Archive for the ‘Advent’ Category

Re-Introductions are in Order

December 29th, 2016    |    No Comments »

One of the wonderful things about the Christmas season is the way it re-introduces us to such interesting people. And it’s not limited to friends and family: some of the most memorable re-introductions come from the surrounding culture. Who can suppress a warm smile at their first yearly sighting of Santa, Rudolph, and the elves? Or at the Grinch, and the whole Peanuts gang?

But the church, too, is actively bringing some memorable people to our attention in the run-up to Christmas. It shares these vivid personalities with us through the feast days that occupy the weeks in the latter half of Advent.

We’ll meet King David: poet and warrior, fugitive and conqueror; a man of twists and turns who knew both the exhilaration of victory and the desolation of personal loss.

We’ll meet James: the apostle called the “Brother of the Lord,” who after Christ’s ascension led the church in its turbulent dawning days, and became the first bishop of Jerusalem.

We’ll meet Stephen: that fiery speaker who preached the gospel in the public square; who is remembered as the first deacon of the church—and its first martyr.

We’ll meet Peter and Paul: the “odd couple” of the Apostolic Age; rivals in so many matters of practice and policy, yet united in a friendship of the spirit that drew both to the heart of the Roman Empire, to preach and suffer in their Master’s name.

Finally, we’ll meet the brothers James and John: two of the most intimate confidants of our Lord. John in particular left us some of the deepest, most introspective writing in the Bible. Yet to Jesus, he and James were known as the “Thunder Boys”—a name evoking vigor and action (which would also make a great title for next summer’s superhero blockbuster).

These are the stories the church re-introduces to us through the feasts of this week (on December 24, 26, 27, and 29). In this quiet period between the two blessed celebrations of Christ’s nativity, on December 25 and January 6, devote some time to reading and thinking about them. Somehow, getting to know these figures prepares us for that greatest re-introduction of all, when we will once more welcome the infant Jesus into our hearts and lives.

Advent Reflection

December 18th, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the Fifth Sunday of Advent, we read about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee goes to the temple, and in the course of his prayer, he thanks God that he is not like other people (sinners), including the Tax Collector. He boasts to God about how he gives money, fasts, and keeps the Law. In contrast, the Tax Collector, not even lifting His face toward God, pounds his chest and says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus tells us that the Tax Collector is the one who went home made right before God.

Why was the Tax Collector justfied, while the Pharisee was not? The character flaw in the Pharisee is quite clear, and Jesus explains that “every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will exalted.” Everything we do depends on the state of our heart. The Pharisee, with pride, measured his spiritual stature before God by what he fulfilled and accomplished. The Tax Collector measured his spiritual stature before God with a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

Let’s place ourselves in this story. How are we like the Pharisee? How are we like the Tax Collector? Let’s face it. We pray and live like the Pharisee more often than we would like to admit. We are proud of our accimplishments, spiritual or otherwise. We are also uncomfortable with the feeling of self-reproach. The repentant spirit of our faith is that we are not what God is by nature – perfect and sinless. There exists a tension in that we are created by a perfect God, but tend toward sin. But through Jesus Christ, we are saved from this deficient status as we live and honestly pray,

Lord, have mercy. Der voghormya.

During this Advent, ask yourself how you measure your spiritual stature. Read Ephesians 4:13. If our measuring-stick is anything other than the “stature of the fullness of Christ”, then we are in danger of praying like the Pharisee. The Pharisee stood before others comparing himself to them. The Tax Collector stood before God acknowledging his deficiency before Him. The stature of Christ’s fullness is only found on the path of unceasing repentence; the turning of our heart toward God. Whenever you leave your place of prayer (in Church, your room, your car, on the train) your heart will determine whether or not you “go home” like the Tax Collector.

Fifth Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:
• Isaiah 40:18-31
• Hebrews 4:16-5:10
• Luke 18:9-14

Hebrews 4:14-16 – How does Jesus relate to us? Sure, Jesus took on the flesh of a human, but He is also God; perfect and sinless. St. Paul confesses this point, but he still tells us that our High Priest, Jesus the Son of God sympathizes with our weaknesses as finite human beings. But sympathizing isn’t enough for us. We need help. And Jesus Christ offers exactly that. As He sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father, His throne is one of grace, not one of uncaring and callous judgment. As He sits, He grants us mercy and grace to help in time of need. If this is the case, then at what moment is the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ not available? Our time of need is unceasing. And so is His help.

