THE LORD IS AT HAND
Let your forbearance be known to all, the Lord is at hand! Philippians 4:5
THE common mistake Christians make today is to think that the celebration of Christmas is a mere remembrance of past events; a psychological recall of historical happenings. If that's all Christmas is then we have little reason to rejoice, but in fact Christmas is much more!
The Lord's incarnation, death, and resurrection are only past events in their historicity, but for us they are an ever present reality, not just in our hearts and minds, or by an annual celebration, but most especially in this gathering we celebrate each Sunday. The Jesus we worship here is not the historical Jesus of the past, but the heavenly High Priest who intercedes for us constantly before the throne of the Father as we read in Hebrews 7:25 that "Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us;" and in Romans 8:34 that "Christ Jesus our Lord intercedes for us at the Right Hand of God." That exalted Jesus is the one whom Christians worship and wish to make known to the world. That is our mission, and we are doing it now.
Yes, the incarnation, death and resurrection that Jesus accomplished "for us men and for our salvation," are past events historically speaking, but they are eternally present among us in the church. Our Blessed Savior does not exist "back in the day" as people like to say, but He lives here and now among us, actively presiding over the world, His church and over the lives of His faithful people. You are those people. This is why St. Paul can say in today's epistle lesson, "The Lord is at hand," and why today's gradual says, "The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth."
Jesus is that Lord.
Jesus is that truth.
When Paul says, "The Lord is at hand," or when the Psalm says, "the LORD is near," they are talking about the very thing we are engaged in at this time: divine worship, Holy communion with Christ and by implication, then, with the Holy, Heavenly, Immortal Father, and the Spirit of Truth as well. By baptism we are "delivered from the domain of darkness," and incorporated into the realm of the Thrice Holy Lord. This is why Scripture calls us the baptized Saints, which means Holy Ones; not due to our stellar performance to be sure, for Scripture declares, "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God," but by the Lord's perfection, by His virgin birth, His obedience to the will of the Father, His death and resurrection, all which were graciously accomplished for us to purge us from our sins, and to give us life in a world without end.
Jesus is present now. This is why Christians must never say: Christ was born, but rather, in the words of the Byzantine Christmas liturgy, "Christ is born, glorify Him! Christ comes from heaven, go forth to meet him! Christ is on earth, exult!"
The fifth century Saint, Leo the Great, said it this way: "What was visible in our Redeemer has passed over in the sacraments." This means that all that Jesus did during his earthly ministry, his teaching, his miracles, and redeeming sacrifice -- all these remain visibly and tangibly available to us in the mystery of the church's worship.
What does this mean? It means that our celebration of Christmas must not descend to the level of sticky sentimentality, but rather that we should hear and heed the Versicle from today's epistle to rejoice in the Lord always, which is nothing other than an invitation to the altar, which in holy worship symbolizes the manger of Bethlehem, for it is here on the altar that Christ is born and reigns among us. You see, when St. Paul declares to the Christians at Philippi that "the Lord is at hand," he is not speaking about the Second Coming, but about the Lord's Supper, because what people call Paul's epistles were not dead letters but rather inspired words of God, written to be read aloud in the church, to the people, on Sundays during their worship, even as they are today. When Paul wrote these words he was serving as the Philippians' voice declaring that the bread they were about to eat and the cup they were about to drink are in fact the exalted body and blood of the Lord. In so many words he was saying that the Lord was about to commence another feeding miracle in their very presence, even as He does in ours. That the five loaves and two fish could never be depleted, even so the Lord's body here given is without limit however many hungry souls it feeds, nourishes, cleanses from sin, consoles and imparts the power to live a holy life, one in keeping with the high calling to which we are called as Christians. Neither does St. Paul leave us wondering what that holy life looks like and what deeds it requires. Here, particularly, he focuses on the forgiveness that Christians must extend to one another, the "forbearance" that is required of those who participate in the Lord's Altar, or in the words of St. Peter, "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins."
Wherever people live together there is trespass, there is sin, slight, insult, injury, injustice, and wrong-doing. To be married is like two porcupines living in a shoebox, and so it goes with life. Therefore forbearance is required, first because the Lord who forbears with us teaches us to do the same, and we must never close our ears to him; and second, in order for life to exist on earth. Without forbearance, without over-looking the multitude of sins people commit against people, the human race would soon vanish in a homicidal rage, but with it we can live. With it we can move on and enjoy earthly blessings, but above all we can receive the Lord's pardon for our blacker sins and know that when He returns we will rejoice like there is no tomorrow.
Therefore rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice. Let your forbearance be known to all. The Lord is at hand!
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras