Born for our Liberation from Bondage: Homily for the 25th Sunday After Pentecost and the 10th Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

 

Ephesians 4:1-7; Luke 13:10-17

            When Jesus Christ was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, he saw a woman who was bent over and could not straighten up.  She had been that way for eighteen years.  Imagine how her life had changed due to her disability, how frustrating that chronic illness had to be.  The Lord said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” When He laid hands on her, she was healed.  When the woman stood up straight again, she glorified God.

As was often the case when the Savior healed on the Sabbath day, there were those standing around just waiting to criticize Him for working on the day of rest.  He responded to them by noting that people do what is necessary to take care of their animals on the Sabbath.  “So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”  The force of His point was so clear that those hypocrites were put to shame and the people rejoiced.

In these weeks of the Nativity Fast, of Advent, we pray, fast, and give to the needy as we prepare to celebrate the wonderful news of the Incarnation of the Son of God, of our Lord’s birth at Christmas for the salvation of the world. Today’s gospel text provides a beautiful image of what Jesus Christ has done for us by becoming a human being, by uniting divinity and humanity in His own Person.  During these weeks, we all have the opportunity to gain the spiritual clarity to see that every one of us is like that poor woman bent over and bound with chronic, debilitating infirmity.

Though we often do our best to hide it, we are all too well acquainted with illness, pain, and death.  We face chronic challenges of various kinds from which we cannot deliver ourselves or our loved ones. We have diseases of soul, of personality, of behavior, and of relationships that cripple us, that keep us from acting, thinking, and speaking with the joyful freedom of the children of God.  We are all bent over and crippled in profound ways in relation to the Lord, our neighbors, and even ourselves.  We have all fallen short of fulfilling God’s gracious purposes for us, as has every generation since Adam and Eve.

Joachim and Anna knew all about long-term frustration and pain, for like Abraham and Sarah they were childless into their old age.  God heard their prayers, however, and gave them Mary, who would in turn give birth to the Savior Who came to liberate us all from sin and death.  Tomorrow is the feast of St. Anna’s conception of the Theotokos, which foreshadows the coming of the Lord to loose us from the infirmities that hinder our participation even now in the joyful life of the Kingdom.

The story of the Old Testament unfolded through the family of Abraham, who was told by God that he would be the father of a large, blessed family.   Some think of life after death as being accomplished through ongoing generations of children and grandchildren, not by victory over death itself.  If God’s blessings extended no further than the grave, however, then no one would ever be loosed from bondage to the wages of sin, which is death itself. Only a Savior Who is truly divine and human could enter fully into the fatal consequences of our corruption and then rise victorious over them, making it possible for us participate in the eternal life of the heavenly kingdom.

The history of the Hebrews was preparatory for the coming of the Christ, the Messiah in Whom God’s promises are fulfilled and extended to all who have faith in the Savior, regardless of their family heritage.  Christ did not come to promote one nation over another or to set up an earthly kingdom of any kind, but to fulfill our original calling as those created in the image and likeness of God.  He unites divinity and humanity and makes it possible for us to share in the eternal life of the Holy Trinity as distinct, unique persons who become radiant with the divine glory. God breaks the laws of nature in order to save us, enabling elderly women like Sarah and Anna to conceive and bear children and a young virgin named Mary to become the mother of His Son, Who Himself rose from the dead after three days in the tomb.  He is born at Christmas to work our liberation, to break the bonds of death, and to transcend the brokenness and limitations of our life in this world of corruption.

The Lord did not treat the woman in today’s reading according to her physical condition as simply a bundle of disease, even as St. Anna’s fate was not defined by barrenness.  Instead, He revealed her true identity as a beloved person, a daughter of Abraham, by enabling her to stand up straight for the first time in years.   On that particular Sabbath day, Jesus Christ related to her as a unique, cherished child of God who was not created for slavery to a corrupt, impersonal existence of pain, disease, and despair, but for blessing, health, and joy.  She glorified God for this deliverance from bondage, for this restoration of freedom, as did those who saw the miracle.

The good news of Christmas is that the Savior is born to do the same for us all, to set us free from captivity to decay, corruption, and weakness. He comes to deliver us from being defined by our infirmities so that we can leave behind our bondage and enter into the joyous freedom of the children of God.  He comes to restore us as living icons who manifest His glory and salvation as the unique persons He created us to be.

Our salvation is a process of becoming more fully our true ourselves by embracing Christ’s healing of the human person.  There is no limit to the unique beauty of our souls other than those we impose by our own refusal to unite ourselves to Him in holiness.  The more we share by grace in the life of the Holy Trinity, the more we will see that the process of our fulfillment in God is eternal.  Since our fundamental calling as human persons is to become like God in holiness, we will become more truly ourselves whenever we turn away from slavery to sin and corruption in order to embrace more fully the new life that Christ has brought to the world.

Most people today probably do not think of Advent and Christmas in relation to liberation from our bondage to sin and death.  More typically, we distort them into opportunities to strengthen our addiction to the love of money and possessions and to excess in food and drink.  Such self-centered indulgence is really nothing but bondage to ourselves, which ends up leaving us so weak spiritually that we will never be able to straighten ourselves up.  That is not surprising because, as God’s children, we were not created to find our fulfillment merely in the things of creation.  That is why we must resist the cultural temptation to become so busy with shopping and planning and partying this time of year that we end up ignoring the profound spiritual gravity of our Lord’s Incarnation.  He is born to restore us to the full dignity of His sons and daughters, to make us personal participants in the blessing and joy of the heavenly kingdom.  He comes to loose us from slavery to sin and death.

In the remaining weeks of Advent, let us follow St. Paul’s advice “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  That means that we must prepare to receive the Savior at His birth by taking steps to conform our character to His.  To be loosed from the corruptions of sin, we must receive our Lord’s healing mercy as we do what we can to live as those called to become like God in holiness.  We choose to embrace healing and liberation whenever we resist temptation, whenever we place love for God or neighbor before self-centeredness. When we stumble and fall in doing so, we will know our dependence upon His grace more fully. As we pray, fast, and give to the needy this Advent, let us do so with the joyful hope of the woman who could finally stand up straight after eighteen years.  The Savior is born to heal us all from the bondage of sin and to set us free from corruption in all its forms.  What could be more important this time of year than to prepare to welcome Him more fully into our lives?

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