Monday, December 22, 2014

When it seems that the whole world is entirely controlled by men

DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN

It came to pass when Herod was the King of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zechariah of the division of Abijah.  And he had a wife, of the daughters of Aaron, whose name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, and walked blamelessly in all the Lord's commandments and statutes.  Luke 1:5-6

IT is still Advent.  In keeping with the church's liturgical drama we are still living in darkness, still awaiting the appearance of the Light, but not only liturgically because in the bigger scheme of things, we are still like the Old Testament saints.  We still long for the Lord's coming, not to redeem the world again by His suffering and death; that is done, sin is judged, life is ours.  We are still waiting to obtain the incorruptible blessing that St. Paul calls, "the inheritance of the saints in light" to us. (Col. 1:12)

At this time we only possess a down payment of it.  It comes to us in baptism where we are filled with the Holy Spirit who permeates our despairing hearts with joy and and darkened intellects with light.  He sets our mind at peace and our affections on the glory that awaits us, however thick the present darkness might be.

It's true what they say, that it is always darkest before the dawn.   That was the case when John the Baptist was born, so after some introductory matters St. Luke opens his Gospel with these words, "It came to pass when Herod was the King of Judea..."  Things could get no darker than that!  God had promised that a descendant of David would sit on the throne of Israel forever, but now even God was thwarted.  Man had proved himself superior to God.  That was the chatter at any rate.  Herod was not even a Jew!  He was from Idumea which is the ancient and sworn enemy of Israel.  In our day it would be as if a member of Al Qaeda were to be elected president of the United States, but Herod was more blood-thirsty than any jihadist.  He is the one who commanded the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in the hopes of snuffing out the Christ for he tolerated no rivals.  There could be no other "king of the Jews" beside Herod.  No one was safe as long as Herod sat on the throne.  He had one of his wives and three of his children executed when they displeased him.  He was so despised -- and he knew it -- that he feared upon his death there would be only great rejoicing throughout the land, so he left orders that when he died, his soldiers were to gather a large group of distinguished men into the city from Jericho and slaughter them there so that there would be mourning on that day even if not for him.   So when St. Luke reports, "Herod was King of Judea," he was saying a lot.

However that is not the end of the story.  He also wrote, "It came to pass when Herod was the King of Judea, there was a certain priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah.  And he had a wife, of the daughters of Aaron, whose name was Elizabeth.  And they were both righteous before God, and walked blamelessly in all the Lord's commandments and statutes."

By this outstanding report St. Luke teaches us that however dark the world might get, the world at large, or your own little patch, that God was alive and well; that true religion was still to be found, that God's kingdom was steadily invading the world, and that His plans to deliver us from evil by delivering His Son into evil would not be thwarted, not by the gates of hell, and most certainly not by the likes of a worm like Herod.

We learn here that Zechariah and Elizabeth were faithful and devout people who kept their religion and ordered their lives by its dictates even in the midst of darkness.  We can all learn something here.  We are religiously lazy.  We suffer from spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder.  We are filled with self-pity.  We get easily distracted by the cares and the pleasures of the world so that our devotion to God flags and the love He commands for our neighbor wanes.  Yet we should take a lesson from Elizabeth and Zechariah and re-dedicate ourselves to the things that matter the most.

In today's gospel lesson we hear another of Scripture's Reversal Sequences.  "...He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of low estate; He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty."  Whenever we encounter these sequences it is a major sign that our redemption is drawing near.

In the liturgical drama of the church year it means that the Day of Nativity is near.  In real time it means the same; that Christ is near, here with us  now in the church with healing on His wings.  He is with us by His Word which is the verbal icon of Himself.  He is near us in the Office of the Ministry to dissolve our sins, to give godly teaching, to lead us in holy liturgy and in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.  He is near us in the sacrament wherein He consummates the New Testament among us every Lord's Day, and when we leave this holy house we can be certain that His presence goes with us, even as it did with Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness.  He is in our ears, our minds and our hearts.  He is present at our table as we remember to give thanks for our daily bread.  He draws nearer to us each day because each day we live this present life brings us one day closer to our final destination across the Jordan, to the day we will be born anew in the Land that is promised to us where we will see our God face to face and know Him even as we are known by Him.  Then nothing else will matter.

So then let us cast off the sin and sorrow that so easily beset us today and rejoice in the Lord always.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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