Pharisee and the Tax Collector

“The Pharisee and the Tax Collector,” an engraving printed by Emile Petithenry, Bonne Presse.

 

Advent Reflection

December 3rd, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the Third Sunday of Advent, we read the parable of the great banquet. A wealthy man threw an extravagent party, but everyone that was invited gave excuses as to why they could not attend. The excuses inlcluded things that are a part of everyday life; the cares of this world. The wealthy man then told his servant to invite the poor, maimed, lame, and blind, but there was still room for more. Finally, the wealthy man refused those he orginally invited, and instead compelled others to come just to fill his house.

The party in this parable is an image of the Kingdom of God, as well as an image of the Badarak. Fortunately, for us the doors to God’s banquet – His Kingdom and His Communion table – have not closed. The invitation is still open, and like the wealthy man, Jesus wants to be with us; to share Himself with us as citizens of His Kingdom. He wants us to celebrate His resurrection with a Holy Communion banquet. His desire is for all of us to put aside the cares of this world, and to say yes to His invitation (Matthew 6:31-34).

During the third week of Advent, the Armenian Church commemorates Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker and Bishop of Myra. According to tradition, in the 4th century, St. Nicholas sold all that he had and distributed his money to the poor. He then devoted himself to helping orphans, widows, prisoners, and the conversion of sinners. As he practiced hospitality and gave gifts to children, the practice caught on where others would give gifts in his name at Christmas. His name eventually evolved from St. Nicholas to Santa Claus.

What keeps us from entering the Kingdom of God, or from participating in Badarak and receiving Holy Communion? What are the excuses to which we are prone that keep us from deepening our faith, or doing charitable works for the Lord? During this period of Advent, think about what weighs you down and entangles you (Hebrews 12:1). List them out, pray about them, and ask others to pray for you. Also, think of ways we can practice your faith like St. Nicholas. How can you use your gifts and talents to work wonders for the Kingdom of God?

Third Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

  • Isaiah 37:14-38
  • II Thessalonians 1:1-12
  • Luke 14:12-24

II Thessalonians 1:3-6 – With faith that grows abundantly and love for one another that increases, we are able to endure suffering and persecution with patience. Suffering, an undesirable part of life, is promised to us, but how we handle it and appropriate it to our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, is what makes us worthy of the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” This week, think about your trials and be encouraged with the words of Jesus. Think of someone else that is suffering – a stranger, family member, friend, or parish member. Tell them you are praying for them. Light a candle for them. Be hospitable. Do something to bless and encourage them.

"The servant inviting the sick and the poor to the banquet" by Maarten van Heemskerck (16th century).

“The servant inviting the sick and the poor to the banquet” by Maarten van Heemskerck (16th century).

Advent Reflection

November 26th, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the Second Sunday of Advent (Յիսնակ/Heesnag), we read the parable of the fruitless fig tree. This story serves as a picture of fallen humanity in the garden, where Christ, the keeper of the vineyard, is the intercessor on our behalf. It is He who gives us the privilege and chance to serve Him and others.

Just as the fig tree grows, as we grow we should bear fruit. Contributing fruit to the world, to others, and to the Church, and all of these ultimately to God. In Matthew’s Gospel (7:15-20) we read, “Beware of false prophets…You will know them by their fruits…So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

Like the fig tree, we don’t always bear fruit. But God doesn’t just throw us away as being useless. He gives another chance, and more than once. But how does God help us bear fruit? Sometimes, Jesus sends others to help us grow in our faith and bear fruit. They can either challenge us, giving us the opportunity to show and grow in character, or they can offer a helping hand in our time of need. During the first week of Advent, the Armenian Church commemorates Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew. They chose to help others for the sake of the Gospel, specifically those who lived in Armenia. Serving Jesus was their priority during the time they were given by God.

From this parable we learn that God loves us, but also out of that love, He gives us chances; He understands our limitations of time and ability. This week, as we continue to take time to prepare and look forward to Theophany, be more aware of our limited time to change our lives and serve God. Just like Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew, practice spreading the Gospel by helping others. Be fruitful: Take some time to help the poor and homeless. Forgive someone, and bring reconciliation to a broken relationship. And love one another.

