Sunday after the Feast of the Nativity

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
The Lord’s Love is revealed in the Incarnation
Sunday after the Feast of the Nativity of Christ
30 December, 2007
Galatians 1:11-19 ; Matthew 2:13-23

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The words of the Apostle to the Galatians this morning are truly very important for us to remember, because they have to do with what is fundamental to us and our approach to Christian living. In particular, he says that what he is preaching is not something that a human being dreamed up – it is not a Gospel according to a man – but instead, he said, it came through a revelation, a revelation of God.

Most of what we encounter in religious experience amongst human beings has to do with people who are afraid of all sorts of things. There are various types of systems that are developed in order to cope with the difficulties of life. Most of the things that are called religious systems in the world are more like philosophies than they are anything else. However, in our case, we are not dealing with a philosophical system or proposition. We are encountering and responding to God Himself. In Matins, we are singing in one form or another : “God is the Lord, and has revealed Himself to us”. An alternative order is : “The Lord is God, and has revealed Himself to us”. The Lord, who created everything, is God, and it is He who has revealed Himself to us.

He has been revealing Himself to us ever since we were created. Our relationship with Him has always been a relationship of love. He has been revealing Who He is to us, ever since the beginning. However, ever since the beginning we have had great difficulty comprehending even the first thing about this love of God. In the same way that Herod tried to block the will of God, we too typically have also tried to control the will of God by making it fit our plans and our sense of what is right, rather than accepting that the One who created everything might know something about our lives, what is supposed to happen, and what is good for us. We so often insist on doing it our way, and this has always gotten us into trouble.

Herod did it his way. He was not going to have anyone overthrow and take over his government, because it would make problems. He did not, of course, understand anything concerning the fact that the Messiah had been born. He did not comprehend anything about it except that it implied a kingdom and a king. No-one actually understood this King and His Kingship. I am not sure that we do now 2,000 years later. Nevertheless, the Lord in His mercy and in His love, is patient with us, and He continues to be patient with us, and waits for us to “catch the drift”. What is the drift, once again ? It is that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). He is Love. He is with us. He has revealed Himself to us. The full revelation of Himself to us came in the Incarnation of Christ, in which God the Word, who spoke everything into existence through love, put on flesh. This love became visible and tangible. He lived, and He lives amongst us. He, who is the Way, showed us what is the right way for us to live. How He behaved in His life amongst us, shows us how we are supposed to live with each other. To reinforce that, we have the example of His Mother, and other relatives, who, loving the Lord, lived in the same way. The Mother of God, herself, still, of course, lives in this same way, and she is still extending the love and protection of her Son to us. When we run to her asking for help, she does not simply say : “Go, solve it yourself”. She prays. She helps. She protects.

Our way of life is all taken up with expressing this love of God to each other. The point of being a Christian, the whole point of the Incarnation that we are celebrating, is that God loves us. He encounters you and me in this love. We are here because we have experienced this love to some extent. Our being together here today is part of our response to this love that we have encountered in Christ in various ways : sometimes in prayer, sometimes here in worship, sometimes in reading the Scriptures, sometimes in encounters with other human beings, sometimes by a direct encounter such as Joseph was having. Sometimes the Lord does encounter us in such ways. Regardless, the Lord reaches out to us in His love, and He presents Himself to us face-to-face in His love.

The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us” (John 1:14). Imitating God’s self-revelation, we who have been baptised into Christ and have put on Christ, and who have been called to follow in His way, also reveal Christ to each other and to people around us who do not know Him. Each one of us who has been baptised into Christ, who has encountered His love, who lives in His love, who in gratitude exercises this love with others, also reveals the same Jesus Christ by how each one of us lives. People can see Jesus Christ in you and in me, who call ourselves Orthodox Christians, if by God’s mercy our lives are faithful to Him. They can respond to Him, likewise, finding hope and joy in His love, a reason to live in His love, powerful living in His love, a clear sense of direction in His love. Often it is a sense of direction very different from that which is expected by the world. Nevertheless, it is a life that has a direction and a positive influence on the lives of those around.

You and I are here as our Saviour Himself said, to be yeast and salt (see Matthew 5:13 ; 13:33). We are to have an effect for good. Both yeast and salt give life to food (at least, the last time I either tasted or encountered either of them, it seemed to me that that was the case). There is a big difference between food that has at least a little salt in it, and food that has zero salt in it. There is a big difference between bread that has no yeast, and bread that has yeast. Norwegians in particular, and Swedes, have their experience of flatbread (“knikkebröd” – at least one sort of it is called that because it cracks and snaps when you break it and try to eat it). Ryecrisp is probably how we experience it here. Ryecrisp is very different from a loaf of bread that your Mama might bake with her own hands, and put in it all sorts of lovely goodies. The yeast, itself, makes it so attractive. We walk into the house, and we smell the yeast at work in this bread. Whether it is from the rising-time, or the baking-time, it is the yeast that makes that bread so attractive and easy to devour.

In fact, I am remembering now how many times in my life I have been in homes where there are many children, and the mother was making bread herself because it was cheaper to bake it than to buy commercial bread. In the end it is healthier, too. Especially when the children were adolescents, these women had to bake mounds of bread two or three times a week because, in the first place, the children were “adolescently” hungry and insatiable, and in the second place, because (as those children said, and still say any time they encounter it) this bread is better than anything else, and they could eat it until they burst. (I find that I am still full of all these old sayings like : “Eating until the cows come home”, and no-one seems to understand them any more.)

We are expected to be this yeast, and we ought to have this same sort of effect on people around us. In us, the Saviour should be so attractive and so appealing that people want to be near Him, and cannot get their fill of Him. You and I also, if we are honest with ourselves, can never get our fill of Him and His love ; the love of His Mother ; the love of the saints ; and the love of the life that the Lord is giving us. We can never get our fill because there is so much joy, and we are insatiable for this joy, for this life, for this hope, for this power of living.

This is the way of Orthodox Christian life. It is this sort of love, this relationship of love that has produced many people such as Saint Seraphim of Sarov, who went around shining with light, and expressing his joy to each person he encountered by saying : “Christ is risen” any time of the year. He is not by any means alone (although he is the most famous), for there are many other Orthodox Christian saints aflame with the same sort of love and joy.

In this season, we see how the Lord is protecting us, and what a gift He has given to us. In the Nativity narratives that we are hearing right now, we see that the Lord knows so much better than we do. We see that no matter how stupid and actually resistant we human beings can be, He, nevertheless, is going to make sure that the work of His salvation, and the opening of the door of reconciliation for us is going to be accomplished. He goes to so much trouble for this. He also goes to so much trouble in your life and in my life. In fact, if the Lord with His angels had not gone to so much trouble in my life (and He still does), I do not think I would have survived childhood. I was such a daredevil. I definitely gave my Mother grey hair far before her time. (She told me, too. I know why I gave her grey hair.)

The Lord is merciful. He loves you and me. He revealed and is revealing Himself to you and to me. He is asking that you respond, that I respond. He who is the Lord, the Giver of life, the Provider of life, the Source of life is the Beginning and the End. Giving thanks to Him, rejoicing in Him, let us glorify Him. As Saint Herman said : “From this day, from this hour, and from this minute, let us love God above all, and do His holy will”. In doing this, we will be putting flesh on His love, and glorifying the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.