By Evan Kardaras, Sub-Deacon at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church, Bexley, Australia.
(Sermon given at a Sunday Liturgy, August 2018)
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”
But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” Then Mary said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.” – Luke 1:26-38
Today’s gospel was that of the annunciation. We see the great Archangel Gabriel visit our Holy mother St Mary and announce the birth of our wonderful Lord Jesus. We see St Mary accept the message in all childlike simplicity and humility: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
We know St Mary is the greatest saint. Theotokos, mother of God. She alone was worthy out of all the women in the history of humanity to be able to bear the word of God Jesus Christ in her womb. She alone was worthy to be the mother of the incarnate God. Can we picture this for a moment the Almighty God, creator of the universe, whom angels praised from before eternity becoming a lowly child with a human nature like ours, without sin, born from this simple little Hebrew girl?
What an amazing mystery was fulfilled in the birth of our beautiful Lord Jesus for our salvation and for the salvation of the whole world. As Christians we all know we are called to become like her. To become Saints. To become bearers of God. In the same way that our holy mother St Mary received Jesus in her womb, we are called to receive Jesus in our hearts.
In the same way our beloved mother St Mary gave birth to Jesus in the flesh, we also need to allow Jesus to born in our actions. To bring Jesus into this world through our love and self-sacrifice. “Let you light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your father in heaven.”
But how can we achieve this? How can we become bearers of God or carriers of God? How can we prepare our hearts so that they are ready and suitable to become a dwelling place of our wonderful Lord Jesus? In the gospel we read that Archangel Gabriel announced the annunciation to St. Mary. In a similar fashion the Holy Spirit urges us every day to accept Jesus in our lives. He visits us and announces the need for us to turn our heart and minds to Christ in a spirit of repentance to love our beautiful Lord Jesus. To love Him and obey Him. The Holy Spirit helps us see our sins and weaknesses and pushes us into repentance.
By looking at the life of St Mary we can see some of the prerequisites necessary in her character that allowed her to be the chosen vessel that would bear our Lord Jesus Christ. From Holy Tradition we know she was approximately 13 y/o when she gave birth to our beautiful Lord Jesus and that she spent her childhood in the temple. Being in the temple and so young allowed her to be simple, it allowed her to be separate from the sinful ways of this world. The temple acted as a guard from the temptations of this world. She didn’t have to be bombarded by sinful culture, she was separate from the corruption of this world. She was humble and faithful to God’s call in her life. She was obedient. She accepted his call and faithfully carried the burden of being the mother of God and seeing her son crucified.
Are we like St Mary in the above mentioned virtues? Are we also simple with childlike humility and simplicity? Or are we cunning and complicated? Do we forgive like a child? Or do we hold grudges? Do we separate ourselves from the ways of the world and guard our hearts from the sinful cultures we are surrounded by? Do we imitate St Mary’s retreat in the temple through our separation from sinful culture and corrupted enjoyments of this life?
Or do we indulge in the way of the world and resemble those who don’t love Jesus and live according to their own ways? Do we enjoy TV shows that have scenes that are clearly against Christian values? Do we listen to music whose lyrics promote sin and lust?
Can Jesus be born into our hearts if they are full of sins and weaknesses? Can we become God bearers if our lives don’t have similarities with those of St Mary of separation from sinful ways of this world and childlike humility, faithfulness, simplicity and obedience? No way. The scriptures are clear that if we are living in sin we cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
What’s beautiful is that Jesus became man for this reason. To forgive our sins, conquer the devil and destroy death through resurrection.
So He entered St Mary’s womb to become man, so I can be forgiven of my sins, and allow Him to be born into my heart and to become a new person through living like Him and all the saints in: holiness, humility, kindness, simplicity, gentleness, sacrificial love, deep love for God and others. Only if we truly understand who we are, weak sinners, what Christ has done for us, and who we are called to be in Him, can we start the journey of repentance. Today is the start of putting away sin. Every day is a new start, of turning toward God and saying I need you, I want you, please have mercy on me.
Have we confessed recently? Have we poured out our hearts before God and His witness the priest declaring our infidelity to the Lord? If not can we commune and allow Jesus to come into our hearts if our hearts are still dirty with sin and unrepentance? Can I become a bearer of God if my heart isn’t ready to receive Him? We are called to be like St Mary, to become saints. Can people see we’re different, or do our lives resemble lives of those without God?
We really need to realise that without a solid and passionate zeal to obey and love God, we will not be saved. We will not spend eternity with God if we don’t follow Him here on earth with our all heart. We won’t spend eternity with God in heaven, if we cannot allow Him to be with us here on our earth in our hearts. We who are here today, regularly attending Church are all at risk of a scary spiritual disease. We can become numb to the word of God. We hear it week in and week out, but if we don’t apply it, what eventually happens is the heart grows cold.
We don’t want to follow God, we don’t repent, we don’t confess. We don’t struggle against sin. We become numb. Our conscience becomes like stone, we don’t hear God’s voice, because we ignore it over and over again. We end up as modern day Pharisees, this is a scary disease that we are all susceptible to brothers and sisters, it’s so, so scary. So if today this message has touched your heart, please, I beg you don’t take it for granted. Grab Abouna after the Liturgy, have confession. Pour out your heart to the Lord. Today is the day of salvation.
Today we can start the journey of being bearers of God. We can start to carry Jesus with us every day, everywhere we go, through loving Him obeying Him and then we can truly resemble St Mary. We can become bearers of God, Theofori. Today is the day of salvation brothers and sisters, do not wait for tomorrow. Take advantage of the fact we still have some time left in the Liturgy and use the rest of the Liturgy to cry out to God from the depths of your heart, asking Him to cleanse it and to come and make His home in your heart.
And through this change of mind you also will resemble St Mary in faithfulness and all humility and together we can continue ion this journey of life as true children of the Lord unto a wonderful union of love with our blessed Saviour in His kingdom forevermore.
Glory be to God forevermore amen.