Passages: Isaiah 37:14-38; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-12; Luke 14:12-24
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Now that Thanksgiving is over and the final month of this year is upon us, most of us, if not everyone, is preparing for the Christmas season. Whether people around us are saying Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, everywhere we are seeing and hearing decorations, lights, the occasional snowfall and the cheerful music. Especially with everything that has been going on this year, even those
who may not like Christmas music or cheesy Hallmark Christmas movies, even they are looking to be lifted up. Songs like “Joy to the World” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman” and countless more all speak about the blessings we hope for in this season. Blessings like charity, mercy, hope, love, joy, and peace are things everyone is striving to feel and see more of, as we conclude this chapter. As Christian’s things such as charity, mercy, hope, love, joy, and peace are not only things we say are needed in this world through these seasonal songs but we understand they are what is needed to be done by us as the work of God in this world everyday. We read about them in the Bible or our priest preaches about how we must be more merciful, loving, hopeful and charitable. We read and know that Christ Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace, who through His Divine birth, ministry, passion, death and resurrection gave all humanity peace.
From the beginning of Christ’s ministry we see His words of love and peace both through His life and His teachings found in scripture, such as in the sermon of the Mount – “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matt. 5) Christ’s teachings continue to echo not just in the text of the Bible but also throughout the life of the Church, such as in the Divine Liturgy here – the Badarak, through our prayers and hymns. One of the most repeated blessings in all our services and the first words uttered by a newly ordained priest are? Khaghaghootyoon Amenetsoon Peace be unto all. (Խաղաղութիւն ամենեցուն) The reason for this is because the Badarak, which we celebrate in all the ancient Church’s, is not a symbol or theatrical interpretation of the Bible but rather, in Badarak, just like in the Bible, God is physically present and here with us in this moment, not only in the Body and Blood but also through the words spoken and hymns sung and it is God the Son, Christ Jesus who is revealed to us and who is blessing us with his Peace. In this moment, just as we read in the moments of scripture, Christ is here, actively still teaching us about charity, love, hope, joy and peace.
However, we also read in scripture how repeatedly those who listened to Jesus teach or witnessed His miracles often walked away, forgot, maybe even ignored His teachings. In Matthew 26:75 we read, St Peter, who loved Christ, denied Jesus 3 times and “Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, ‘Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’ And he went out and wept bitterly.” Even Peter forgot! Therefore, let us ask, especially now with the option of watching Badarak from home, perhaps in our pajamas or while having coffee, or even if we do gather physically in the Church – when this is all over, when the doors of the Church are locked and the priest takes off his vestments and when the live stream is over, how many of us forget, ignore, or walk away from the teachings we are listening to right now? How many of us are paying attention? The same way when the Christmas season is over, and we take down the trees and decorations, we forget those well-wishes and songs of hope and joy. How often do we forget the peace and hope of God when Church service is over?
At the conclusion of all the services the priest’s final blessing is “Depart in Peace.” What does this mean? Drive safe, enjoy the coffee, have a good week? My dears, to “depart in peace”, to have “peace upon us”, to sing about all these blessings means we are called to take Christ, who is here now, with us everywhere. The words “depart in peace” in fact mean depart with Christ. Don’t leave faith behind; Don’t forget or ignore what we heard, ate, prayed and experienced here; Don’t forget to do the same out there because my dears, our Christian faith is not ancient hymns or beautiful music. Nor is it moment of symbolic remembrance or a show. Badarak doesn’t end with the service here. Our faith and the blessings/teachings we receive from the very mouth of God are the life we live as Christ in the rest of the world around us. This means that when Christ through today’s Gospel message is teaching us about this grand banquet to which we are all invited to, what He is directing us to understand is, it’s not about eating or receiving to our pleasure while here in Church but rather, it is about being fed and then going out and feeding others.
For this reason St. Paul teaches us, “We are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren, as is fitting, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.” (v.3) In other words, by actively participating and understanding Badarak, we are giving thanks to God for all his continual blessings. That is why we call it the Eucharist – from the Greek eukharistia (ευχαριστία), which means thanksgiving.
And through giving thanks our faith grows and our love for one another must grow in a way that we then take the blessings we have received here and fill the rest of this world with that hope, love, joy, care, charity, mercy and peace – all those things that we want but often simply forget to do. That is why the prayers of the priest continually say, feed us Lord with your body and blood, and by it cleanse us from our sins and make it a source for virtuous deeds because my dear brothers and sisters, our Christian faith does not stop here but rather, begins here in the presence of God and we depart with Him into this world to do good.
Yes, now that we are in this moment of Christmas preparations, let us not forget nor limit those words of hope, peace and well-wishes to only this season. Let us not think about spreading Christmas blessings but rather, Christ’s blessings in this world. Let us give thanks to the Lord who has fed us, and let us feed others. Let us never forget that we are in the presence of God right now and it is with Him that we depart from this place. And if through our human error we forget and we sin, let us remember that we are always welcome back to Him through repentance, love and mercy. Charity, mercy, hope, love, joy, and peace are things everyone is striving to feel and see more of today – may the world see it and receive it from God through us. Amen!