The Malankara World Journal Issue 41 (December 1, 2011) is now available online at:
Table of Contents: Malankara World Journal Issue 41
1. Editor's Note: Advent Season
Advent is upon us. "Advent" is simply the Latin word for "coming." We can think about two comings or visits. The first is the arrival of the Christmas Season and the arrival of baby Jesus on Christmas Day. It celebrates the incarnation of God, the chosen messiah.
The incarnation took place 2000 years ago in Bethlehem in a manger. So, if we are waiting for an arrival, it should be for the second coming of Jesus Christ as promised. As Christians, we know Jesus is coming; but we do not know exactly when. Jesus told us that we should be ready at all time because we do not know the exact day and time He is coming. The advent season is a dress rehearsal for preparing for the arrival of Jesus.
The meaning of the advent season is "preparation," preparation for the coming of the Lord. In the liturgical season of Advent, we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas. We had covered the annunciation to Zachariah about the arrival of John, the Baptist. Then we had the annunciation to St. Mary about the incarnation of Jesus. John, the Baptist, had pointed out the messiah in St. Mary's womb when Mary visited Elizabeth. This week, we have the birth of John, the Baptist. Next week, we have the annunciation to Joseph. We should use this as a warm up for preparing to receive God in our soul constantly. The soul in a state of grace is the dwelling place of the most holy Trinity.
We make elaborate preparations for Christmas. However, on every Sunday, we encounter Jesus in the Holy Qurbano. We partake on the Living Sacrifice; we receive him into our lives when we eat his body and drink his blood. Are we doing that without any second thoughts? Are we prepared? Advent is a season to reflect on it. As Fr. Corapi once said:
"Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist is a miracle of grace that we can never prepare too well for. This is a work of the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, the One who makes us holy. To start with, we live the basic moral precept: Do good, avoid evil. Acts of virtue; caring for the poor, the hungry, the homeless, etc
help to dispose the soul as a dwelling place for God. Receiving the sacraments regularly help us to grow in grace."
Our church teaches us that the best way to prepare for the arrival of Jesus is via lent and prayers. This is why we observe 25 days lent prior to the Christmas - to get ready for His arrival. We also prepare for receiving the Holy mysteries by praying and undergoing lent before receiving Holy Qurbano. This is the continuous preparation we undertake so that irrespective of when Jesus comes, we will be ready.
This Sunday's gospel reading is about the birth of John the Baptist. John the Baptist was sent as a forerunner of Jesus to prepare the ground for Him. The message of John the Baptist was, "Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand." Our church gives great importance to the repentance. Psalm 51, the repentance psalm, is part of all of our prayers. Half of the preparation for the Holy Qurbano is repentance prayers followed by absolution.
We are so busy attending parties and shopping during the advent season that there is no time to do anything else. Our forefathers had planned it very differently. It is easy to become so immersed in the superficial aspects of preparing for Christmas that we ignore the most important preparation: making our hearts ready for the coming of the Lord. Advent is the time for self-reflection. It is time of introspection. It is the time to cleanse our bodies and heart; it is the time to repent our sins, obtain absolution and cleanse us of the sins so that the Holy Spirit can come and dwell in us when we partake on the Qurbano. This is a good time to reflect on the song we sing while the priest is interceding on our behalf during the Qurbano ("Yachikkendum samayamitha..")
Come, the time of prayer is here,
Come for pardon, have no fear;
'Tis the time to ask anew
'Tis the time for mercy too
Mercy here is full and free,
Come beloved come and see,
Give the kiss of peace divine,
Hearts sincere in love combine.
Lord have mercy on us now,
Grant forgiveness as we bow,
Answer, Lord, our earnest plea;
Good art thou-though frail we be.
So, instead of speeding up, we need to slow down during the advent season. We need to spend our time in silence and meditation so that we will recognize it when Jesus returns. That is the real meaning of advent (preparation) and this season.
2. Bible Readings for This Sunday
Birth of John the Baptist
St. Mark 10 : 13-16
St. Matthew 11: 11-19
Before Holy Qurbana
Genesis 21: 1-21
1 Samuel 1 : 20-28 , 2 : 18 -26
Psalms 127 : 1 -5
Isaiah 62: 1-12
I John 3:1-3
Ephesians 6: 1-4;
Colosians 3: 20-21
St. Luke 1:57-80
Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church
3. Sermons for This Sunday
Birth of John the Baptist: John the Forerunner
by Father Mead, New York
"And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his way."
