Thursday, November 12, 2020

Waiting in Faithful Expectation for the Fullness of Time


Dear Parish Faithful,

I have the feeling that we are never quite ready for the Forty-day Nativity/Advent Fast that prepares us for the Birth of Jesus Christ on December 25. And yet, it is fast approaching, as early as this coming Sunday, November 15. 
Trying to keep ahead of ourselves as much as possible, I have attached a pastoral meditation/reflection on this upcoming season for  you to hopefully read. The meditation stresses the need for patience. I do hope you take the time to read what I wrote.  
For the moment, I would yet again - as I have all during this pandemic - stress our need to make the home that "little church" that St. John Chrysostom spoke of. That becomes even more imperative when our access to the church as our place of gathering and worship remains restricted. It is all about connecting with the life of the Church that always presents to us Truth, Goodness and Beauty - all incarnate in Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man. 

We are getting ready to embark upon a journey. If we do this together it will prove all that more rewarding. Please address any questions you may have about the Nativity Fast to me.

In Christ,

Fr. Steven
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Waiting in Faithful Expectation for the Fullness of Time


Dear Parish Faithful,

We may indeed feel unprepared, but the forty-day fasting season in preparation for the Feast of the Incarnation is rapidly approaching. That being the case, I would like to develop a particular perspective concerning the nature of the approaching Nativity/Advent Fast.  And that would be about the necessary virtue of patience that accompanies any period of preparation in the life of the Church.  
We are directed to observe a fast as we prepare for the advent of the Son of God in the flesh.  This is only for forty days, but that can seem like a very long period to make some alterations and adjustments in our lifestyles!  Clearly, it has its challenges, all of which we are very much aware of.  
We know that the “sacred” number of forty – years or days – is a very scriptural number, always implying a period of expectation and fulfillment, a movement begun and completed in accordance with the express will of God.  That could be the forty years of Israel’s wandering in the desert, or the Lord fasting for forty days in the wilderness.  Yet, less specifically, we need to understand the great length of time that Israel was forced to wait for its deliverance.  If we think in terms of Abraham to Christ, we become aware of the 3 x 14 generations that St. Matthew lists in the opening genealogy of his Gospel.  That is a long history indeed, filled with God’s providential care for His chosen people, but also filled with apostasy and betrayal on the part of Israel.  A history embracing Israel’s victories against its surrounding enemies, but also its subjugation and humiliation at the hands of other enemies.

While this tumultuous and even torturous history of Israel was unfolding, the prophets were both exhorting and chastising the people, but also speaking of deliverance.  Although this is a very complex development, there were clear indications among the prophets of a Messiah figure – sometimes very human, but at times a transcendent figure – around whom and in whom these longings for deliverance were concentrated.  He would be the Lord’s Anointed, and as such he would proclaim deliverance and salvation to Israel.  That profound and poignant sense of longing for deliverance is beautifully expressed in the two hymns found in the opening chapters of St. Luke’s Gospel, the first from St. Zechariah (LK. 1:67-79); and the other, the Magnificat of the Theotokos (LK. 1:46-55). 
One needs only to read the Book of Isaiah to get a sense of this messianic longing which took on universal dimensions, so that all the peoples of the earth would come to know the one true God and then come to Zion to worship Him.  We read of The Prophet, the Son of Man, the Suffering Servant of the Lord, and of the Messiah throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament.  This basic human longing for regaining a “lost paradise” in one form or another was gathered around these mysterious figures “promised” by the prophets who, in turn, were those chosen by God to deliver God’s word to the people of Israel.  But many generations were disappointed that these prophetic promises were not fulfilled in their time.

If we can appreciate this sense of waiting and longing, we can understand better how we, as contemporary Christians, in a very modest sense, are re-living or actualizing the experience of Israel as we await the advent of our Lord in a specially-designated period known as the Nativity/Advent Fast.  This designated forty days serves as a microcosm of Israel’s testing and preparation. Waiting implies expectation, perhaps even a certain sense of excitement. (Ask your children about that!). But it also implies patience, stabilized and strengthened by trust and faith in God, especially when we encounter obstacles, temptations, doubts, diversions and distractions.  Therefore, if Israel waited for the Lord’s Anointed, so will we as the New Israel of God. 

Of course, we know and believe that the Messiah has come as Jesus of Nazareth, and our festal cycle again allows us to also re-live and actualize that advent on an annual basis, so as to renew our sense of fulfillment of the prophecies of old, and to again “greet” the newborn Christ Child with great joy and thanksgiving to God for working out our salvation “in the midst of the earth.”  All Christian believers of all ages can experience a child-like joy in the birth of Christ, the Son of God who became flesh.  We have the decided advantage of knowing all of this in advance, and this has been expressed very powerfully in the Epistle to the Hebrews, wherein the author, after reminding the early Christians of the great faith of the saints who lived before Christ, further reminds them of the great privilege of having lived in the time of fulfillment:  “And all these, though well-attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect”  (HEB. 11:39-40).

We cannot join “the world” in its indifference to Christ. And we cannot descend to the level of the crass commercialization of Christmas.  We are, after all, Christians!  Our goal is to fulfill the words of the Apostle Paul:  “I therefore … beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”  (EPH. 4:1-3).  This will test our patience, our trust in God, and our faith.  It has never been otherwise.

With the current pandemic and the unsettling political uncertainty around us - both of which are causes of extreme polarization and lack of trust in our institutions and in one another – we need to look inward very carefully in order to meet these challenges with the patience of the People of Israel and to simultaneously remain joyful as we await the birth of our Savior.