Load Bearing Wall

Passages: Is. 54:1-13; 1 Tim. 1:1-11; Jn. 2:1-11
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԾԴ 1-13; Ա Տիմ. Ա 1-11; Յով. Բ 1-11

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

When building a home, there are certain architecture designs that must be followed. Regardless of how we want the exterior or interior to look, there are some foundational things such as a load-bearing wall, waterproofing the roof, placement of pillars and beams around which the rest of our home is built. Likewise, when we build a Church; the physical Church, even though deep in theology, has practical and important components that are necessary in order for it to function like a Church. The Holy Altar, the dome, the bema, the baptismal font, all very specifically designed and placed.  And this practice of how a Church is built has certain roots in the Old Testament. When Aaron instructs the Israelites how to make a tent and the tabernacle where they can interact with God, it is done very specifically. Likewise, when Solomon builds the temple, the Holy of Holies, the curtain, the inner and outer courts are built with specific things. Within the Old Testament, one such specific item or practice within Judaism is the placement of what is known as a mezuzah.  If you have any Jewish friends or if you’ve been by a synagogue, you may have seen on the doorway a small rectangular box with some writing on it. This practice is believe to come from the Old Testament writing of Deuteronomy 6:9, when Moses is teaching the Israelites about keeping God’s commandments he says, “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Now is it just some kind of decoration? No!

Within that box are 2 verses from Deuteronomy. The first is Ch. 6:4-5 and it is what Christ Jesus tells us is the greatest commandment, which is? “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” The second passage comes from Ch. 11:13-21 but which begins the first 2 verses with, “‘And if you will obey my commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil.’” In other words my dears, if we love God with all our heart soul and might and obey His commandments, we will be blessed. And so the mezuzah is a reminder to all those who enter that home and see the mezuzah that God is present in the lives of those who live there, much like today we as Christian’s place icons and crosses in our home. However, in Deut. 6 it doesn’t only say that the mezuzah must be placed on your doorframe but rather the entire passage says, “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the ordinances which the Lord your God commanded me to teach you…“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

I know it is quite a long passage but see how significant it is my dears. It isn’t enough to place this piece of religious decoration on our doorframe in the same way it isn’t enough to put crosses in our homes, wear them around our necks or have them tattooed on our arms (for those who go to Jerusalem), unless that which God commands through His Word, through the Holy Church is written on our hearts; unless we teach them to our children and live by them. In the same way, when constructing a building, certain things must be done to ensure the strength and foundation of that structure be it a home or Church or whatever, likewise, when building a life, a family, a community, and especially when we are building up our faith we need to understand there are certain things that are necessary to ensure strength and foundation. That for us Christians is the Word of God, learned and lived.

Today, in the Gospel of John we read of how Jesus turns water into wine, and though this miracle reveals God’s blessings to us, we need to return to that commandment from Deut. 11, “if you will obey my commandments which I command you”…He will give you grain, new wine and oil. You see if the workers at the wedding feast did not listen to Jesus, even if they didn’t particularly understand, then nothing would have happened. They trusted Jesus revealing to us that the first step to following God’s commandments means to trust Him; trust and have faith that those commandments are not meant to control us but guide us to better things; those commandments are not arbitrary rules that define our importance in society but are tools to reveal who we really are meant to be as children of God. But none of this works, if we don’t learn and live by what God commands us. When we are young and growing up our parents and adults might ask us, what do you want to be when you grow up? I’m sure most of us have heard this question or asked it to other kids. And regardless of the answer, we all know that to grow up and become a doctor, priest, lawyer, architect, musician, etc. we need specific education. We need to learn, read, go through schooling, practice, make projects and papers, fail, and succeed until we reach our goal. Even after we reach our goal, to truly be a master of our profession we know there is always something new and we can always become better or more skilled at who we have become.