Gospel Reading: St. Luke 1:57-80
Over the ages, God had an extraordinary way of working through these sorts of unusual circumstances to advance his purposes. Think of Abraham and Sarah, of Samson's parents, of Samuels mother; or, for that matter, of the harlot Rahab, the Moabite Ruth, or even King David's wife Bathsheba and their son Solomon. A different kind of king was about to be conceived and born (on Christmas Day); and his still unborn yet already named cousin, John, his prophetic forerunner, was well on the way when angel Gabriel announced to St. Mary about the incarnation of Messiah.
Mary, two months after the annunciation, went to visit Elizabeth. On that occasion, John, less than one month away from birth, leaped in the womb of his mother, who interpreted it as a salute at the approach of Mary and her child. "How is this granted me," exclaimed Elizabeth, "that the mother of my Lord should come to me!"
Elizabeths husband Zechariah was slower than his wife to sense the presence of the Lord. It is worth noting that Zechariah was a priest who took his rounds at the Jerusalem Temple. Perhaps he was afflicted with the familiar problem of clergy burnout. In any case, he didn't believe the Angel Gabriel: "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?" The messenger answered: "I am Gabriel, who stand in presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you to bring you this good news. And behold you shall be unable to speak until this comes to pass." Imagine a priest unable to speak for nine months. Zechariah sounds a little like that other religious leader, Nicodemus, who visited Jesus by night and asked, "How can a man be born again; can he enter his mothers womb a second time?"
Nicodemus came around in the end, and so did poor old Zechariah, as we saw in today's Gospel which tells of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. When Elizabeth, faithful as ever, resisted the gathered people and insisted that the newborn boy's name be John rather than Zechariah Junior; and when the crowd made signs to the father, Zechariah wrote, "His name is John": Whereupon the father's tongue was loosed, and he sang one of the Churchs most beautiful canticles. The Song of Zechariah, the Benedictus Dominus Deus, has occupied a prominent position in Christian worship since at least a millennium and a half ago.
Zechariah's song is about freedom, freedom to worship God without fear. It is about release, not just from external enemies, but even more, from our internal, and therefore also eternal, enemies: bondage to sin, violence and death. Saint Luke means for us to see that just as old Zechariah was given freedom of speech at the birth of his son whom he obediently named John, so the way is prepared for the rest of us to receive the freedom of the Gospel.
John the Baptist, with his austere, simple message of repentance, shows the way forward. Turn to God; break away from your sins, and bear fruit that shows a new mind and heart. For what, we may ask; what then? For the coming of the Redeemer Jesus Christ, for the birth of the Messiah, not only into human history but into our hearts.
Jesus Christ is a Messiah who is not so much a political deliverer as he is a liberator from the deepest enemies of human life: sin, violence and death; although throughout history, the liberation of the Gospel has led to political justice and freedom as well. John leaped in his mother's womb at this Messiahs approach. John baptized Jesus thirty years later and said he was not worthy to untie his sandal. But John himself had to struggle with doubt over whether such a figure as Jesus, such a Lamb of God, was really the one he was expecting. Or should he look for another? No, Jesus was the one for whom John was the forerunner. As Zechariah prophesied, "Thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways
to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."
A famous crucifixion painting by sixteenth century artist Matthias Grunewald depicts the Messiah dying a most horrible death, a death that burns away any sentimentality about our Savior. But next to this ghastly scene is, of all people, John the Baptist, pointing his finger at the crucified Lord, holding the writings of the prophets in his other hand. The artist has it right, as did John when he leaped in his mother's womb at the approach of pregnant Mary. Jesus is the one. Behold the Lamb of God! Christ's crucifixion, which silences all of us, just as the first notice of Christ's forerunner silenced old Zechariah, is the very thing which gives us freedom to live, to pray, and to sing God's praises.
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
[Editor's Note: This is an excerpted and edited version of Homily by Fr. Mead, © 20072011 Saint Thomas Church, NY.]
More homilies, sermons, bible commentaries and analyses are available in Malankara World. Please check them out.
Sermons and Bible Commentaries on the Sunday of the Birth of John the Baptist
4. Inspiration: God's Grace is a Bridge that God's Faithfulness Travels on!
Key Scripture: Luke 1:57-80
St. Luke shows us that even righteous people can learn more about Gods grace through hard times and still be instruments, testimonies of His faithfulness. In this section of the gospel of Luke Gods plan is fulfilled, John is born of a barren older woman and a man who is righteous and who doubts loses his ability to speak and learned from his mistake. Gods faithfulness is that John is born and born to be the forerunner to the messiah and another demonstration of Gods grace and faithfulness.
