; we make Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings, as well as the feast days of the Church, sacred time, set aside time; we worship the Holy Trinity together, as the Body of Christ, so that we become victors over the world even as we witness to the truth of Christ; we find our identity in our new life in Christ, our “second birth,” as citizens of heaven.  

Every time you walk into church, I want you to remember, that you’re not alone in your struggle to live out your faith in a culture or family or work or school environment of disbelief, skepticism, confusion.  Emmanuelis here!  Christ God was born in a lonely cave for our salvation.  Joseph and Mary had no one else.  But God provided a family to share in their joy: the shepherds in the field who received the news from the angels “with great joy” and the magi who came in their own due time to worship the new-born babe, Jesus, Emanuel.  

This is where Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity leads us: not you or me, but we, Christ and the Church He’s entrusted to us, which communes us with Him, Emmanuel, so that we may never be alone, but always may find the strength and courage to bear witness to the light in a world that walks in darkness.  Christ is born!  

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

Sunday After Nativity, 29 December 2019

Epistle:            Gal. 1:11-19            Sunday After

Gospel:            Matt. 2:13-23            Sunday After