The False Beacon

Passages: Is. 20:2-21:6; Gal. 4:3-18; Lk. 4:14-23
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. Ի 2- ԻԱ 6; Գաղ. Դ 3-18; Ղկ. Դ 14-23

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

When storms rage on the waters, and winds blow hard, ships navigate through rough waters using equipment and technology for guidance. Throughout history, before modern technology, lighthouses played a pivotal role in guiding sailors to safety in such storms. However, there are occasions when mariners mistook a glimmering light in the vicinity of the lighthouse – a mistake that almost always resulted in a shipwreck. Such as in 1845, when in January on Cape Cod, a false beacon – during a severe storm was mistaken for another light in the vicinity resulting in four lives being lost. Yet, in that time of the storm, the sailors are merely seeking a light, and succumbed to the fears of the dangers of the storm, all they wanted was safety. Much like many of us, in times of trouble, and difficulties all we want is safety and so we look for guidance. Perhaps not a physical light or lighthouse but something to illuminate, to direct our path towards safe harbor. Therefore, we begin to place our trust and devotion in people, in philosophies and ideologies and other such practices.

St. Paul tells us that these things, these guiding “lights” are not the true light, they are, what he calls, the elemental spirits, which we often willingly become enslaved too. Gal. 4:3 “So with us; when we were children, we were slaves to the elemental spirits of the universe.” Anytime St. Paul talks about us as “when we were children” he is referring to a time before Christ. And those elemental spirits for the Israelites and the Jewish people they were the laws, the moral code of conduct and prophecies by which if they followed, they would be redeemed, and God would be with them. For the non-Jewish or pagan world, the elemental spirits are the material world, idols, nature, water, fire, wind, and earth. In both cases, regardless of how one would look at them, these elemental spirits or guides enslaved people. They restricted and created false pathways. Much like a false beacon of light does not guide ships to harbor but can lead to devastation after giving a false sense of hope, likewise, these elemental spirits showed light but did not bring true peace, comfort, guidance or freedom.

It is only God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord which comes from God the Father that serves as the true light, the true guide. As the Psalms says, “a light unto my path.” (119[120]:105) But this true light is only known to us through Christ Jesus, who is the physical light we see, the physical incarnation or person of God that came to us, lived with us, loved us, cared for us and died and rose from the dead for us giving us that true freedom, true harbor of salvation. And what St. Paul is telling us is that when we didn’t know Christ, these elemental spirits served a purpose. The laws and prophets, before Christ served as a purpose. And scripture speaks about how all creation, all of nature, the planets, animals, galaxies, etc. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19) But only “when we were children.” Now that we know Christ, now that we have matured, we need to discern, pray, reflect to understand which spirit is upon us? Who is guiding us? Is it God or something else? “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Col. 2:8) Since true freedom is in Christ, St. Paul is asking why are we choosing to be slaves to those spirits?

Now I know some of us will say but we aren’t pagan, we don’t follow ancient philosophies and we aren’t Jews and so we don’t fall into this category of following the wrong spirits. We aren’t slaves to those spirits. Yet, St. Paul equates the “elemental spirits of the world” not merely with the Old Testament or Greek philosophies but with all rules and regulations, ideologies and teachings, material goods and products. My dears, how many of us put more trust in our material wealth than in the gift of God? How many of us place more trust in human words than the Word of God? How many of us look for justification in laws of governance then we do in the commandments and love of God? How many of us allow our worth, our value to be dictated by arbitrary societal standards? Look at the state of the world today. We look for justice from Congressman, Presidents, or political parties.  We look for self-identity and love on social media and filters. We pay more attention to a glimmer of light, in the vicinity rather than going to the source. And so we follow a false light or false spirit, and so we become slaves to those spirits.

Perhaps like those sailors in the storm it is because we are scared, we are unsure, or we feel lost. Yet, Christ says, I know you, I know your worth, I know your pain, and I love you. ‘“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord… Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” God has given us His Son Christ Jesus as the true light to be our true guide. God the Holy Spirit is with us comforting and illuminating us. Yet, we only remember to pray and come to God when the storms rise up. We only come to God as a last resort placing more trust in the worldly. My dears don’t misunderstand me because the world, the material is not bad. Nature, such as fire, wind, water and earth are created by the same God that created us. God gave the Israelites the commandments and regulations of the Old Testament. And those elements served as a glimmer, a reflection in the same way any artwork reflects characteristics of the artist.

The falsehood is when we begin following and placing those created things above the artist, creator, the true light. As the 2nd century saint and philosopher Justin Martyr draws this distinction and compares Greek philosophers such as Socrates with Christianity, he says what Socrates partially knew as an “unknown god” has been fully revealed to the Christians in Christ. In other words, everything in life we have serves to bring us to Christ Jesus, who is God. And it is in Him we find the true light, the true guide, and receive the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit that reveals to us true salvation, true freedom, compassion and mercy, true love, our true identity. A light that does not fail, does not abandon and does not leave us hopeless or lost. And so going back to the words of the Psalmist, “a light unto my path”, the verses teach say, “How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. I am afflicted very much: quicken me, O Lord, according unto thy word…” How sweet, how pure, how real, how powerful is your word, the Word, Christ Jesus. Through thy precepts, which means guide, through your guidance, through the Holy Spirit do we get understanding and hate or reject the false way because your Word, the Word, Christ Jesus is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path and I will perform, I will live it. I am afflicted but Lord teach me.

My dears, are we a willful slave to the spirits of this world? Are we more inclined and trusting of the material, the temporal, the glimmers of light that perhaps give some hope but leave us hurt, broken and devastated? Or do we learn the Word, do we pray and ask for God to send His spirit upon us, to illuminate our path towards Him? Our Christian life, which begins in the Church through our baptism, invites that Spirit into our lives and equips us with the tools of confession, of services, of conversations with the priest, of prayers and lighting candles not because they are what we believe in but because all creation, everything we have in this world is a gift from God to reveal to us His love. A love that never fails, that gives sight to the blind, release to the captives, liberty to the oppressed and hope to the lost. Pray for discernment and understand. Pray for the Spirit of the Lord to be upon us. By the grace of the Holy Spirit pray and ask for that light, so that even in times of storms in our life, trusting in God we can live a life of freedom, reaching the safe harbor prepared for us in the Kingdom of Heaven, through Christ Jesus and in the presence of our Heavenly Father, Amen.

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