Dr. Bock in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke points out some key parts of this story.
1."When God acts we should listen. Zechariah could not believe so God gave him time to reflect. Can I ask you a question; how many times have you struggled with something, some challenge, obstacle and not realized that maybe it was a time to reflect on Gods faithfulness or plan and or grace?
2.At the end of the reflection Zechariah is reminded that God does what he says! Remember we where told earlier, vs. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth are upright in the sight of God and observing all the Lords commandments and regulations blamelessly.
3.It also shows from the Zechariah has learned from his mistake, through the pain of discipline, he Zechariah emerges a stronger man of God. Dr. Bock points out that those who are arrogant, thinking they know it all, have no need for God or for instruction Zechariah is not an arrogant man."
5. Featured This Week: Preparing for The Visit of the Incarnate God
Zechariah is singing about a divine visit of momentous proportion--a visit his son, John, will prepare the world to receive in the right way. The Greek word he uses is loaded with grace. This same word was used at other times to describe the way someone might visit a lonely person or a widow in distress. This is a healing kind of visit, in other words. This is a type of visit motivated by an awareness that someone is hurting, and so you want to see if you can help.
God is visiting this world with a deep-seated desire to help. But are we ready to receive this visit in the right way? Because no matter how well-motivated a given visit may be, the person receiving it needs to be in the right frame of mind.
...Over the centuries, even the church has allowed the message of Advent to become mostly about joy at the expense of any talk of judgment. In Zechariah's song there is a lot of talk about salvation but there is also some talk about punishment for God's enemies. We may sing "Joy the world, the Lord is come," but we need to face up to the fact that there are any number of people in this world who actually find no joy at all in the Christian message. They hate it. And they don't want this Jesus to be called their "Lord" in any sense.
That's why all four gospels talk about John the Baptist and his fiery message of repentance. Two of the four gospels do not mention Jesus' birth at all. But Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all recognized that no gospel would be complete without John the Baptist. A gospel may skip Christmas but it may not skip John. Why? Because as Zechariah knew already when John was just eight days old, John was going to be the necessary advance man to get the world ready to receive Jesus.
If Jesus was the one who would plant the mustard seed of the kingdom into the soil of this world, then John was to be the one who did the hard work of plowing the soil to get ready for that planting. John would be the one who would sink down his plow blade into human hearts that were the spiritual equivalent of a parched field whose dirt had long ago hardened into something resembling concrete. If Jesus was God's divine Visitor to this world, then John was the one who was sent to prepare the way.
Because God knew and John the Baptist knew that how the forthcoming visit of God's Son would be received would very much depend on people's situation. If they were eager to hear the good news that God's tender mercies were available to forgive their sins, then they'd be glad to hear just that message from the lips of Jesus. But if people didn't think they had a problem with sin, then the visit of God's Son would be merely annoying and a waste of their time.
...Yet John the Baptist exists as the gospel's necessary Advent pre-cursor precisely to confront us, to bring us into conflict with our own selves, to clench our teeth a bit so that we just maybe can repent, can change our lives and center ourselves on the holiness of God that invaded the world when Jesus visited this planet.
Commentators note that beautiful as Zechariah's song is, in a way it provides a kind of pause--almost an interruption--in the narrative flow of Luke. After all, just look what comes next in chapter 2: the most famous version of the Christmas story! This is what we are all so eager to get to this month--indeed, the Christmas season keeps getting longer as retailers and even we ourselves begin decking things out for Christmas well before Thanksgiving even arrives. We can't wait to jump into Luke 2 to see again that manger, that baby, those shepherds, and the angels dancing in the night sky.
But Luke forces us to pause. Just before Zechariah's song, everyone was asking a question we too seldom ask in Advent: What's going on here? What does this all really mean? Zechariah's song is, in part, an answer to that question as Zechariah weaves together a rich tapestry of biblical images, including God's covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, the stories of King David as well as rich imagery like the rising sun from heaven and the path of peace. The story told in Luke 2 is beautiful, vital, and worthy of our celebration. But we won't be ready for the visit of that Christ Child until we take a cue from Luke and so pause, take time for a few deep and reflective breaths, and so ponder the message John the Baptist must bring to us first.
[Editor's Note: This is an edited and excerpted version of the sermon by Scott Hoezee titled 'The Visit: A Sermon Based on Luke 1:57-80.' Full version of the sermon can be read in Malankara World at:
6. The Music of Christmas
by Mike Pohlman, Bellingham, WA
I love Christmas music. Of course, not all Christmas music is created equal. Each year I find myself migrating toward Christmas music that points me to the heart of the season. I love music that sings about God and his Christmusic that reminds me that there is a Redeemer, Jesus Christ God's own Son.
