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homily for 1/2/11 - 1b4nat - approaching the feast

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  • Fr David Moser
    Matthew 1:1-25 As many of you know, I travel occasionally to San Francisco to visit our Holy Virgin Cathedral. The Cathedral is, of course, the home of our
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2 4:33 PM
      Matthew 1:1-25

      As many of you know, I travel occasionally to San Francisco to visit our
      Holy Virgin Cathedral. The Cathedral is, of course, the home of our
      Archbishop as well as the resting place of the relics of St John the
      Wonderworker. Sometimes I fly to San Francisco and sometimes I drive.
      When flying, if I happen to be sitting by window on the right side of
      the plane, the usual approach pattern allows me to look out and see the
      city below. It is possible to see the domes of the Catheral as we pass
      over the city. From that distance, you can’t see many details, and of
      course you can’t see anything inside – but I get a glimpse of my
      destination. As I drive up the street and approach the Cathedral, again
      I can begin to see some of the features of the exterior from a few
      blocks away. What I can see becomes more and more detailed as I
      approach, park the car and walk to the doors. The thing that I can never
      see as I approach is the interior. While the outside of the Cathedral is
      inspiring and beautiful in its own right and by its style gives some
      indication of the interior, just flying over or driving by will never
      allow me to see the true beauty on the inside. For that it is necessary
      to enter.

      Today, we are approaching the feast of the Nativity of the Lord. We are
      given a picture in the Gospel of the “outside” of the feast – that is we
      heard the earthly geneology of Jesus Christ by which we can understand
      the preparations that were made for His birth by God throughout the
      ages. Also we heard a description of the prophecies and events leading
      up to His birth which give us an indication of the significance of the
      actual event. All of this though is like flying over or driving up to
      the Cathedral – they are all the “exterior” features of the approaching
      feast. We are still outside the feast.

      The genealogy of Jesus Christ in the first verses of the Gospel of
      Matthew serve to demonstrate the preparations that God made throughout
      the ages for the coming of the promised Messiah. We can see how it was
      that the physical body which He would have was formed and shaped through
      His ancestors – and because it isn’t just genetics that are passed on
      but also the soulful characteristics, we begin to see something of His
      character as well. As we remembered last week, the Virgin Mary is the
      end product of generations of preparation. She is the pinnacle of human
      perfection, the one who was produced by the chosen people of God to be
      the vehicle by which the Promised One was to come into the world. The
      account of the doubts and reassurance of the Righteous Joseph, the
      protector of the Virgin and her Child, serve to remind us that it is not
      only the physical preparation that comes to a focal point here but also
      the spiritual preparation of the chosen people and of the whole world to
      receive the coming of the Messiah. All of this, however, is still the
      exterior – we have not yet seen the interior, the true essence and great
      mystery of the Nativity. For that we must enter into the feast itself.

      So here I stand at the beautiful huge doors of the Cathedral, ready to
      enter. But I have not yet gone inside. I pull out of my pocket a photo
      of the inside of the Cathedral knowing that once inside this is what I
      will see. But I have not yet come inside and so although I have a
      picture of the appearance of the interior, still I have not yet
      experienced it – I am still only looking in from the outside.

      As we continue to approach the feast we will recall all that we have
      seen and heard in the past, we will read in the Gospel the accounts of
      the birth of Jesus Christ, of His birth in the stable because there was
      no room at the inn, of Him being wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying
      in a manger, of the choirs of angels and coming of the shepherds, of the
      visitation and gifts of the magi. All of these details and more come
      flooding into our minds from our memories and from the Gospel readings.
      As we gaze at the icon of the feast we see the many elements of this
      great Mystery set before us. But still we are only looking in from the
      outside. From all this we still only see the birth of a small child into
      an impoverished and difficult world. We still have not experienced the
      true Mystery of the feast, the essence of the feast which sets it apart
      from every other moment in history.

