Sermon for Sunday December 22, 2019
Passages: Isaiah 40:18-31; Hebrews 4:16-5:10; Luke 18:9-14
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
“Remember no one is perfect and Jesus loves us all.”
During this time of year, as tinsel is bought, presents are wrapped and trees and front lawns are decorated with manger scenes, the arguments of what and how we celebrate this time of the year are endless. Without getting into the semantics of greetings or the date of the birth of Jesus, many personal ideas of what Christmas is actually about are expressed both from the pulpit and from one another. Often the two mainstream ideologies are that because Christmas is about Jesus Christ coming into world, we must be loving and forgiving and bring kindness to all just as He; or a much harsher reality that, acknowledging who Jesus is and our salvation through Him, we much tirelessly remember to always be in a state of repentance and prayer following the rules set before us for the greater good of our souls. So which is true?
On occasion I remember being asked why certain Churches speak about doom and gloom, whereas other Churches speak about joy and celebration. However, what we often forget is that both sides of the coin are ultimately founded upon 2 principles: 1) We are all sinners and 2) We all need Christ Jesus. Today’s Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector is also addressing the same two arguments. One man who is learned in the “rules” of the faith and who is on the surface level exemplary, and another man, who seeing his weakness without God lowers himself in humility. And this is a parable many of us are very familiar with. We know it is about humility and that God raises those who humble themselves, “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Yet, in today’s unbalanced world these two images of faith have become extremes. Too many of us focus on the Jesus being the nice guy and only on the surface level appearing to have faith, but likewise, too many of us also feel so disconnected and cut off from God we beat ourselves down. “I am so sinful that not even God could forgive me.” However, both my dears, completely miss not only the beauty of this season but they also deprive us of the communion with God we receive in the reality of what Christmas is.
Acknowledging that we are sinners is absolutely crucial and important, because only by acknowledging is the first step to looking for a remedy. We must all fully understand, that we are no better than others and that we are each chief among sinners. However, to only say we are sinners is not enough because we often don’t understand what it means to sin. Before receiving Holy Communion, we read a list of “sins” or repeat the words Megha Astoodzo but rarely do we contemplate what it is that we confessing too. If we grew up in Sunday School, our idea of sin is best described as an act or thought against the rules of the Church, against God: We did a bad thing. Yet, my dears, sin is everything and anything that breaks communion with God.
This means anything that cuts us off from coming to Church is sin. Anything that cuts us off from each other is sin. Anything that cuts us off from praying and participating in building up this body is sin. If we prefer to sleep in rather than go to Church, we sin. If we walk past a beggar in the street or look to others as lesser, we sin. If we rather sit at home and watch football or baseball, we sin. If we gather in Church for prayer but are more concerned about the bills at home, or our work, or something else is on our mind, we sin. Not because sports, or sleep or worry are sins but because they separate us from God – and sin is everything that separates us from God. Let me take it further, if I as a priest don’t teach truth of faith and only become a buddy or friend for all of us, I have sinned. Because sin is everything that ultimately cuts us off from our faith and our growth in our faith.
If any one of us from priest to greeter, choir to Sunday school student, anyone coming to and/or serving the Church begins to think that we are better because we are hear or because we “know” the rules of the Church – we are sinning. If anyone begins to think they are unworthy to attend Church or are weak and sinful and so they begin practicing an overly zealous idea that I’m not good enough – they are sinning. Because both are extreme approaches which ultimately breaks our communion with God – and that is sin.
Christmas, Easter, Badarak, every feast of the Holy Church, ultimately our faith is about communion with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A God that loves us so deeply that instead of raining wrath, He came down, became human in order to raise us up. Raise us from our graves, from our knees and from our brokenness. And by doing so He also taught us to raise others up, to heal each others brokenness, to humble ourselves not because we are worthless, but because only by stepping down can we pick others up.
Therefore my dearly beloved, to find purpose and reason for this season we should not be concerned whether there is a manger scene in front of city hall or a Christmas tree in the White House. We should not worry about why certain people focus on the joy vs. why some people focus on the gloom of humanity. What are we focused on? Rather, who are we focused on? If we are focused on Christ Jesus, then we should do everything to strengthen our communion with Him. If we are focused on Christ Jesus, then let us humble ourselves as Christ humbled himself in order to help raise each other up. Tis the season of celebration of Christmas, whether it is today, Dec. 25th, Jan. 6th or everyday. To do it justice, to celebrate properly, to grow in faith: we must lay down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all ego, all individualism here at the Altar of God. Let us therefore, focus on Christ Jesus, not in a manger scene but the living God who is offered up to us every Sunday as we gather for Holy Badarak through the Divine Liturgy. For Communion with God, communion with the saints, communion with each other, Communion is the only way we can be separated from sin and joined to God.
So let us repent for the kingdom of heaven is near and let us love one another for we are all in need of the love of God. And let us remain prayerful and vigilant always to do all we can to not sin but remain joined to God, who raises us and ignites in our hearts the light and love we celebrate in this season and thereby glorify the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!