One of my favorite songs comes from the Gospel of Luke. Zachariah's prophecy is lyrical theology at its best. In this hymn of hope we are reminded of what is most profound about Christmas.
Of course, Zachariah wasn't always singing. For a time he was mute because he doubted the promise of God to provide for him and Elizabeth a sonthe one who would "turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God" (Luke 1:16). But once John was born Zachariah got his voice back and the first thing he did was offer praise to God for providing salvation: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people
" (Luke 1:68).
Zachariah's Song is made up of two long sentences with the first praising God for providing salvation (Luke 1:68-75) and the second summarizing the role of his son as the one who would prepare the way for the Lord (Luke 1:76-79).
Zachariah could not help but sing over the fulfillment of God's promise of salvation in a coming Redeemer. In a burst of exultation, Zachariah announces that God has "raised up a horn of salvation" in keeping with the words "he spoke by the mouth of the prophets from of old" (Luke 1:69-70). Indeed, all the promises of God find their "Yes" in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 1:20).
Not only is Zachariah's prophecy intended to show us the faithfulness of God, but also his mercy. This salvation is according to the "tender mercy of our God" (Luke 1:78). Even as Zachariah is summarizing the role his son John would play in preparing the way for the Lord, he cannot take his focus off God and the absolute mercy it is that he would provide a Savior. For Zachariah the purpose of the birth of Jesus Christ is to display the mercy of God (Luke 1:72). And what a mercy it is that sinners like us can find forgiveness of our sins and, in Christ, serve God "without fear, in holiness and righteousness all our days" (Luke 1:74-75).
And we must not miss the beautiful imagery Zachariah uses in predicting the coming of Christ into the world. He relates the appearing of our salvation to a majestic "sunrise
from on high" (Luke 1:78). The purpose of light is to banish darkness and this is exactly what Jesus, the Light of the world, does. As Zachariah sings, Jesus will "give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Luke 1:79).
Oh how our hearts should break this Christmas for loved ones that remain in the "shadow of death." Apart from Christ we "walk in gloom" (Isa. 59:9) and hate the light (John 3:20). We duck and hide and position ourselves in every way imaginable trying, in vain, to avoid the One with whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13). Our sin is so all-consuming that the apostle can simply call us "darkness" (Eph. 5:8). And tragically this Christmas people dear to us are replaying in their hearts Mozart's "Requiem" instead of Zachariah's hymn of hope.
But this Christmas can be different.
The Gospel is the good news that there is a way for sinners to come out of the shadow of death and enter into God's "marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). Jesus promises his followers that they "will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). This is the truth that put songs in the heart of Elizabeth, Mary, Zachariah, and Simeon. This is the news that infuriated Herod, brought Magi from the east and caused the angels to sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
Peace. Heavenly peace. This is how Zachariah concludes his song. The salvation of the Lord will "guide our feet into the way of peace." Of course, this is no ordinary peace. This is the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). This is the peace of Christ and received by faith.
Unfortunately I don't think we will see Zachariah's hymn as a "Top Song" at iTunes any time soon. However, this is a song infinitely more valuable than anything we will ever see featured there and a song worth singing not just this Christmas, but for all eternity.
7. Book Excerpt: In the School of Prayer - Lesson: 15: The Power of United Prayer
"Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them." - Matthew 18:19,20
...prayer needs equally for its full development the hidden secrecy in which the soul meets God alone, and the public fellowship with those who find in the name of Jesus their common meeting-place.
One of the first lessons of our Lord in His school of prayer was: Not to be seen of men. Enter thy inner chamber; be alone with the Father. When He has thus taught us that the meaning of prayer is personal individual contact with God, He comes with a second lesson: You have need not only of secret solitary, but also of public united prayer. And He gives us a very special promise for the united prayer of two or three who agree in what they ask.
As a tree has its root hidden in the ground and its stem growing up into the sunlight, so prayer needs equally for its full development the hidden secrecy in which the soul meets God alone, and the public fellowship with those who find in the name of Jesus their common meeting-place.
Grace renews not alone our relation to God but to man too.
The reason why this must be so is plain. The bond that unites a man to his fellow-men is no less real and close than that which unites him to God: he is one with them. Grace renews not alone our relation to God but to man too. We not only learn to say My Father, but Our Father.
Nothing would be more unnatural than that the children of a family should always meet their father separately, but never in the united expression of their desires or their love. Believers are not only members of one family, but even of one body.
It was to the hundred and twenty continuing in one place together, and praying with one accord, that the Spirit came from the throne of the glorified Lord.
Just as each member of the body depends on the other, and the full action of the spirit dwelling in the body depends on the union and co-operation of all, so Christians cannot reach the full blessing God is ready to bestow through His Spirit, but as they seek and receive it in fellowship with each other.
It is in the union and fellowship of believers that the Spirit can manifest His full power. It was to the hundred and twenty continuing in one place together, and praying with one accord, that the Spirit came from the throne of the glorified Lord... Continue Reading http://www.Malankaraworld.com/Library/Prayers/Murray/Murray_Lesson-15-United-Prayer.htm
8. Prayer that Pleases Him
by Greg Laurie
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14
Nothing lies outside of the reach of prayer except that which is outside of the will of God. God answers the requests that He inspires. Thus, we need a good working knowledge of Scripture.
So when I pray for provision, I might say, "Lord, You have told us in Your Word that You will supply all of our needs according to Your riches and glory in Christ Jesus. . . ." (see Philippians 4:19.) Am I saying this to educate God, as though He would say, "Well, I didnt know that! That is good stuff"? No. I am reminding myself of what the Bible says. And I am basing my prayer request on a promise of Scripture. It also bolsters my faith, because I am asking God to answer a prayer in which I have quoted Scripture.
The apostles quoted Scripture when they prayed: "Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said: Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? . . . " (Acts 4:2526).
Jesus said, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7). Another way to translate this would be, "If you maintain a living communion with Me, and My words are at home in you, you shall ask at once for yourself whatever your heart desires, and it will be yours."
God is not a genie who will answer every request we make. But God will answer our prayers if we are maintaining a living communion with Him and His Word is at home in usbecause we will be asking what He wants us to ask for.
Copyright © 2011 by Harvest Ministries
9. The Discipline of Going to Church
by Daniel Darling
Going to church can become routine. I know it, because I grew up going to church three times a week (at least). It was not a choice my parents gave me. It was something we did, part of our regular routine.
As a second-generation Christian, I know full well the dangers of making spirituality overly routine. I have experienced long stretches of dryness where I was "going through the motions" and filling a pew. This can be dangerous to spiritual health. Traditionalism can become legalism. We can be satisfied with doing what we are supposed to do and avoiding spiritual introspection and growth.
However, I have come to appreciate the discipline of merely going to church. I used to say that "you shouldn't just go to church to go to church." But I've reconsidered this. The discipline of going to church every week for the majority of your life is in itself an act of worship, of sacrifice. You're saying to yourself and to the world that assembling with the called-out people of God, that the story of Christianity, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus matters so much that you're willing to dedicate at least one day a week to it. ... Continue Reading
10. Calming Quarrels in your Marriage
by Eric and April Motl
Whats the number one thing that stirs up a conflict in your home? Money? The Kids? Schedules? The remote control?
Disagreements are a natural part of marriage - no two people can see the world exactly the same 100% of the time. Disagreements can even be good when we go about them in a healthy way. But fighting? That is an entirely different matter.
Before my husband and I got married, he told me that married couples didnt have to fight. I told him he was living in lala land and that all married people fight. I thought it worked like gravity - you get married, you fight. As if you are all the sudden transported from your wedding reception into some kind of metaphorical boxing ring. Thankfully, through some solid discipleship and growing in the Lord, I discovered that marriage could hold a deep sweetness that came without destructive fighting.
While fighting and marriage appear to go hand-in-hand, they werent designed to! The status of the conflicts in your home deeply matters to God. Lets read what He has to say about it in the book of James. ... Continue Reading
11. Recipe: Mixing is More Important Than Baking in Christmas Cake Recipes
by: Chef Todd Mohr
Have you ever taken the results of your familys Christmas cake recipe out of the oven and been disappointed? How can the same recipe created year after year always come out differently? Why didnt my cake BAKE correctly?
Im here to tell you that the problem with most home baking mistakes isnt in the BAKING, its in the MIXING of your cakes that most mistakes are made.
There are three goals in cake mixing, whether its a Christmas cake recipe, or any other baked good at any time of the year.
The first goal in cake mixing is to combine all the ingredients into a uniform batter. This may seem obvious, but when you dont scrape the mixing bowl during the process you can have streaks of dry flour in your batter. If you havent incorporated eggs in the precise way to get the best emulsification, then how you BAKE the item really wont matter. ... Continue Reading
12. Humor: Guilt
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In HIS Service
Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World Journal
ID No: 956