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Homily for 1/8/12 - afternat - blessing and temptation

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  • Fr David Moser
    Matthew 2:13-23 The feast of the Nativity of our Lord is just past and we have welcomed the incarnate God into our midst. This event is the greatest of all
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 9, 2012
      Matthew 2:13-23

      The feast of the Nativity of our Lord is just past and we have welcomed
      the incarnate God into our midst. This event is the greatest of all
      blessings, there is nothing that can compare; that our God and Creator
      should deign to take flesh and become man for us and for our salvation.
      The life of Christ is the pivot upon which all of time and space and the
      whole of creation turns. The birth of Christ is one of the greatest
      outpourings of grace in all of creation. This is truly one of the high
      points in the whole history of the world.

      And yet, this great event is followed by a horrible tragedy. Herod the
      King, instead of welcoming the newborn Messiah as did the Magi, sought
      instead to destroy the Child and ordered the murder of every child under
      the age of two just to be sure he got the right one. The great joy of
      the incarnation is followed by the grief and sorrow of “Rachael weeping
      for her children.”

      We all experience this pattern of joy and sorrow in our own spiritual
      lives for this is the warfare of the evil one. Whenever there is a time
      of great blessing, it seems that it is closely followed by a time of
      great temptation. Whenever we receive a gift from God, it is as if the
      evil one seeks to snatch that gift away, or at least compromise it and
      make it useless by some equally great temptation. In the life of Christ
      we can see this same pattern occurring and at least three different
      responses from Christ Himself that we can imitate in our own lives.

      The first of these instances in the life of Christ is that which we just
      read – the slaughter of the innocents. Even at the very time of our
      Lord’s birth, He is threatened by the actions of the servants of the
      evil one. His response at this time was to flee – to avoid the
      temptation and to get away from the danger. Joseph, being warned by an
      angel in a dream, took the Virgin and her child and fled from Bethlehem,
      indeed from the whole province governed by Herod the king, and traveled
      into Egypt where they would be safe. Here we see the first kind of
      response to the threats and temptations that we face in our spiritual
      lives which is simply avoidance. The newborn Christ Child was not yet
      strong enough to resist so great and violent a temptation and so in
      order not to fall prey to the actions of Herod, He ran away from it – He
      removed Himself (through the action of His protector, the righteous
      Joseph) from exposure to the temptation. For us, when we are tempted by
      the evil one, our first line of defense is to simply remove ourselves
      from the environment of the temptation and seek out a safe place. That
      “flight into Egypt” can be as simple as getting up from your chair and
      going to another room; or perhaps changing your environment, stop
      reading that book or listening to that music, or watching that TV show,
      or surfing the internet, or doing whatever it is that has put you in the
      path of temptation and do something else that is, if not spiritually
      beneficial, at least neutral and which takes you away from the source of
      the temptation. As spiritual strugglers, we can also be proactive about
      this by guarding our senses as the doorways into the soul – being
      careful about the things to which we expose ourselves, what we see, what
      we hear, the situations into which we put ourselves and avoiding those
      that we know will bring us into temptation. It is also worthy of note
      here that those around Christ, the righteous Joseph and the Ever Virgin
      Mary protected Him by their actions – and in the same way we are often
      protected by the prayers and actions of our fellow Christians who are
      stronger than us in the life of Christ. Simple avoidance, fleeing
      temptation, is the first and most basic means by which we can overcome
      the temptations and attacks of the evil one.

