Christ is Born! Glorify Him!
We are coming to the end of another year. The media is filled with commentaries on the year that will soon be consigned to history, and speculative predictions on what lies ahead. For me, the end of the year is always a reflective time; a time for taking stock of what I am doing with the time allotted to me by God. This has been a particularly important exercise since my illness in 2016. I thank Almighty God, the Giver of Life, for granting me another year to serve you, and I pray that He will allow me to continue my ministry and service to you in 2018, the coming New Year of the Lord.
Human beings have always marked time by significant events. The real question is not whether we will mark time, but how we will do so. What events and what messages are we proclaiming in the calendaring of time?
For the Christian, time is not meant to become a tyrant ruling over us. Rather, it is intended to be a teacher, instructing and presenting us with opportunity and invitations to walk the way of love, in the way of Christ. Rather than being dreaded as a foe, it is to be cultivated as a friend. Its role and reach is a part of the redemptive loving plan of God. In the Incarnation, the Eternal Word became flesh; breaking into time to transform it from within.
The Lord who created time now gives us time as a gift. By entering into time, He removed the curse it held over all men and women by defeating death. In Him, time now becomes a field of choice wherein we can grow in holiness, experience true happiness, and find real freedom. We can begin to participate in God's loving plan to recreate the entire cosmos in and through Jesus Christ.
Time is the road along which this loving plan of redemption proceeds in our individual lives and in the history of this world. We who have been baptized into Christ are invited to participate in this loving plan by living our lives in the Church, the seed of the eternal kingdom. The Church is not some thing but Some-One into whom we were baptized. The Church is the Body of Jesus Christ. He is the Head of His Body and we are Its members. (1 Corinthians 12:27).
So, how do we view time? Is it a tyrant ruling over us? Or, is it a tutor, teaching us the way to live our lives in this world so that they open into eternity?
Christians proclaim a linear timeline in history. There are a beginning and an end, a fulfillment, which is a new beginning. Time is actually heading somewhere. That is as true of the history of the world as it is our own personal histories. Do we live this way?
Christians mark time by the great events of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are moving toward His loving return. We mark our Christian culture with events of importance from the ongoing family events, the history of the Church of which we are members.
The members of that family were birthed from the wounded side of the Savior on the Cross, at Calvary's hill. That family was sent on a mission when He breathed His Spirit into them at Pentecost. We remember them and walk with them so that we have models and companions for the journey of life. They are that "great cloud of witnesses" the author of the letter to the Hebrews discusses (Hebrews 12: 1-3). They will welcome us into eternity and help us now along the daily path.
For Orthodox Catholic Christians, the Church’s liturgical year follows a rhythmic cycle. It points us toward beginnings and ends and, in so doing, emphasizes an important truth that can only be grasped through faith: every end is a beginning.
In our liturgical life, no sooner than we have celebrated the last Sunday of the Year, the feast of Christ the King, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, and we prepare for the birth of Savior. Our Christian faith proclaims that Jesus Christ is the "Alpha", (the first letter of the Greek alphabet) and the "Omega" (the last letter), the beginning and the end. He is the Giver, the Governor, and the Fulfillment of all time.
So it is with each day of our lives. There really is a Divine design. Every morning invites us to begin again. The very structure of the 24-hour cycle of each day reveals the goodness of a God who always invites us, and empowers us, to begin again in hope and with joy. Hope is reborn with every sunrise.
Every evening invites our honest reflection, expressions of gratitude to the Lord who gave us life, repentance for where we fell short, new choices to amend our life, and gives us the healing, rejuvenating rest in the Lord which awaits all who live in Him. Then, the sun invites us to begin again by saying "YES" to the Lord's choice and invitation of love. Our time is to be filled with bearing the fruit that remains in the garden of grace called daily living.
These truths concerning time can have ever-increasing meaning for us as we grow in the life of Grace. They are meant to change us. They invite us into a deeper walk with the Lord and with one another. It is now up to us to respond to the lessons of time and the invitation of faith.
As we move from one year to the next, we also move along in the timeline of human life allotted to each one of us. We age. The certainty of our death is meant to illuminate our life and the certainty of the end of all time. The coming of the Lord is meant to illuminate time's very purpose and fulfillment in Christ.
Death can become a second birth for each one of us, through living faith. Francis of Assisi prayed these words in his most popular prayer "it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." He referred to death as a "sister" implying that he had a relationship with it. So too did all of the great heroes of our Church, the saints.
Do we view death in this way? Is death a catastrophe to be avoided, a source of fear? Or, as we age, is death becoming a friend, a companion who beckons us on to a more meaningful, redemptive life? Is death becoming a "sister" whom we will welcome in due time? Do we believe that it is simply a change of lodging, a passage to a new birth in the Lord?
The author of the Book of Wisdom reminds us that "God did not make death and He does not delight in the death of the living" (Wisdom 1:13). We recall the tender moment recorded for us in St. John's Gospel where Jesus, brokenhearted at the death of His friend Lazarus, comforts his sister Martha with these words "Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? I am the Resurrection and the Life; he who believes in Me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die" (John 11: 25 and 26).
Do we truly believe this? Do we live in a way that such a belief becomes a reality? Jesus Christ abolished death and brought us eternal life by removing what St. Paul calls "it’s sting"; it's essential evil, separation from God and the eternal love which is communion with God. Christ robbed death of its power over us through His Resurrection. He made that tombstone a stepping stone, a portal to eternal life (1 Corinthians. 15:55-57).
As we begin the New Year 2018, let us remember that everything we desire, everything we hope for, can be found and fulfilled in Christ Jesus. In this New Year, let go of the old you and embrace your potential. Let go of the past failures. Let go of the past mistakes. Let go of the past and embrace your new beginning. God has great plans for you through Jesus Christ. Accept Christ not only in word but in deeds.
I am truly excited about what God is preparing to do in this 2018th Year of the Lord, and I am praying that His purpose will be revealed to you.
To all of you, I extend my archpastoral blessing and wishes for health, peace, length of days, happiness, and joy in 2018.
Paternally yours in Christ,
+ Archbishop Stephen
Most Rev. Archbishop Stephen J. Enea
Primate of the Italo-Greek (Italo-Byzantine)
Orthodox Catholic Church