By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
(Sermon given at Liturgy of the Feast of the Nativity, 2019)
Tonight we have gathered to celebrate the birth of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ. As I was prayerfully contemplating what to share this evening with you all, I wondered what our response to this feast should be; what our response should be to the eternal Word of God, of one Essence with the Father, Almighty God, coming down and incarnating, or in simple terms becoming man, through the ever-virgin St Mary.
As I contemplated this mystery of God becoming man for us, one word seemed to me to answer this question. Joy. Joy. Joy brothers and sister should be our response to this mystery, of God becoming man for us.
In this evening’s gospel when we read that the wise men departed from Herod to go and see the infant Lord Jesus, we read that: “when they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him.”
The three wise men had great “exceedingly great joy”. The One whom they had searched for, following the star for many months from the distant land of Persia, was finally in front of them. After a long and tiring journey, they worshiped and fell down before the infant Lord Jesus and worshipped Him.
I then asked myself, why should our response to this feast be joy, or as in the case of the three wise men, to rejoice with exceedingly great joy? As Christians we know that the birth of our Lord Jesus was the beginning of the salvation of all those who follow Him, from every nation, from every tongue. Anyone that believes in and loves Jesus, sees in His birth, in Him becoming Man, the beginning of the story of salvation, through His precious life, death and resurrection.
Why does this bring us joy? We have joy as we know that no matter how difficult, how testing, how painful or tiresome this life may be, we have been adopted, we have become God’s children, we have been purchased through the precious blood of Christ. We have been raised and seated at the right hand of the Father, we have been united to Jesus, the Head of the Church, and united to each other as His Church, as His Holy Body. We have been saved brothers and sisters, we have been given a second chance. We have been raised from the depths of Hades and given every blessing in Christ, all as a gift through His precious love.
Another question then comes to my mind. Why then do many of us here tonight including myself, sometimes, or many times, find ourselves without this joy, not having this blessed fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives? This is a deep question, but also a question that has a simple and straight forward answer. To partake of this joy, to be filled with joy through Christ, on this blessed feast of His birth, of Christmas, I must be striving to conform my life to His Holy Will. I must be trying to obey Him, in loving Him and others.
Jesus has done everything for us brothers and sisters, everything. We could never have been saved of our own accord, even the holiest people in the Old Testament could not enter paradise until Christ offered Himself on the cross for them and for us all. But to partake of the gift of salvation I must give my whole heart to Christ, or at least strive to do so on a daily basis. I’d like to give a simple analogy.
The sun in the sky shines its warm rays on the whole earth, if a person decides to close themselves in a cold room, and doesn’t want to go outside, then the sun is not to blame if they don’t partake of its warm rays. They themselves are to blame for closing themselves in a cold room, away from the warm rays of the sun. In a similar way brothers and sisters, the grace, mercy and salvation of the Lord is available for all people. But only those who turn to the Lord and constantly bathe in His light, in His sweet grace and mercy, will be able to enjoy the deep joy that accompanies those who are being saved.
If we look at this analogy again. Is it possible for someone to come out of the cold room only once, enjoy the heat for the sun, and then go back into the cold room, not wanting to leave the room ever again, and to still enjoy the warm rays of the sun? Of course not. They can only enjoy the warm rays of the sun if they stand in the light at all times. In the same way, it’s not enough for us to only spend minimal time with God, and then somehow to magically enjoy the joy that comes from His presence, from His mercy and grace in our lives.
We see then that the answer to why sometimes we don’t have this joy in our hearts, is that sometimes we have closed ourselves in a dark cold room, away from the Lord. In other words, we have given our minds, hearts, energy and love to the things of this world, and thus disconnect ourselves from Christ and disable ourselves from bathing in His love, His mercy, grace and the joy that results from those who are being saved.
What is the solution then? The solution then brothers and sisters is to truly value and appreciate what our beautiful Jesus has done for us and not to take it for granted. As we start the New Year we have a new challenge set before us. As Jesus was born in this dark and cold world and brought light, healing and salvation, we are called to allow Him to be born in our hearts. In our hearts that are dark, cold and empty when they are void of His sweet and precious presence.
Dear brothers and sisters, this year I will try very hard through God’s grace to live up to this challenge and I invite all of you to join me, that as one Body, united to our Head, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we may be constantly gazing upon His beautiful presence, through a heartfelt devotion in following Him and loving Him as best as we can. If we do this, if we follow Him with all our hearts, then our hearts will never be void of His presence, they will be filled with overflowing through the Holy Spirit and we will walk in the joy of the Lord and will become lights in this dark world, lighting the way for others to meet our wonderful Jesus and find salvation through His infinite grace and mercy.
And how do we do this practically? What do we need to do to have Jesus born in our hearts and thus bathe in His sweet and glorious light, which will grant us true joy? We need to follow the therapeutic path set out for us by the Church, and by all the saints who have lived before us. We need to have a real relationship with God, not just be Christians in name, but to be Christians in name and also in action and nature. We need to pray daily, to have a real prayer life with God where we devote real time to talk with Him. Not just thirty seconds when we wake up, but to dedicate time to spend quality time with God.
We need to read His Word daily, to hear His precious voice through His Word and this way to get to know Him more and what he asks from us. We need to read the writings of the Saints and Fathers of our Church, so we can understand His Word correctly. We need to serve, to give some of our time to help others, to offer our service to the Church and in that way give a little back to God who gave everything for us. We need to fast, obeying the Church who in her wisdom has given us the chance to show we can control our desires, and are not controlled by our desires. We need to partake of the Sacraments of the Church regularly, repentance and confession, to be cleansed from our sins. To have Holy Communion and experience union with our Lord.
In short, as I said earlier we need to follow the therapeutic path set out by the Church, set out by Christ, who is the Head of the Church. This path will lead us to being united with Christ in and through the Holy Spirit, enabling us to bathe in His sweet light and filling us with His joy.
As we prepare during the rest of the Liturgy, to meet God face to face through Holy communion, to eat His precious body and blood, let us turn inward, not be distracted by people around us, or what people are wearing, but to turn within, in our hearts, and cry out to our Lord Jesus saying, I want you, I need you, come and help me make a new start today of true joy and true life. Let us repent and start the journey of union with God through partaking of His precious Body and Blood and leave the Liturgy tonight partaking of the pure and sweet Joy prepared for those who love God and are called according to His blessed purpose.
The gift of salvation is ready for the taking, it’s up to us to stretch out our hands to the Lord and accept it and cherish every day and every moment through a heartfelt love for Him and one another. I wish everyone here a very blessed Nativity of our beautiful Lord Jesus and a very blessed New Year in His love and mercy.
Glory be to God forevermore, amen.