The same is with our faith my dears, which sadly we don’t give much effort to. To grow up as a Christian, to live as a child of God we need to mediate and learn what those commandments are. We need to have a life filled with schooling and practice, of success and failure in our walk of faith. Because that learning becomes the load bearing walls, the waterproofing and all the architectural and foundational components in our life upon which who we are is built on in. Only then do we impress on our hearts, minds and souls the commandments of God; only then can we live by them and see how the waters in our life, the most basic things can be transformed into blessings. We don’t need to have mezuzahs or even crosses decorating our houses because those are not decorations, in the same way the Cross on the Church or the icons surrounding us are not decorations but rather reminders and tools to teach us. So let us ask, what do we have in our life that serves as a reminder for us to pray and learn the commandments of God? What do we have in our life that makes us pause, reflect and ask how is my life a reflection of God’s love? Because my dears, ultimately the commandment is love, as St. Paul says, “whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith.” (v. 5)

The love of God is what brought Christ Jesus into this world and ultimately to the Cross; because as much as we are joyful of the water turning into wine miracle, how much greater is the miracle of death being turned into life? Too many of us see and focus on the wrong message, the wrong component or wrong aspect of the story in the same way we focus on the wrong things in life that we think really matter. What is more important the foundation that will withstand tornadoes and hurricanes, or the dinner table and 85-inch TV in the room?  What is more important, our exterior appearance, a piece of paper from college, the car we drive or home we live in, or the love of our families, friends, and of God? Likewise, the water turning into wine is merely a reminder of the greater act of love that God has performed which is to save us from death, from hell, from eternal suffering. But we will never truly understand this unless, we have the commandments of God our hearts and live out those commandments through our lives, sharing that love and light with all those around us – our children, friends, neighbors and all people of the world.

Let us pray my dears, that God’s words do not merely remain on paper, or hang on our walls as decorations. Let us pray and meditate, learning what God has commanded of us; let us find things in our life that can serve as reminders to us to focus on God’s love and to be a reflection of God’s love. Trust and know that God has created us for a purpose and has given us the tools by which we can lay the foundation of who we are truly meant to be. And when we follow God’s commandments, love each other, forgive and have mercy, then we will receive new wine, new life, renewed hope and life. Not only will the waters of our life transform into sweet wine but all darkness and despair will be overcome with the light of the knowledge of God. Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to us all, Amen!

Christmas Is For Pagans

Passages: Is. 41:4-14; Heb. 7:11-25; Lk. 19:12-28 
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԽԱ 4-14; Եբր. Է 11-25; Ղկ. ԺԹ 12-28

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

“O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem. Come and behold Him, Born the King of Angels!”

In 1744, this beautiful hymn was written in celebration of Christmas inviting all to joyfully come and witness, to behold the newborn Christ Jesus. Almost 100 years earlier, in the 17th century in 1659, Puritans who had just come over from England to Massachusetts declared a ban on Christmas. Christmas for them was too ritualistic and closely tied to Catholicism. They blamed people who celebrated Christmas to be pagans – putting up Christmas trees, manager scenes, carols, etc.  Additionally, the date of Christmas for the Puritans was problematic because it was tied to the Winter Solstice and the Saturnalia, a pagan holiday before Constantine. And so in an effort to bring Christ back into the true celebration of the Nativity all public celebrations of December 25 as Christmas was banned. “Men dishonor Christ more in the 12 days of Christmas than in all the 12 months besides,” wrote 16th-century clergyman Hugh Latimer as Christmas partygoers used the holiday as an excuse to feast, drink, gamble and engage in immoral behavior. What’s more, scripture doesn’t give a date, time or season of when Jesus was born and so therefore, in the 17th century the Puritans led by Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas in Massachusetts.

Now for us Orthodox Armenian Christian’s, we celebrate the Nativity, or birth and revelation of Christ on January 6. And this has historically always been the case for the Armenian Church from the very beginning. But without looking at the history of dates, without dissecting the differences between what we call Armenian and Western Christmas, I want us to ask ourselves, were the Puritans in the early American Colonial days correct? Today is December 25, and regardless of if it is Christmas or not, regardless of if historians, theologians, etc. are correct in the date of celebration, how are we celebrating? How many of our family members are not in Church? How many of us are truly here in mind, heart and spirit vs. how many of us are thinking about tonight’s dinner, the football game, on vacation or opening the presents under the tree? Perhaps my dears, the puritans were correct in that Christmas has become a pagan holiday where we use it as an excuse to feast, drink or go on vacations. There is nothing sinful or wrong about coming together and sharing in a meal, celebrating and exchanging presents or traveling for vacation, however, what are we celebrating? The birth of Christ, God in our life, the Light of the World that overcomes all darkness or a winter break? If not today what about on January 6th, what and how are we celebrating?

