Colossians 3:4-11; Luke 14:16-24
Earlier this morning in Orthros, we heard the following reading from the Synaxarion for the Sunday of the Forefathers of Christ:
“We remember all the holy Patriarchs of the Old Testament who prefigured or foretold Christ: Adam the first Father, Enoch, Melchizedek, Abraham, the friend of God, Isaac, the fruit of the Promise, Jacob and the twelve patriarchs. We then commemorate those who lived under the Law: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Samuel, David, and the Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; the twelve minor prophets; Elijah, Elisha, Zachariah, and John the Baptist; and finally the Virgin Mary, the intermediary between mankind and her divine Son. Indeed, the Lord Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to redeem humanity which bemoaned the weight of evil since Adam; to realize the promise made to Abraham; to change the Law of Fear into the Law of Love; and to give Resurrection and Life to mankind. This feast prepares us for the Nativity of Jesus Christ, placing before us the anticipation and hope for His coming among us.”
Throughout these weeks of Advent, we are preparing to celebrate how God’s promises to the descendants of Abraham are fulfilled and extended to all people in Jesus Christ. He is the New Adam Who, by becoming one of us, restores the common vocation of all who bear the divine image and likeness to be united with God in holiness, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. The promise to Abraham was that “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 22:18) Christ is his seed or heir, and all who have faith in Him inherit the fullness of the promise as the beloved children of God. (Gal. 3:29)
Our Lord’s ancestors did not prepare His way by relying on their ethnic identity or mechanically obeying a set of rules. They did so by faith and faithfulness as they anticipated the consummation of God’s gracious purposes for them and for the entire world. However, the story of the Old Testament gives ample evidence that many of the Hebrew people refused to accept their responsibility to get ready for the coming of the Messiah. Like those in today’s gospel reading who asked to be excused from the banquet because they owned land or livestock and had families, they were so focused on the things of this world that they refused to accept the great blessing God intended for them. They distorted the great heritage that was theirs through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets in order to make their passions for pride, power, and pleasure their true gods. The religious leaders who rejected the Savior, and handed Him over to the Romans for crucifixion, did so for the same reasons. Though God called them all to embrace their role in preparing for the banquet of the Kingdom, few chose to respond. That is why the parable concludes with this statement: “Many are called, but few are chosen.”
The Prophet Haggai was one who did respond faithfully. A Hebrew prophet of the 6th century, he called for the Jews to finish rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem after their return from exile in Babylon. He spoke the word of the Lord, saying, “I will shake all nations, and the choice things of all the nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory.” (Haggai 2: 7) In today’s parable, the householder, whose invitation was rejected by those first called, sent his servant out into the streets to invite “the poor and maimed and blind and lame” to the celebration so that his house would be filled. Here is a sign of the fulfillment of Haggai’s prophecy in the Church, in which all the peoples of the world are now called to participate in the Heavenly Banquet as members of the living Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this Church, as St. Paul wrote in today’s epistle reading, “there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.” As he also wrote to the Ephesians, Gentile Christians “are no longer strangers and aliens, but…fellow citizens with the saints, and…of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2: 19-21)
We must not, however, take the good news of our membership in Christ for granted. If some of our Lord’s ancestors chose to place fulfilling their self-centered desires before being faithful, we are susceptible to the very same temptations. That is why St. Paul reminds his audience to “Put to death…what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Regardless of what we say we believe or how religious our lives may appear outwardly to be, we will not be able to respond faithfully to the invitation to share in the life of Christ if we embrace thoughts, words, and deeds that strengthen our own addictions to pride, power, pleasure, and other passions. If “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk” become characteristic of who we are, then we are living according to “the old nature” of slavery to sin and death. To do is a clear sign of rejecting the invitation to participate in the Heavenly Banquet of the Messiah.
Our calling in the remaining days of the Nativity Fast is to do everything that we can to accept the great invitation that is ours at the birth of the Savior. There is nothing wrong at all with putting up a Christmas tree and other decorations in our homes this time of year, but what really matters is becoming a better living temple of Christ. If we accept the invitation to receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, then we must live as those in intimate communion with Him, as those who share in His holy, divine life by grace. There should be no room in us for anything that we cannot offer faithfully to the Lord for blessing in fulfilling His purposes for us and for the world. We do not offer only bread and wine in the Divine Liturgy, but ourselves in union with our Lord’s great Self-Offering for our salvation. “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all.”
As we pray, fast, and give of our time and resources to our neighbors with humble faith this Advent, we will find strength to turn away from the distorted habits of thought, word, and deed that so easily become excuses not to enter more fully into the great joy of Christ’s Kingdom. The only way to welcome the Savior into our lives at Christmas is to offer ourselves to Him in faith and faithfulness. Like those who prefigured or foretold Christ in the Old Testament, we must remain focused on receiving Him as the fulfillment of God’s gracious purposes for all who bear the divine image and likeness. That is why we need the forty days of the Nativity Fast to focus our attention in practical ways on what is at stake in how we respond to the great calling that is ours through the Messiah born in Bethlehem. While it is possible to say that we have better things to do than to do prepare our hearts for Him, that would be a grave mistake that reveals only our own enslavement to our passions. For His birth makes possible our deliverance from bondage to sin and death and the fulfillment of what it means to be a human person in His image and likeness. As “the poor and maimed and blind and lame,” let us accept the invitation that is ours at Christ’s birth. Otherwise, we risk shutting ourselves out of the greatest banquet of all.