Sorry, A & P Catholics; but Jesus isn't a baby any longer.
Col. 3:4-11; Luke 14:16-24.
The Sunday of the Forefathers.
Our Venerable Father Daniel the Sylite. Our Venerable Father Spiridon the Wonder-worker, Bishop of Tremithus.
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3:58 PM 12/11/2011 — One of the reasons Philip’s Fast may seem to come and go so quickly is because it’s observed in such a subtle way. The Altar coverings are changed to a penitential color, and fasting recommendations are made for the season; but, other than that, Philip’s Fast is simply announced. There’s nothing done liturgically to mark its arrival: no special prayers, or Advent Candles as in the Roman Church, or anything like that. Historically, the reasons are simple: Advent liturgical customs are a relatively recent development in the Western Church and were never really a part of the Eastern Tradition. But that doesn’t mean we ignore it altogether. The Typicon does interject two Sundays, just before Christmas, which do touch directly on our preparation for the celebration of the Nativity: the Sunday of the Forefathers, which we celebrate today, sometimes called the Sunday of the Patriarchs; and the Sunday of the Ancestors of our Lord, also called the Sunday of the Genealogy, since on that Sunday the genealogy of Our Lord from St. Matthew is read.
Scripturally, the Gospel lessons for these two Sundays point directly to the fact the Jesus is the Messiah for which the Jews had been waiting for 2000 years. Today’s Gospel is the famous one of the Wedding Banquet, to which those who were invited (meaning the Hebrew people) were not worthy to enter, opening the banquet to the gentiles (meaning the rest of us), and thus making salvation possible for everyone. And one could say that it’s a message destined to fall on deaf ears, given everything that competes to occupy our attention this time of year. It’s ironic that the way Christmas and the preparation for it has morphed in modern times makes this the one time of year when we probably think about our faith the least; not out of indifference, but simply because there are so many other things we’ve convinced ourselves we have to worry about. And that’s a great shame, because the real message of the Church in this time of year is a vital one: when we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lord, we do not simply commemorate the historical event of the coming of our Lord in the manger; many of the Gospel lessons directly following the Nativity present our Lord's instructions concerning the end times, the final judgment, repentance from sin. The Advent that we celebrate is not just a historical one;—not just the coming of Christ in the manger—it's the Advent of Christ the King, when our Lord, who once came humbly in a cave, will come again gloriously as the judge and ruler of the universe, when all of history will be brought to its completion, when the righteous will be separated from the unrighteous, when good will win its final victory over evil, and when the gates of heaven and hell will be shut forever; when all for which this world has prepared us will come to pass, and time itself will be no more.
People for whom faith is a stumbling block like Christmas; it's their favorite Holy Day; maybe that's the reason some of them come to church only on that day. Christmas presents to us a very non-demanding side of Christianity. A Baby in a manger is a much more acceptable God to the worldly: he is small and weak, cute and beautiful, undemanding and nonthreatening. What a panacea religion can be when we can picture our God as being perpetually in diapers!
But the Advent of the incarnation—the birth of our Lord, the Baby in the manger—is a historical event. It happened in the past and is now over. It will not happen again. We can kneel before the manger scene and pray to the Baby, if that makes us feel better; but, the one who hears those prayers is not a Baby any longer. He is a man, he is God, he is the one who hung on the Cross, he is the one who rose from the dead and who sits at the right hand of the Father. And even if we choose to cling to a comfortable image of him helpless in a manger, he does not view the world now through a baby's eyes. And neither should we.
All of life is an advent; and, like the first, it will end with the coming of the Savior. Let's not forget that, as peaceful as the images of the first Advent are to us, they were not so to our Lady. Pregnant yet unmarried, totally alone in the awful commission that was entrusted to her, she rushed to do the will of God with a joyful heart. We can, if we want, tremble in fear at the prospect of the advent we are yet to experience, and hide behind the consolation that the image a baby provides; but there is no need. If Mary could face the Advent before her without fear, it was because she did not hesitate to do what God required.
How do we respond to the advent which challenges us? Do we say, "Next year I'll get to confession. Next year I'll examine my life. Next year, the spiritual aspects of Christmas. But I don't have time right now. I've got relatives coming, and shopping, and the kids, and cooking, and in-laws to worry about. Next year, but not now. I just don't have the time"? Will that speech carry any weight before the throne of judgment? Is our religion just a matter of knowing that God loves us, and we should be kind to others, and everything will be O.K.? You'd have to wipe out two thirds of the New Testament to make it that. But if it is something more, more than just a "touchy-feely" philosophy of life, something that has implications for our final end, something which is symbolized not by a Baby in a manger but by a Man on a cross, then we have a serious business before us: the business of examining our lives, confessing our sins, and saying to our Lord, without fear, "Be it done unto me according to thy word."
Father Michael Venditti