OK, so, the store started putting out decorations for Christmas around Halloween! Subtle signs that the gift buying season was approaching and letting us know we better get to it if we were going to get all that cool stuff to give as presents at Christmas. And, as usual, the stories of many who were upset that the Christmas decorations were out “too early” for their tastes and “why can’t they wait till after Thanksgiving, you know like the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade does when Santa comes at the end of the parade and then it’s Christmas time.” Yep, all signs of that “special season.”
But, of course, the truth is Christmas starts AFTER the first star appears on Christmas Eve and then lasts a full TWELVE DAYS! (Guess when I want to put up the Christmas Tree?)
Oh well, try as we may, our culture reallys does telegraph what’s important to the masses. The truth is it’s better to simply be honest about reality and then continually measure “what is” in a honest and passionless manner to “what should be.” But the only way to do that is to be able to understand the deeper signs of the Kingdom of God!
Look at our Gospel Lesson today in Luke 21:28-33:
The Lord said to his disciples, “Look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees; as soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”
“These things” the Lord mentions refer to the earlier “signs” He talks about in the verses above this passage we read today. But a careful examination of “these things” reveals that most of what the Lord was saying had everything to do with the years following His resurrection when the Roman army would destroy the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD. So, then, what does all this have to do with us today?
The most powerful lessons we can take from this wisdom our Lord offers us today is: First, we are to hone our attention toward the Kingdom of God. Making our faith the focus of our daily lives and not merely a once-a-week ritual keeps us awake to “see” our surroundings in light of that Kingdom. Second, this awareness of the Kingdom of God is created, matured, and heightened by the active practice of the Faith in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, frequent confession, frequent communion, and an active Icon corner in your own home. It’s when we are expending our energy toward the Kingdom that we can “see” the signs of His Presence everywhere. Finally, this active practice of the Faith keeps us focused, not on passing circumstances, but on His words, His wisdom, His Way. The enemy of our souls wants us so focused on temporary and passing circumstances that we become “distracted” from the Kingdom of God. He wants to flood our minds and hearts with fear, confusion, and doubt, so that we miss the “signs” of the Lord’s Presence in our lives. We are lulled to sleep by worry or even elation and that intoxication blinds us to the reality of the eternal nature of the Faith we are invited daily to embrace!
Today, as we continue the Nativity Fast toward Bethlehem, let’s not allow all the distractions to stupify our hearts and minds. We know where that leads. It leads to a distracted life and a distracted life is a life too small to see what we were meant to be. No, let’s make sure that, today, in the moments of this day, we are “awake” to the “signs” that Jesus Christ is active in our lives through our participation in His Body, the Church. And, in so doing, we won’t be surprised when it turns out it is much later than we think. In fact, we’ll be ready for whatever comes our way in life BECAUSE we are Orthodox on purpose.