As we listen to today’s gospel reading we are reminded that the cycle of the Church calendar never stops going forward. It doesn’t pause at certain feasts for long (the exception to this being the great pause at the Feast of Feasts, Pascha). We have just celebrated the feast of Nativity (Christmas) and yet the Church is directing our minds to the next great feast, a feast that was actually considered even greater in the early history of the Church. That feast is Theophany, also known as Epiphany, which we will celebrate on Wednesday evening, Lord willing (*January 6th/19th). The Church pushes us from day to day and feast to feast. She invites us to recall the past and to look at ourselves and once again celebrate the feasts in the present. She tells us that the old things have passed away but what exists now is our reality. Where we are with God at this very moment is the reality of our Christian life.
The gospel passage that we heard today seems familiar to us. All of them do. That’s good, because these stories are meant to be a part of our spiritual DNA. They are meant to be woven into the fabric of our lives. Instead of saying to ourselves “Oh, it is that time of year again.” We ought to say “what are you trying to teach me this year, Lord?”
There is nothing magical or new in the Christian life from day to day. But what can be renewed is our resolve, and determination and hope and faith as we dedicate and rededicate ourselves to Christ from hour to hour, day to day, week to week, month to month and year to year. We are not sprinting. This is no short race, but a long haul, an ultra marathon. As St. Paul wrote in today’s epistle “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.” Christ is not only our destination, He is also our path and our fuel for the journey. He is also our companion with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
So each week as we hear familiar passages and we struggle to find their relevance to our lives we should start by asking the right questions. When we hear St. John the baptist saying “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight,” we should not assume that he is speaking to other people, rather we should ask ourselves and ask God “What shall I do Lord, to prepare a way for You into my heart and mind and soul? Lord, What shall I do to make the path straight for You?”
And this is no small task because it is the start and the foundation of life in Christ. St. Mark the evangelist puts this point right in front of us as he starts his gospel with St. John the baptist preaching a message of repentance as we writes “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” The gospel is built on a foundation of repentance. And the truth is that unless our repentance is solid, honest and thorough, our foundation for life in Christ will be unstable at best.
It is possible for us to have blind spots in our spiritual struggle and our repentance. This is one of the reasons that we have spiritual fathers and we come to confession. It is also why we try to read the gospels every day. Christ shines a light on our hearts and He exposes our sins and He helps us to recognize our deep need for His healing. And we should engage with the Lord honestly and say “Lord, help me to know my deficiencies and grant me healing out of the abundance of Your mercy. Help me to be pure of heart and to put nothing above my love for You.”
This is how we reach out to Christ and experience deep healing and in truth, there is no other healing in the world. There are various bandages or distractions but Christ alone heals our wounds because He alone is sinless and He alone knows the depth of our sickness. So as we begin this new year let us recommit to the One who loves us and is committed to us. We recommit to Christ by acknowledging Him as our Savior just as God has received us and acknowledged us as His children. We recommit by trusting Christ and His teachings. We recommit by turning from what is false, evil and Satanic. Turning away from the wrong and choosing the good and true.
We recommit by living up to the oaths that our parents and godparents and sponsors took when they brought us to the Church to have us baptized into Christ. We recommit by washing the garments of our souls in tearful prayers and by the sacrament of confession so that we will leave with bright and vibrant spiritual garments, like those that we wore on the day of our baptisms and Chrismations.
We do these things that are sometimes difficult not in order to appear clean, not as a symbolic gesture. But to be renewed. We do them because we were baptized and received the Holy Spirit and we desire the grace of this Holy Spirit to once again act powerfully to transform us. Listen to the words of St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain,
“The grace of the Holy Spirit which is given mystically to every Christian when he is baptized acts and is manifested in proportion to our obedience to the commandments of the Lord. That is, if a Christian obeys the commandments of the Lord more, grace acts with him more, while if he obeys them less, grace acts within him less. Just as a spark, when covered in the ashes of fire becomes increasingly manifest as one removes the ashes, and the more fire wood you put the more the fire burns, so the grace that has been given to every Christian through Holy Baptism is hidden in the heart and covered up by the passions and sins, and the more a man acts in accordance with the commandments of Christ, the more he is cleansed of the passions and the more the fire of Divine grace lights in his heart, illumines and deifies him.”
This my brothers and sisters is our hope, our promise and our inheritance. May we walk the road of repentance and prepare the way of the Lord so that the Lord will prepare us to meet Him with joy.