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Homily for 1/4/04 - Sunday before Nativity

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  • David Moser
    Matthew 1:1-25 Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the feast of the Entrance of the Virgin into the Temple. The righteous ancestors of God, Joakim and Anna
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 4, 2004
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      Matthew 1:1-25

      Just a few weeks ago we celebrated the feast of the Entrance of the Virgin
      into the Temple. The righteous ancestors of God, Joakim and Anna brought
      their young child, the Virgin Mary to the temple at the age of three where
      she would live a life dedicated to the service of God until she reached
      womanhood. By an act of inspiration, the high priest at that time, the
      righteous Zachariah, the future of the John the Baptist, took the young Mary
      and settled her in the Holy of Holies in the temple. The ark of the
      covenant, which symbolized the presence of God, had once been kept in the
      Holy of Holies, but had since been taken into hiding in Ethiopia and so
      lost. But Zachariah, seeing by God's grace that this child would herself
      become the ark of God, the vessel by which God came to man, set her there as
      the reality of which the ark was but an icon.

      After number of years, the young child reached her womanhood. By law and
      custom it was now required that she leave the temple and return to her
      parents home, marry and raise her own children. But the Evervirgin had been
      inspired with the ideal of living a life of virginity as did the righteous
      Miriam, the sister of Moses before her and the Holy Prophet Elias. The
      priests of the temple, seeing the deep love of God in the Virgin wished to
      find a way to honor her desire, however, it was not possible for her to
      remain in the temple. The High Priest, still the righteous Zachariah, turned
      to God in prayer and was instructed by an angel to entrust the Holy Mary to
      a widower who would keep her in his household and preserve her viriginity.
      According to the instruction of the angel, all the widowers of Jerusalem
      were called together and their walking staffs were gathered and taken into
      the Holy of Holies - there they remained overnight while Zachariah continued
      in fervent prayer before the Lord. The next day the staffs were returned to
      their owners and the angel had foretold that the staff of the one chosen by
      God as the protector of the Virgin would bloom just as the rod of Aaron had
      bloomed in the time of Moses. The budding rod is in accordance with the
      prophecy that "...there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and
      a blossom shall come up from his root..." (Is 11:1-2). Among those present
      was the righteous Joseph, then eighty years old, of the tribe of Judah and
      of the royal house of David. After 40 years of marriage, he was a recent
      widower of about one year. As he received his staff from the hand of the
      high priest, for the top of it there blossomed forth a bud and it flowered.

      Joseph then was betrothed to the Virgin Mary and he took her into his
      household. Joseph, being a carpenter was obliged to leave then to go to
      Judea in order to tend to his trade of building houses. While he was gone,
      the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin and announced to her that she
      would be the mother of the Holy Child, the promised Messiah, the God/Man
      Jesus Christ. Shortly thereafter Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth who
      was married to Zachariah, the High Priest and who was pregnant with the
      Forerunner. Upon her return to the household of Joseph, only the Virgin Mary
      and Elizabeth knew of Mary's pregnancy. However, soon, she was no longer
      able to hide her condition and Joseph returning from his labors was alarmed
      and dismayed to discover her condition. He considered her pregnancy as a
      failure on his part of the task entrusted to him by God to preserve and
      protect the Virgin.

      At this point we now recall the Gospel we just heard. Joseph, not wanting to
      cause the Virgin undue harm resolved to take care of the matter and dismiss
      her from his household privately. But he could not think of a way to do this
      before he was also visited by an angel who revealed to him the supernatural
      nature of Mary's pregnancy. Even this reassurance, however, did not end his
      difficulty. Joseph, having been away for so long, was missed in the assembly
      of the temple. Since his return was known, the priest Annas came to visit
      him and to inquire after him. The condition of the Virgin Mary could not be
      hidden from this visitor who returned with the news of that Joseph had
      violated the trust given him by the priests. The assembly of the priests
      called Joseph and Mary before them and demanded an explanation of what had
      happened. Both Joseph and Mary maintained their innocence in the face of
      this questioning and finally they were tested with the "water of ordeal".
      According to the practice of the Jews at that time, a persons guilt or
      innocence would be revealed if they drank of this water. The guilty would
      suffer and die, while the innocent would remain unharmed. When both Joseph
      and Mary showed no ill effects of this the priest the dismissed them saying,
      "If the Lord God did not make manifest your sin, neither will I judge you."
      Joseph then returned home with Mary and kept her as his wife, thereby
      protecting both mother and Child.

