In the Church Calendar today has a special name: the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ. What importance does the Church see in this day, which prepares us for the encounter with the bright feast of the Nativity according to the flesh of our Lord and Savior? Today at the Liturgy we heard the Gospel reading that reminds us of those many dozens of human generations that heard the word about the coming Messiah and awaited His coming. They awaited, but did not see Him. One generation succeeded another, followed by a third and a fourth: thought of the Savior lived in the people, being handed down by word of mouth. But dozens of generations had already passed, and the Messiah had not yet come. What did the People of God do? Did they despair? Did they murmur? Did they grow angry? It continued to wait in hope and trust. Faith was not extinguished among the people, no matter what the circumstances of life: rising and falling, abundance and hunger, joy and sorrow – all this was encountered in life. But nothing could shake the faith by which the people lived.
The coming into the world of our Lord Jesus Christ fulfills this faith. At today’s Divine Liturgy, the Gospel according to Matthew was read, in which the Holy Apostle, referring primarily to the Jewish people, lists all the ancestors of the Lord and Savior according to the flesh. This listing forces us to think about the fact that the Lord’s Nativity was possible only because these generations kept faith in God and fidelity to the Lord.
But now let us look back on our own lives. We, too, are awaiting the fulfillment of our hopes and requests that we address to the Lord. We come to church to ask for our neighbors and for ourselves in our deeds, we light candles, give alms, ask others for prayers, and pray for ourselves. One service goes by, then another and another – and nothing changes. And what happens to us? The following happens: our faith weakens and our soul is visited by doubt, with which we do not fight. One begins not to seek trust and support in God, but in something completely different. At best, this can mean turning to good and decent people. But at worst in can mean turning to dark powers, psychics, witches, and sorcerers. And sometimes, having lost all hope, it means falling into despair, turning away from life, and abusing drugs and alcohol. One can imagine that if it had not been for the faith of the people of Israel, it would have ceased to exist as a nation, and the Lord’s coming would not have occurred.
But that people did not see Christ – it did not know or hear Him. But we today chanted at the Liturgy: “We have seen the True Light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, we have found the true faith, in worshipping the undivided Trinity, for He has saved us.” We live not in hope and faith, nor in fulfillment, neither in expectation of the Savior’s coming, but in His coming, in the fulfillment of His grace-filled power and His presence in our lives.
Should we despair and lose heart at not receiving what we have asked for? But why have we not gotten it? Because the gift of God, which is given to the people, must be valued by this people. Everything that is given without labor dissipates and dies, if man is incapable of preserving and multiplying it. So it is with God’s gift that we seek from the Lord: man must value it. And it is valued only when man is prepared to accept and preserve this gift. Therefore the Church says: do not leave off your prayers; God will grant you everything you have asked for in a time that befits your salvation. God does not give us what we ask for because He is sorry, but because it would not be saving for us, for God’s gift should be not only worthily received and valued but, like every gift, it should not overshadow one’s eyes by means of one’s own success. Therefore God gives us things when our passions and feelings weaken. He gives at times when the gift will be valued, sought, and increased in every person.
We do not have sufficient patience and faith – that about which the Holy Apostle today spoke. Sometimes we cannot even wait three days. But our sensuality and God’s gift are not compatible. Either we need to cool down in our feelings and passions and accept the gift of God with reverence and quietude, or else by our emotionality we will not see even the greatest of His gifts.
Today’s Sunday in the remembrance of the Holy Fathers who from generation to generation believed that the Lord would come into the world to save it. May this example strengthen us in our Christian life, in our spiritual weakness, which we sometimes cannot cure in ourselves. May this ecclesial remembrance strengthen us in our faith, and let us not weaken in our prayers, but be unrelenting before the Lord. And then the Lord will grant each of us and our Fatherland for our fidelity, devotion, and patience, that great gift that we call the grace of the Holy Spirit.
I greet all of you, my dears, with the coming Feast of the Nativity of Christ. May God grant you all strength, fulfillment of faith, and hope. Amen.
Translated from the Russian.