Isaiah 11:1-1;, Romans 15:4-9; Psalm 72; Matthew 3:1-12
There is a Feast celebrated by Celtic Christians, and other western Christians, as a major Feast, that is not one in the East. That Feast is the Adoration of the Magi. In the East it is celebrated as part of the Nativity celebration, in the West it has its own day, January 6. The reason for this is that Christians in the West, more than those in the East, identified with the Gentiles mentioned in the Scriptures. Those who were out on the edges of the world were keenly grateful for their inclusion in the saving grace of Christ, and saw the Magi, who had come from afar to worship the infant Jesus, as the first of their kind, the first outside the Old Covenant to recognize and acknowledge his divinity.
Our lessons this morning all speak of the Gentiles who will be brought into the New Covenant, that the Kingdom of the Messiah will be open to all who approach in faith; Jews, Gentiles, Greeks, Romans, everyone. The Prophet Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” St. Paul writes, “…the Gentiles glorify God because of his mercy. As Scripture has it, ‘Therefore I will praise you among the gentiles and I will sing to your name.’” The Psalm says, “In him shall all the tribes of the earth be blessed; all the nations shall proclaim his happiness.” In our Gospel lesson from St. Matthew, John the Forerunner proclaims to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Give some evidence that you mean to reform. Do not pride yourselves on the claim, ‘Abraham is our father.’ I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these very stones.”
The children raised up to Abraham, that is, children of faith not blood, when the Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah, were the Gentiles, St. Paul was the first Apostle specifically to the Gentiles, although, Our Lord himself went outside of the traditional boundaries of the Old Covenant when he spoke to and brought to conversion the woman at the well, a Samaritan, who then spread the Gospel to her whole village and is honored on our calendar as St. Photini, a Martyr.
What does this all mean to us, who are descendants of the Gentile believers? It means that as the means of salvation were opened to us, we must make sure to keep them open for everybody. No one who approaches in humility, faith and repentance, can be turned away, whatever their background, personal history, economic status, education, race, gender, age, physical condition, emotional state, or lack of appeal or attractiveness. The Church, as the Body of Christ, is hospital and home for the broken, the lost, the disenfranchised, the overwhelmed, the lonely and those “living in darkness and the shadow of death.” Which, if we are honest, includes all of us, at one time or another. The Church is not a Lady Bountiful handing out alms from on high, untouched by those she helps. If we, who are the Church, do not always know in our hearts that we are, ourselves, the poor, broken and lost, then we have forgotten something essential. St. Paul writes, in his letter to the Church at Rome, “Accept one another, then, as Christ accepted you, for the glory of God.” Other translations, instead of the word accept, use “receive”, “welcome”, “be tolerant”. He also writes, “May God, the source of all patience and encouragement, enable you to live in perfect harmony with one another according to the spirit of Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and voice you may glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We cannot be of one heart, or praise in one voice if we are hard-hearted, resentful, inhospitable, unwelcoming, intolerant, impatient, critical or unwilling to accept others who approach the Church in repentance and hunger for truth. Taoiseach Ivan often says that God has no taste, and we have to be the same, all of the reasons that the world would use to reject someone, are irrelevant to the Church, they are fleshly, materialistic reasons and have no place in the Body of Christ. Which does not mean that we are not to be spiritually discerning, there are those who ridicule Christ and intend harm to the Church, who are not humble or repentant and sow discord wherever they go. We need to be welcoming, but wise, and not fall into the traps that the enemy sets for us.
When St. Paul writes “live in perfect harmony”, he doesn’t mean a smiling mask of “everything’s all right” worn over a breaking heart or disintegrating life, he means the perfect harmony that comes in the Spirit when we are transparent to one another and to God, it embraces and heals whatever brokenness we bring, we don’t need to pretend, or sweep it under the rug in order to appear to have a tidy life.
John the Forerunner says in our Gospel lesson, “Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” A fruitful life is not necessarily a tidy life, or a comfortable life. To be fruitful requires growth, struggle, effort and discipline, as well as self-sacrificial love, and all of that generally means a life with a lot of pain, but out of that pain, willingly accepted for the glory of God, comes the joy of union, the transformation of theosis, and an increase in love for God and one another, and that is perfect harmony.
As we continue on our Advent journey, let us strive to welcome, not only the Christ Child into our hearts, but also all who would kneel with us before him.
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