Alexander Graham Bell once said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” And that is so very true.
Why do you think the Church always has us prepare for the great Feasts of the Faith with a time of fasting and preparation? Because you truly miss the depths and profound wisdom of these feast days without a period of time of intense and purposeful attentiveness. Because of this, the great feast days of the Faith don’t sneak up on us UNLESS we’ve disregarded the built-in time of preparation. It’s the same with the turn of a new year or any significant event in your life like marriage or graduation or birth or even death. Preparation is the key to success!
Look at our lesson today in Matthew 3:1-6:
At that time, John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
This is the start of the public ministry of the Lord Jesus and it is preceded by the great Prophet, John, to “prepare the way of the Lord.” And what was John’s message? Repent. The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Let’s unpack this important message because it is just as true today as it was at the very beginning of the Lord’s ministry.
First, John, and later Jesus Himself, will call us to Repentance. You and I have discussed this so many times before but it bears repeating because it is the key to being prepared. The word “repent” literally means to “change your mind.” But this challenge to reorient the way you think is so much more profound than merely switching from one thought to another. This is a continual call to constantly reorient your perspective and your attention to eternal realities rather than the all too familiar traps of temporary thinking. You will be prepared for the true life of Faith as you continually repent! In fact, this is so very central to being Orthodox on Purpose that St. Isaac the Syrian will insist that “This life is made for repentance. Do not waste it on vain pursuits!”
Repentance is at the heart of the continual conversion that keeps our Orthodox faith from being mere window dressing to our lives or nothing but some cultural decoration that we use to say we are different than other cultures. Repentance requires an active attentiveness to the cosmic revelation of the Faith made Flesh in Jesus Christ and embracing His wisdom as the only perspective on living and priorities that make you a real human person. Anything less or anything else is untried and unproven. But Jesus Christ we know for us makes saints of human beings!
Then John says, and Jesus will as well, “the Kingdom is at hand.” This is no accidental turn of phrase. The Kingdom of heaven is nothing less than the intimate connection between the Creator and His creation. It is the transforming, recreating, and reforming relationship that sets creation in the right order and us in the right focus. The Kingdom isn’t a democracy. It is a loving lordship that makes us more than servants; it makes us sons and daughters through adoption! The Kingdom says there is a right way to order our lives and everything, not the Kingdom runs the risk of disordering our lives. Our embrace of the Kingdom of heaven means we embrace the perspective of eternity, not the time-bound, death-focused, temporariness that enslaves us to our time-bound passions and short-sighted desires. Of course, that slavery is to a kingdom of darkness and leads to the distortion of my truest self.
Today, as we step into a new year, it’s time to once again embrace the gift of attentive preparation to embrace and be embraced by the Kingdom of heaven, and throw off the chains to the slavery to the kingdom of our selfish passions. This year, let’s be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Lord of the Heavenly Kingdom, give me Your grace and strength to truly repent and enter into Your Kingdom of grace and peace. Give me that inner focus and attentiveness that keeps the eternal chaos of this present darkness external to me and grant me the freedom of the inner kingdom that is undisturbed by the outer struggle. Grant me a new year of determined focus on Your Kingdom and Your wisdom so that I will not be easily distracted by the temporary temptations of that which distracts me from You. Amen!
A Special Message from Fr. Barnabas: I want to say how grateful I am for all of you who invested in Faith Encouraged Ministries during our End of the Year giving campaign. It was a great success and we are ready to continue serving our mission’s purpose of encouraging you and as many others as we can with the message of our timeless Orthodox Faith. Please help us this year by forwarding the see devotions to friends and family and ask them to sign up for the daily devotions at FaithEncouraged.org. Thank You and Happy New Year!