      Of course we cannot avoid all the temptations all the time. Again we
      look to the life of Christ for inspiration when we find ourselves in the
      midst of an attack by the evil one. At the beginning of His earthly
      ministry among those who had known Him, our Lord revealed Himself as the
      One whose coming was prophesied in the Scriptures. The Jews had been
      awaiting the coming of the promised Messiah for thousands of years and
      as we heard last Sunday through at least 42 generations from Abraham
      (Matt. 1:1-17). And yet, when He appears in their midst they do not
      welcome Him with joy, but seek to kill Him (Luke 4:16ff). In the city of
      Nazareth where He had been raised, after his baptism and temptation in
      the wilderness, Jesus entered into the synagogue and began to read from
      the book of the Prophet Isaiah about the coming Messiah. Closing the
      book He told the people that the prophecy had been fulfilled before
      them. Realizing that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah, the people
      rose up and took Him to a precipice in order to throw Him off and stone
      Him. But Jesus, walked calmly through the midst of the crowd leaving
      their desire unfulfilled. In this case He faced the attack of the evil
      one and it was powerless to harm Him due to His unwavering faith and
      because He did not stray from the path that the Father had laid out for
      Him in the world. He had the full and complete confidence in the
      Father’s deliverance and protection that He was able to face the
      temptation and trial head on and then walk right on by it. There are
      times when we also must face temptation and the attacks of the evil one
      and cannot avoid them. At those times we hold onto our faith in God’s
      protection and care and walk boldly and firmly in the path that He sets
      before us never turning to the right or to the left, never wavering to
      one side or the other , strengthened and protected by our faith in Him.
      At these times we are strengthened by prayer, by the reading of the
      Gospel and by obedience to the will of God (as Jesus demonstrated in his
      response to the temptations in the wilderness). The second response to
      the temptation and attack of the evil one is that of strengthening our
      faith and standing behind that shield of faith which protects us from
      the fiery darts of the evil one (Eph 6:16).

      The third example of the attack on Christ by the evil one is the
      crucifixion. Finally the enemies of God were able to confront Christ and
      bring Him into the contest. Again our Lord relied on prayer and faith in
      the providence of the Father as tools to confront this temptation, but
      rather than use them as a shield, this time they became weapons by which
      He contended with and confronted this attack. Knowing that the attack
      would come, Jesus first strengthened Himself through intense prayer in
      the garden of Gethsemene on the Mount of Olives. Having, through
      communion with the Father in prayer, prepared Himself, He stood up to
      the deceiver and those with him who brought the temptation to Him.
      Throughout this struggle (the betrayal, the arrest, the trial, the
      beatings and finally the crucifixion) the virtues of humility and
      meekness were in great evidence, Jesus never becoming overtly violent
      nor struck out against His persecutors. He remained strong in His
      confidence and faith in the will of the Father despite His outward
      situation. He did not answer with cross words or insults or rudeness and
      even upon the cross He poured out love and forgiveness for those who
      tormented Him as well as those who were tormented alongside Himself. He
      faced this temptation and actively fought against it by using the
      weapons of virtue (humility, meekness, longsuffering, love, compassion,
      etc). He went the “the valley of the shadow of death” as it were and
      transformed it from a place of fear to a place of great victory and even
      greater joy. Death was defeated by death and the joy of the resurrection
      replaced the turmoil and struggle of the attack of sin. Jesus met the
      temptation and attack of the evil one head on and transformed it from a
      cause of sorrow and sighing into the greatest joy and rejoicing.

      For those of us who find that we must face temptation and contend with
      it, here again we have the example of our Lord, Who fought against the
      evil one, not returning evil for evil, but rather by answering
      temptation and suffering with love, compassion, humility and the other
      virtues. This is the nature of spiritual warfare, to counteract
      temptation not with violence, but with the power of God in us – the
      grace of God active in our lives and expressed through the virtues. This
      kind of answer to temptation grasps it and grapples with it and
      transforms it from an occasion to sin into an occasion for the glory of
      God.

      Today, we heard of the great temptation and attack on Jesus Christ that
      followed the great moment of His birth and entry into the world. This
      same pattern of great temptation following great blessing we can also
      find in our own lives. We saw that the life of Christ provides us with
      three different responses to the attacks of the evil one: First to flee
      from temptation and avoid it whenever possible; Second to face
      temptation and to defend ourselves with the shield of faith and
      unwavering trust in and obedience to the will of God; Third, when we
      must actually contend with temptation to prepare ourselves with prayer
      and then answer each attack of the evil one with the grace of God
      expressed by the virtues in our lives thus transforming a temptation to
      sin into an occasion of great spiritual joy and triumph by the grace of
      God.

      Whenever we receive a great blessing from God, whenever we experience
      Him in a real and meaningful way, the evil one will seek to steal that
      gift of grace from us through some equally great temptation. But
      following the example of Christ we can overcome that temptation and not
      only keep the great gift that God has given, but also gain even greater
      blessings and even greater joy by resisting that temptation.

      God has come into the world, He has become man and dwelt among us, He
      has given us Himself – let us therefore in return give ourselves to Him
      and by the transforming power of His grace be joined to Him that we may
      ever dwell with Him.

      --
      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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