Second Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 36:22-37:11

I Thessalonians 4:1-11

Luke 13:1-9

I Thessalonians 4:3-11 – What is God’s will for us? That we should set ourselves apart to Him to live a holy life, as we walk with Him in faith and obedience. What should be some results? To love one another more than we already do, to live quietly, mind our own business, and work hard.

The parable of the fruitless fig tree

Advent Reflections

November 19th, 2014    |    No Comments »

Յիսնակ (Heesnag) or Advent, beginning on the Monday nearest November 18th, is the seven weeks preceding Theophany, consisting of approximately 50 days. It is comprised of three ancient one-week fasts, but later they came to define the entire transition period between the season of the Cross and Theophany.

We also take this time to prepare and look forward to Theophany, the birth and baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the wilderness, John the Baptist announced the coming of Christ into the world, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” During Advent we also prepare the way of the Lord.

Why are we waiting? Didn’t the Savior already come into the world? Today, what does it mean to prepare ourselves for the coming Savior? The hope of Christ’s birth still remains with us. We anticipate His coming, and the hope that comes from remembering His birth helps us focus our lives on the peace that brought God and humanity together through the coming of His Son.

This week, be more conscious in times of waiting, such as in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, or even looking forward to a holiday gathering or event. Practice patience, and think about the value of waiting and anticipating.

First Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 36:1-9
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
Luke 12:13-31

I Thessalonians 1:6-7 – How can we become better imitators of the Lord, to the point that our faith becomes known, like those of the church of the Thessalonians?

 

— Eric Vozzy is a student at St. Nersess Seminary. He works in the Diocese’s Department of Christian Education.

 

Advent

Advent Reflection

January 5th, 2014    |    No Comments »

Read Luke 2:8-20

Christ is born and revealed amongst us! Blessed is the revelation of Christ!

On the eve of the Feast of Holy Nativity and Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us reflect on the beauty and mystery of the incarnation of Jesus. God, the Creator of the universe and the Author of our lives, chose to reveal himself to us in the most humble of ways. Our indescribable, limitless, and almighty God came to earth in the form of a helpless baby wrapped in cloths. The shepherds found him cradled in a manger alongside Joseph and Mary, surrounded by hay and animals. This doesn’t strike you as the sort of entrance that the “Messiah, the Lord” would have, does it? Yet the angels guided the shepherds to this baby boy, and they knew within seconds that he was the one who would turn everything around. He was the “great joy for all the people,” the one who they foretold as Emmanuel: “God with us.”

This, folks, is what the Gospel is all about. This is the “good news.” We don’t serve a God who is far away, uninterested in the day-to-day lives of his creations. We serve a present God, one who is with us and never, ever leaves us. We serve a selfless God, one who chose an earthly life to give you and I a life of eternity. We serve an everlasting God, one whose revelation as a man is but one chapter of the grand story he is weaving for the redemption and glory of us all. Tomorrow, as you enter into your churches to worship God, remember who you are praising. Remember the babe who was born to die, who was born to bear the sin of the world upon his shoulders. And remember that he overcame death to give us life to the fullest. Ever blessed is this beautiful revelation, both now and forevermore.

Lord, we are so grateful that you gave us salvation through your son, Jesus Christ. We pray for the grace and love of Jesus to surround us as we celebrate his birth and majesty.

Advent Reflection

January 1st, 2014    |    No Comments »

Read Luke 20:41-21:4

Have you ever felt that Christmas is a show of self-importance rather than a show of selfless service? In American culture, we want success, we want fame, and we want to be well-liked. In something of a vicious circle, these goals arise from and then reinforce self-absorption and false piety. Like the scribes that Jesus is criticizing, we often make an exaggerated effort to gain approval and respect from those around us. We “like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect.” In one of his many counter-cultural moves, Christ says that these are the exact people who will be “punished most severely.” But why?