My dears, much of society these days no longer says “Merry Christmas”, we say Happy Holidays! We don’t sing Christmas carols where it says anything about Christ Jesus and rather to be inclusive, we change the lyrics or sing songs about presents and bells, and Santa Claus. In fact, the most popular Christmas song is what? Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas is you” which prompted people in media to label Mariah Carey as Queen of Christmas. Thankfully, Mariah Carey responded very properly and said St. Mary is the Queen of Christmas not I.  But look at what Christmas has become? In response there are those who feel called to crusade around and say, “put Christ back into Christmas” or “it’s not X-mas, it’s Christmas” and of course “Merry Christmas not Happy Holidays.”

My dears, we are the ones, we who call ourselves Christian, followers of Christ Jesus, children of God, we need to be put Christ back into Christmas by bringing Christ back into our lives. Not merely by saying Merry Christmas but by living out what this season, this celebration is about – God with us today. Coming to Church, being here physically, emotionally, and prayerfully seeking out God. Then taking the Good News, the birth of Christ Jesus, the revelation of God with us and in us to the rest of the world. Sharing the light of God rather then quietly hiding that light, that faith so we are inclusive of others. Today’s inclusivity has become the reason why God’s word is not shared; in order not to offend those who don’t believe, we who do believe willingly hide our faith and therefore, do not bring healing, do not share God’s love with others in the way we are called to. Because today’s way of being inclusive is to be exclusive of God, to remove God from everything we do and make our faith a private, personal, 1 hour practice we do and not share. However, our faith, Christ Jesus born into this world is a gift meant to be shared with everyone and we as Christian’s, as those who claim to be witness to that gift, to the revelation of God in our world are entrusted with sharing that news, the revelation and healing with our families, friends, communities, etc. in whatever capacity we can. But do we want to? Are we truly celebrating Christmas or did the Puritans have it right, that Christmas is just another pagan celebration of the self, of commercialism, of debauchery and vain rituals?

Christ in today’s parable reading clearly says to those who have, more will be given and but from those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.  In other words, those who have faith, who live their faith, who pray, fast, repent, forgive, show mercy, hope, love and compassion, they will receive more – their faith will grow. Those who think they have, meaning those who falsely claim, but neither live their faith or make it into a mockery, from them it will be taken away. Where do we stand my dears?  Yes, for the Western world today is Christmas, a joyous celebration and we join in that celebration even if we as Armenian’s celebrate on January 6. 

We join not because we disregard our own date but because we must understand that Christ must be born and revealed, Christ is crucified and resurrected, Christ is present in our life every day, every moment and Christmas is not limited to just a single date in the year. We are called to live our life with this reality and share it with the world in any way we can.  Whether that means through volunteering, giving, or spending time in reflection and thanksgiving to God. In the classic movie Home Alone which we Chicagoans personally know very well, Christmas is beautifully lived out in the character of Gus Polinski.  For those who don’t remember, Gus Polinski, aka the Polka King of the Midwest and Kenosha Kickers, saw a distressed mother at the airport on Christmas Eve, trying to get home to her son and offered to give her a ride in his rented Budget truck. Yes, it’s a movie, but it shows the spirit of Christmas – to take the Good News of God, to share His love, hope and renewed life to others.

My dears, how are we celebrating Christmas? Sadly, our Churches are empty and most of our loved ones are not here. I pray, let us all pray, that we reflect on what is being celebrated today, how are we celebrating and how can we continue to celebrate throughout the year? For Christmas is not limited to lights, carols, dinners or trees but Christmas is realized in the presents of God in our lives. If today, if this year we have not done justice, we have not lived or understood what our faith must be, may it be that from today on, we strive to change, we ask God to truly be born into our life so that we will bring His love and healing to all those around us. Let us end this year with Christ and begin next year with Christ – because for us Christ is born everyday and we bow at the manger in worship everyday. 

“O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels!

O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.”

Let us take that Good News to the whole world and give glory to the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords Amen!