Sermon deliverd December 7, 2008
The economic news continues to worsen. One half million jobs were lost in November. The three largest car manufacturers are on the verge of bankruptcy. It's official-we're now in a recession. However, the signs of the season are still strong though: holiday lights in the neighborhood; a slew of advertisements for sales and many holiday parties and gatherings. Because of the economy, many will be scaling back on the celebration of Christmas. But wait a minute, let's stop and take a good look at what we are doing for the season.
Gift-giving: who are we buying for? Most of us plan to give gifts to immediate family, relatives and close friends. Do you ever feel frustrated shopping, not because you're fighting traffic on the streets and crowds in the stores but because you're trying to figure out what to get the person who has everything. I mean come on, don't most of us and most everyone we know, have just about everything we need? When shopping for ourselves or others, we're often just getting a new gadget to make our life more convenient or a better version of something we've already got.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was born in a cave, laid in a manger, surrounded by barnyard animals-a very humble beginning but in it God is calling our attention to the lowly. Let's look for and find people who need basic stuff: food, clothing, housing and the like. Let's stop spending money on ourselves and others who don't need it and practice almsgiving. The wisemen brought gifts to a poor family they did even know. We don't have to look far to do the same since we have Adopt-a-Family right her in own parish. Apparently, we still need people to sign-up to fulfill our commitment to these families-in-need.
How many of us have numerous invitations to holiday socials, dinners and parties, some on the same day? Some will make difficult choices about who they want to spend their time with and others will try to run around to every event. These gatherings will have plenty of food and all kinds of it, plenty to drink including beer, wine and alcohol. We certainly will be tempted to indulge and some may over-do-it.
Whether we realize it or not, all this running around, all these choices put before us and this constant consumption and celebration creates tension, stress and angst within. Is it any wonder that some people get more grinchy and scroogy during the holidays? It's probably because we are acting against our created nature. The Church and the Saints know this. That's why we have a 40 day fast before the Nativity of Christ. This time of Advent should be one of preparation and anticipation. How would Christmas feel if we opened all our presents two weeks beforehand? It would be anti-climatic. With all the busyness and craziness in the weeks leading up to December 25th, we do so much pre-celebrating that when that day actually comes most of the energy, joy and gratefulness is already sapped-out.
The fasting, and it's never too late to start preparing the correct way, should be accompanied by increased and intensified prayer. Yesterday, with the Liturgy of St. Nicholas and the subsequent youth mini-retreat including a discussion and cleaning the temple, we had a perfect opportunity to prepare ourselves and our house of worship for the coming of Christ. While a nice handful of people attended liturgy, many of us opted-out and thus there was no retreat and cleaning because we only had one young person and three adults in attendance.
Where is our heart? What are the priorities in our life?
The Church canons set forth the ideal and implicit necessity of regular weekly timely worship at the Sunday Divine Liturgy accompanied by frequent reception of the Holy Eucharist. Unfortunately, too many of us are slipping into old, bad habits thinking that attending liturgy once or twice a month (or even less) is perfectly acceptable while most of us come late at various points during the liturgy. As I said before, it's never too late to repent and start preparing the right way. We have many more opportunities to confess, pray and worship.
For some, the holidays are a time of sadness, depression and despair. Why? Perhaps they recently lost a loved one to illness and death. It's the first holiday without their parent, spouse, child, or grandparent. Perhaps, they are elderly or infirm and have outgrown most of their family and friends or have become cut-off from them through estrangement or because they live far-away. Perhaps they are reminded of painful memories of the past that stand in stark contrast to the joy of the season. Perhaps, whether they realize it or not, they have no tangible belief in a Savior, a God who loves them and cares for them. Their hope is in material things, the stuff of this world, not in heaven above and the promise of eternal life. Thus, their life is ultimately lacking in purpose and meaning that causes and existential crisis.
We need to reach-out to these people and I'm not talking about delegating it to a committee to take care of it. Each one of us should take it as a personal responsibility to seek-out and visit those who are alone, those who are sick, those who are elderly and infirm, those who are just feeling down. Simply by spending time with them, your caring will be evident. You will give them hope. Give them your faith too. Talk about God and the fact that Christ's Incarnation, His taking on human flesh, renews our flesh and spirit and raises it up. The Nativity of our Savior demonstrates God's immense love for His creation and each one of us. Let's share that love in a meaningful way. Amen.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.