Christ is in our midst! The Lord is with us! Blessed be the name of the Lord!
Let us be thankful to God as we continue to observe the twelve days of Christmas up to January 6/19, which is the Feast of Theophany and marks the Baptism of Jesus. May the New Year 2022 be a blessing to all of us, our Church, our country, the whole world. May God inspire, strengthen and guide us with firm steps toward a path of renewed sense of mutual respect, understanding, fairness, cooperation, harmony and peace.
Year 2021 has been anything but an example of those shining ideals. And right now, along with the uptick in the epidemic and the rise of food prices, many are scrambling for test kits while others are pondering the cost of living. Insecurity and anxiety seem to be in the air. In such an atmosphere, God calls us to faithfulness, loyalty, and prayers to Christ, the center of our Orthodox Faith. Christ is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). It is In Christ that we have our ultimate security of faith and in Christ that we set our firm hope to live in love and humility according to His teachings. The future is in the hands of a loving God.
Today’s Epistle reading (2 Tim. 4:5-8) connects with our experience of finishing the year and anticipating the new one: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” These words were originally applied to the life and mission of the Apostle Paul at the time of his martyrdom. But the words also apply to us who have been through a mighty struggle with the epidemic and many other things besides. We have suffered much in sickness and distress and others have suffered even death and much grieving. Let us pray for all who have endured severe trials and extend a helping hand to them insofar as we can.
Let us pray for each other. We have finished the hard race of 2021, feeling tired and impatient with everything. But keep the faith! The answer is not to get cynical or to lash out in anger, but to continue to be faithful, seeing that we are alive and well. With the New Year, the future is ahead of us to be directed according to our good judgment and the grace of God, whether at home, at work, or the world. And when the time comes for us to depart this world, according to God’s will, the Lord will not fail to reward us with the crown of righteousness.
Today’s Gospel reading (Mark 1:1-8) looks to the New Year 2022. It opens with a powerful message and also a clarion call. We read: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God . . . Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight!” The message is about the gospel of Christ. The call is to prepare the way of Christ and to make His paths straight in our Church and in our lives during 2022. The message is our spiritual foundation, the good news of the gospel. The call is to live according to the spirit and teachings of Christ; it beckons our hearts and minds to the promise of new life, a turning of the page of anxiety and frustration to a new horizon of hope and calm in Jesus Christ.
The text speaks only of the beginning of the gospel. This beginning was the witness of John the Baptist. Later the entire ministry of Jesus, from Baptism to death and resurrection, is presented as good news for the world. The beginning of the gospel for St. Mark and all of the Evangelists is the witness and testimony to Christ by John the Baptist, a strange figure to modern eyes but nonetheless the voice of God for the Evangelists. John was a prophet, a messenger of God, “the voice in the wilderness,” who anticipated the coming of Christ and cried out: “Prepare the ways of the Lord; make His paths straight!” Many heeded the testimony and joined the spiritual revolution that Jesus started. Others rejected the testimony which led to the paradox of the death and humiliation of Jesus by crucifixion. But God in His wisdom and goodness worked things out for the salvation of humanity. By the power of God’s Spirit, Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, opening a boundless source of grace and renewal for our lives.
“Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight!” What is the way of Christ? How do we make His paths straight? We come to Christ from different households, different experiences, different jobs and duties, different ideas and convictions. But the way of the Lord is one and the same for all of us according to St. Symeon the New Theologian, a tenth century Church Father. The way of Christ is the way of love as exemplified and taught by Him. He said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you . . . By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
We make His paths straight by practicing His selfless and generous love in every direction. The love of Christ among us knows how to live, knows what is right and wrong, how to show compassion and care, how to forgive and be reconciled, how to nurture joy and hope when trials and distress strike. Children most clearly recognize what true love is. In the words of St. Paul, “love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude . . . it is not irritable and resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (1 Cor 13:4-6). When we follow the way of Christ’s love in the family, at work and in the world, we discover that our very different and complex ways get straightened out, become more just and beneficial, and bring along the blessings of cooperation and peace. This is a good way to understand what St. Paul meant when he wrote: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Let us welcome the New Year with hope and joy! Turn our hearts and minds to God who blesses and calls us to be His creative co-workers in the Church and the world. His grand purpose is nothing less than the salvation of souls, our souls and everyone else’s, whose hearts are open to the miracle of faith and new life in Christ. Re-focus on our priorities: the faithful Christian home and the mission of a living and vibrant Church. Entrust ourselves, our families, our communities, our work, our plans and goals, for blessing and success, to Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is much to be done and new horizons to reach. While thinking soberly and working steadily, let us place everything in the hands of God for sanctification, wisdom, strength and the fulfillment according to God’s purpose and in praise of His glory, now and forever. Amen.