      This incident from the birth of Christ reveals to us the deep mystery of our
      Lord's birth as well as the degree of faith that was required by both the
      righteous Joseph and the Virgin Mary. Despite the fact that neither could
      understand how such a thing could happen, both willingly accepted this
      miracle from God and even when faced with the judgement of the priests and
      possible death from the "water of ordeal" they remained faithful to the
      Truth that God had revealed to them.

      As we approach the Nativity of the Lord, it is good to recall that the seed
      of life has been planted in us; just as the Mother of God conceived and bore
      in her body the flesh of God, so we also bear within our soul the seed of
      spiritual Life. As that Life grows within us and transforms us into the
      likeness of God, we will be tempted even as the righteous Joseph was
      tempted. When Joseph was confronted with the Life that grew within the womb
      of the Virgin Mary, he decided at first to "put her away", that is to set
      aside this miracle and get on with his life. How often are we all faced with
      that temptation, when faced with the Life of Christ within us that begins to
      transform us and which requires that we deny ourselves, even in small ways.
      The temptation to simply "get on with" our own life and to ignore the Life
      of Christ within is strong and comes constantly. Sometimes we are tempted to
      imagine just how easy life would be if not for this spiritual struggle that
      we face. Sometimes the demands of this Life seem to illogical and beyond our
      understanding and so we resist. Sometimes we just want to do what we want to
      do and rebel against the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Whatever the reason,
      we are tempted like Joseph to set aside this Life which has intruded on our
      own life. But Joseph resisted this temptation and because of his faith was
      granted a vision of angels by which he learned of the miraculous nature of
      this life and he realized that this Life was not the result of any human
      will or any human effort, but rather it was the gift of God, not only for
      himself and the Virgin, but for the whole world. Then he denied himself and
      took the Virgin into his home as his wife and there he kept and protected
      her and the Child which she bore.

      Like Joseph we will not only be tempted but we will also be tested. There
      will come those who wrongfully accuse us or who force us to undergo trials
      and difficulties. Because of these sufferings we will again be tempted to
      deny the life that we have been given and to instead conform to the demands
      of the fallen world. There will be direct challenges to our faith, when we
      see clearly that the Life that is within us is in conflict with the life of
      the world. And when we submit to the Life of Christ we suffer in the world.
      At these times we think again that perhaps this spiritual life is too much
      trouble, it is restricting, it keeps us from truly living was we want to
      live. Sometimes we are even faced with the possibility of injury or death
      because of our faith (as were the Holy Martyrs). And yet we need only to
      call to mind the faithfulness of the righteous Joseph and of the Virgin
      Mary. Sometimes this temptation is not so obvious and it simply is a
      restriction on how we behave towards others. The life of Christ demands of
      us that we forgive others and that we do good to those who hate us. But then
      we are confronted with all the little irritations of life, all the people
      who cause us problems and difficulties, all the little offenses that just
      rub the wrong way. And we are again tempted just to act out of revenge, or
      our own sense of justice, or out of anger and aggression - but this is the
      way of the world, not the life of Christ. Again call to mind the example of
      the righteous Joseph, whose life was disrupted in so many ways by the coming
      of the Virgin and then of the Life which she bore - and yet he was steadfast
      in his faith, obedient to God, willing to deny himself and to offer up his
      life for the glory of God.

      As we approach the feast of our Lord's Nativity, let us not forget that His
      Life resides within each of us. We too bear within our souls the Life of
      Christ, just as the Mother of God bore within her womb that same Life and
      gave it flesh. And when we celebrate the birth of Christ, the coming of God
      into the world, we celebrate not only a past event, but an event that is
      happening even now within the soul - the Holy Spirit, by His grace is
      transforming us and making each of us anew in His likeness, and continues to
      come into the world through each of us, who have been reborn in baptism and
      renewed in chrismation through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ has come,
      not only into the world, but into your soul as well - and just as the Holy
      Virgin bore Him in her womb so you bear Christ in your soul and just as she
      gave Him flesh, so also you give Him your own flesh. The life of Christ is
      within you: treasure it, keep it, preserve it, protect it, nurture it that
      you might be transformed by it.
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