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Weekly Message 12-20-07: Sunday After Nativity

I don’t know about you, but when I wake up in the morning I barely remember the dream I had overnight, and the little incoherent snippets I can recall vanish from my memory by the time I’ve walked downstairs to share them. I try to hold on to them, but at best all I can remember is one small scene, a sensation or a word. Maybe that’s because they’re all jumbled – there’s no plot line, everything is all mixed up; things are out of place and there is a lot of confusion.  Then again, maybe that is only how I dream, and all of you have perfectly lucid and rational dreams.  I don’t know.  On the surface, dreams don’t make sense, and yet at the same time, they can be profoundly moving.  Dreams have also been thought of as a source of inspiration, a freeing creativity from the shackles of reason. Paul McCartney’s song, “Yesterday” came to him in a dream.  Dreams can be good, and dreams can be bad, and ultimately, dreams can lead us when we have difficulty in making some important decisions. 

In our Gospel reading today, we read about Joseph and a dream. He is warned in that dream "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." (Mt 2:20) Poor Joseph!  It wasn’t enough that he had to travel with his expectant wife to be registered for a census when she gave birth in a cave in the middle of nowhere.  Now he must pick up and move to another country for fear of Jesus being harmed.  Then, Joseph is warned in another dream to go back to Israel, since those who wanted to harm Jesus are dead.  So Joseph packs his family up again to return to Israel, but learns that Herod’s son is the new ruler, and is afraid to go.  So, in a third dream, Joseph is told to go to the region of Galilee, where he settled with his family in a little town called Nazareth.

I can barely remember anything of my dreams; Joseph remembered everything told to him in these three dreams, plus the dream he had when he learned Mary was first expecting, when he was told to have no fear in taking Mary as his wife. Certainly, Joseph's obedience in following God's commands is the highlight of this Gospel reading.  A notable fact about Joseph is that not one single word spoken by him is quoted in any of the four canonical Gospel accounts.  According to tradition, St. Joseph was already an older, widowed man with grown children when he became betrothed to Mary; it would have been much easier for him to divorce her quietly when he learned that Mary was expecting, but he didn’t.  Just as Mary said yes to the angel Gabriel, that she would be the mother of God, so Joseph also said yes, in that he made the commitment to take care of Mary and Jesus, and provide for their safety and security.  Not much else is known about St. Joseph; tradition tells us he was a skilled carpenter, and as a boy, Jesus worked alongside with him and learned the craft; tradition also tells us that he died in the arms of Mary and Jesus, and by the time of Jesus’ public ministry, he had been dead for quite some time.   He is the patron Saint of families, fathers, expectant mothers, travelers, immigrants, house sellers and buyers, craftsmen, engineers and working people in general.  Our blessed Orthodox Church honors St. Joseph on the Sunday after the Nativity of Our Lord with the troparion we sang this morning: 

O Joseph, announce to David, ancestor of Christ, the good news of these wonders you have seen:  a Virgin giving birth to a Child.  With the shepherds you have glorified Him, and with the Wise Men you have worshipped Him; and an angel appeared to you.  Ask Christ to save our souls.

As we gather here this morning, the last Sunday of 2007, I’m sure many of us are toying in our minds with New Years resolutions.  Personally, I’ll be only too happy to say goodbye to 2007, and pray that 2008 will bring, if nothing else, better health and less time as an inpatient at Freehold Hospital. 

We come now to this very important period of January, this time of a new beginning. We remember the interesting fact that January was named after Janus, the old Roman god of doors and beginnings. Janus had one interesting peculiarity; he had two faces. With one face he looked back into the past year to discover his own mistakes and his own successes. Then through the other face he looked up into the future to make plans for a new year and to put these great ideals into operation that had been formed during the past year. Most people begin the New Year by making some resolutions, and promise themselves that they will do certain things. Usually it is a commitment to do better in the New Year than in the old year.  However, while many begin the New Year with good intentions, it's not too long before they fail and become disappointed, and go back to the way things were last year.  The Holy Season of our Lord’s nativity comes to an end, and our resolutions get packed away along with the ornaments, boxes, and tinsel.  The seemingly endless holiday music is no longer heard on the radio, and we go back to doing the things that we did before. As I was preparing this homily, I found something that may help to dispel the depression of resolutions failure syndrome: 

When the song of the angels is heard no more

And the Bethlehem star is gone out of the sky

When the kings and the Wise men have returned to their homes

And the shepherds are back in the fields with their flocks,

Then is the time when the real work of Christmas should be eagerly begun:

To spread the Christian message, to lift up the broken hearted;

To convert the unbelieving, to purify the national purpose,

To break the bonds of sin, and to exalt the purpose of all mankind.

The New Year is the time when we should establish in our heart

Those great ideals that were given us by the Son of God for the Christmas season.

Instead of the usual New Years resolutions that almost always set us up to fail, such as losing weight or quitting smoking, there are some very good resolutions that we can make as Orthodox Christians, and determine to keep by the grace of God.

Why not determine to read the entire Bible this year?  It may sound unreasonable, but if you break it down to spending a mere 15 minutes a day in quiet reading, you would have read the Bible cover to cover by the end of the year.  What if you commit to leading one person to Christ? All of us have friends who are aware of your practicing faith as an Orthodox Christian, when they have no spiritual home.  Some may even ask you questions about what you do in your church; bring them with you and share your faith.  Perhaps you can increase your sacrificial offering for the support and upkeep of God’s holy Temple.  An extra five dollars from each individual every Sunday would make a tremendous difference in meeting our obligations and would also be a big shot in the arm for our building fund, which, by the grace of God, could be complete by the end of next year.  Finally, if you don’t get to church as often as you should, make it more regular, remembering the commandment to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” These, my brothers and sisters are just a few specific examples of resolutions that are reasonable and practical, and will leave you with a sense of accomplishment. 

On this last Sunday of the year, it is important for all of us to understand the nature of God's providence. God is with us, as we sang at the Compline Service on Monday evening.  God seeks us, and calls us into a relationship with Him.  The New Year, the horizon which we cannot see is already inhabited by God’s grace.  As we usher in a new beginning, let us all open our hearts to be a better example of Discipleship, and let us grow together as a family in the love of the newborn Christ.  And, of course, I pray that all of us are blessed with good health and good fortune. That is my prayer for all of us this day.  Amen.


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