Today is the Sunday of the Holy Fathers of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is also the Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord; so this season of preparation for the celebration of His coming in the flesh is drawing to an end. Has everyone finished their shopping?
Unfortunately, that seems to be the highlight of this holiday – actually, we should say, “holy day,” which is the origin of the word, “holiday”: feasting, parties, decorations, presents – and let me say that there is nothing wrong with any of these things. But it is easy for us to lose sight of what we are celebrating, and lose our connection to the holy with our focus on the earthly side of the holiday. We need to remember first that Christmas – again, more properly called, the Nativity of our Lord – is not the culmination of the Christian life, or faith, or message. You wouldn’t know that if you look at how the various holidays are celebrated here in this land, in this culture. But the Nativity, as important as it is, pales in comparison to the celebration of Pascha. Now, it’s true: No Nativity, no Pascha. But Pascha is the pinnacle, the completion; and the Nativity isn’t even really the beginning of what is finished at Pascha. The beginning of the work of bringing about our salvation is the feast of the Theophany, which we’ll celebrate in a few weeks, some twelve days after the Nativity. Until that time, there was no public ministry on our Lord’s part. After that time, He begins to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near, gathering followers and disciples, working miracles, healing the sick, and starting down the road that will lead to Gethsemane, death, and resurrection. If that is the story from beginning to the end, the Nativity is the prologue, the introduction, letting us see how the story itself is set in motion.
The setting in which the Nativity is the highlight, the completion, is the feast celebrated today, the Holy Fathers of the Lord. From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs whose trust in God led them to a new land, the Holy Land, to Moses the Lawgiver, and Joshua and the judges who ruled Israel guided by God, to David the King and the other rulers, to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Amos, and the prophets, God is at work fulfilling His promise to Adam and Eve and all their descendents. God made things ready for His people to receive One Who would be prophet, priest, and king: His Son, whose birth in a cave we celebrate this week. We see in the Holy Fathers Faith, the Law, and the Prophets, all needed for us to understand Who Christ is, and to receive Him as Lord and Savior, as we should. We should not lose sight of this, either, even as we make our plans and carry out our celebrations.
Finally, as we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world, for which celebration we have been preparing ourselves in this season, we should always keep in mind that He has promised to return. We should always be preparing at least as much for His second coming as we do to celebrate His first coming – for unlike the time when He was born in that cave, and laid in a manger, He will return in glory, with His angels; and while this time after His birth is a time of mercy, a time for repentance, a time for the transformation of our lives, then, when He comes again, He comes to judge the living and the dead. Does anyone want to come to that great and terrible day of Judgment without making some preparations? I think not; but can we truthfully say that our preparations for that day are even close to being equal to the time and energy and attention we put into the celebration of the Nativity?
Brothers and sisters, it’s later than we think; the time is drawing closer, even if we do not know the day and hour of His return. As we give thanks to God for the gift of love He has given us by giving us His Son, let us also ask for the grace we need to be ready to rejoice in His presence when He comes again to judge the world.