      On the eve of the feast itself, we will come to the Church and here by
      singing the hymns of the feast and by our prayers, we will open the
      doors and enter inside. We will discover the great mystery that sets
      this event apart from all of history. We will discover that this is not
      just the birth of a child to very special parents whose birth was
      foretold throughout the ages. In this moment, God, the Creator of the
      Universe has Himself taken on our human flesh and has become like us. In
      this moment the very fabric of space and time have been opened and God
      Himself has entered into our world and come to us. In this moment God
      has revealed Himself to us and has become man in order that we might
      know Him and come to Him. This is the great mystery, the essence of the
      moment which can never be seen from the outside, but which must be
      experienced in the heart and mind of each person. This is what awaits us
      on the feast itself.

      Now if I were to open the doors of the cathedral and enter inside, I
      would immediately see and experience firsthand the beauty and majesty
      that had only been hinted at before. The experience of being in the
      Cathedral and of standing in the presence of the relics of the saint and
      breathing the air which resonates with the hymns and prayers of so many
      people throughout the years is something that could never have been
      guessed at from the outside. What before was only hinted at, what before
      was only a picture, has now become a reality. But still even inside
      there is more. I can look around at see the beauty and majesty of the
      interior and still not experience what it is that sets this place apart
      from all the other architectural and artistic places in San Francisco.
      It could be nothing more than a great art museum or exhibit. Awe
      inspiring and uplifting, yes, but still nothing unique, nothing
      different. In order to truly experience the mystery of the cathedral, I
      must also open my heart and myself join in the hymns and the prayers. I
      must open my soul and receive the grace of the Holy Spirit which is
      palpable in that place. Only then will I truly understand, only then
      will I truly see, only then will I truly experience the Cathedral.

      In the same way, we can come to the services of Christmas and be
      inspired by the beautiful hymns and prayers. We can appreciate the birth
      of Christ and even acknowledge that He is the incarnate God/man come
      into the world joining divinity to humanity so that we who are human
      might in turn be joined to Him Who is divine. But if we do not open our
      hearts and souls and touch Him and receive from Him the grace which
      flows from His presence, then we only are reading a history book or
      seeing a play enacted on a historical theme. If we are really to
      experience the mystery of the incarnation, then we must open ourselves
      and enter into that mystery. If we were to come on the eve of the feast
      but neglect to come to the festal liturgy on the day of the feast then
      we would miss an essential part of the experience. If we come to the
      liturgy but do not receive the eucharist we have missed something
      essential to the mystery. It is in receiving the Most Holy Body and Most
      Precious Blood of Christ that He touches us and we touch Him. In this
      way the Incarnation of God becomes not just an event of history, but it
      becomes a personal experience. God became man so that we who are men
      might be joined to Him. In the sacraments, and especially that of His
      Body and Blood, that joining becomes real and He enters into us,
      transforming us and changing us so that we might become like Him. This
      is the essence of the mystery – this is the true experience of the feast.

      Today we approach the feast from afar. We begin to see the outline of it
      from the sky and we begin to see the shape of it as we approach. As we
      come nearer and nearer we will see ever more details and the image will
      become ever sharper. But even when we arrive at the threshold we must
      still open the door and enter into the celebration of the feast. Even
      then we must not only be present at the feast, but we must open our
      hearts and experience first hand the coming of God into the world – into
      our world. God has come to us and offers Himself to us – if we pass by
      this opportunity to experience firsthand the God/man Jesus Christ, then
      we miss the true essence and mystery of the feast. This is your chance
      to prepare, to come and join in the celebration and to experience the
      great mystery of the incarnation first hand – don’t just “drive by”,
      don’t “stop at the door”, don’t just “look around” but enter in and open
      yourself to the coming of the God/man Jesus Christ.

      Archpriest David Moser
      St Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church (ROCOR)
      Homilies: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/propoved/
      Website: http://stseraphimboise.org
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