When we call ourselves Christians, we are claiming that we love Christ more than anything else in the world. We put aside our own desires and put the love of Christ before our love of self. That’s why Jesus praises the woman who gave the last two coins she owned. She gave all that she had out of her love for Christ, and she didn’t make a big show of her donations like the scribes did. Christ honored her genuine selflessness. God isn’t looking for the person who seeks the approval of others by wearing the nicest clothes, throwing the most lavish parties, or giving the most expensive gifts. Quite the contrary, He is calling His children to humility, kindness, and sincere service. During this Advent season, don’t get caught up in the popularity game of the scribes; serve others and serve Christ with your whole heart, in the sure knowledge that by doing so you are pleasing the only Person whose opinion of you should matter.

Lord, this world entices us to love wealth and power. Guide us to a path where we tame our desire to be popular and embrace a life of loving service.

Advent Reflection

December 25th, 2013    |    No Comments »

Read Luke 18:18-27

Sell your car. Sell the necklaces, the DVDs, the game systems. Sell all of your clothes except what you have on your back, and make sure you sell those watches and those shoes, too. Sell everything in your house until nothing remains, until everything you once owned is now reduced to a pile of cash and checks. Then, go out and give that money away. Give it to the homeless man you pass every day on your way to work. Give it to the single parents who are struggling to put food on the table. Give it to the kids who have never gotten a new toy on Christmas morning, let alone any other morning. Give, give, and give, until you literally have nothing left. And then rejoice, “for you will have treasure in heaven.”

This is a tough pill to swallow, isn’t it? Christ tells us that becoming poor in this life will make us rich in the heavenly kingdom. Some of us are opening Christmas presents this morning, and some will be opening them soon in January. Imagine receiving those gifts and then immediately selling them in order to give that money to someone less fortunate. Are we willing to trust the Father with everything that we have? Are we willing to listen to Him when He beckons us to a life of selflessness and sacrifice? It is not enough to just obey the rules. As we read in James, “Faith without deeds is dead” (2:26). Christ gave everything he had to give us the riches of heaven. As we celebrate his birth this Advent season, let us remember that our true treasure lies in Christ and His eternal kingdom.

Lord, let nothing of this material world satisfy us the way the hope of Your heavenly kingdom satisfies us. Put it on our hearts to give sacrificially so that we might help others in greater need.

Advent Reflection

December 22nd, 2013    |    No Comments »

Read Isaiah 40:18-31

Do you know who your God is? Especially during the chaos of the Christmas season in America, we have the unfortunate habit of creating other gods. We put so many things on pedestals: our perfect dinner parties, our final grades of the semester, our paychecks, our newly-wrapped Christmas presents. These gods slip into our minds and our hearts, and they do a great job of averting our eyes us from the God who is the only One worthy of our affection. He is “the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” The same God who set the earth on its foundations is the same God who planned our salvation through his son Jesus Christ. Can the gods we covet in this life say the same? Dear readers, let us praise the God of the universe, who gives us faith and allows us to “soar on wings like eagles.” This is the God of our Advent season and the God of our whole lives.

Lord, forgive us for turning to false gods in this holy season of preparation. Give us the faith and the strength to put our hope in You and not in the things of this world.

Advent Reflection

December 20th, 2013    |    No Comments »

Read Hebrews 3:12-4:10

Take a look at your schedule for this upcoming week. Is it packed with appointments, meetings, coffee dates with friends in town, Christmas parties, etc.? Have you scribbled frantic notes to buy those last remaining gifts before the sales come to an end? We often find ourselves in this near-panicked state when approaching Christmas Day. Sometimes the days leading up to Christmas can feel like a marathon, with us collapsing at the finish line in a heap of shredded wrapping paper on the morning of. If this is what our advent season feels like year after year, then we are missing the point, my friends! Yes, it is a beautiful thing to give thoughtful gifts and enjoy time spent with friends and family, but these things should lift us up, not drain us out. As Christians, we have the infinite joy of being able to “enter God’s rest.” As his beloved sons and daughters, God gives us the opportunity to experience his rest and peace every day, not just on Sunday. So long as the day is called “Today,” we have the abounding pleasure of resting in the arms of our Abba Father. Don’t let the rush of the season overwhelm you; take time out of your day to sit, reflect, and pray to the God of eternal rest.

Lord, there are so many things in our day that conflict with the peace we can find in You. Help us to block out all the unnecessary distractions of the Christmas season and find a moment to enjoy your loving rest.