It Is All In The Details
The very first promise of our Father God to us in his revelation was the direct result of the fall of Adam and Eve in separation through sin. After a snake convinced humanity's first couple to disobey God's command, He revealed that a descendant of Eve would be sent to deal with the snake once and for all time. I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel Genesis 3: 15. The paramount question in our time is: "When will we stop believing the words and empty promises of the snake and instead heartily embrace the rich and notable promises of our God?"
Christianity has always understood this to be the earliest reference to a Messiah who would right back against the oppressive power of sin, as personified by the snake. Today, as in numerous times past, we receive plain messages from our God, but look at them blankly and wonder why. As He freely communicated daily with Adam and Eve in the Garden before and after the fall, as He sent his judges and prophets to speak to us in understanding language, as He himself came among us, so He continues the self-same repetitive message today: Make ready the way of the Lord! Clear him a straight path I... all mankind shall see the salvation of the Lord! Luke 3: 4. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand! Matthew 3: 2.
Later, the Old Covenant prophet Isaiah foretold that a virgin would become miraculously expectant and give birth to a son, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin shall be with child and bear a son and shall name him Immanuel Isaiah :7 14, not just any son, but one named God with us. So, if God is with us, why should we wonder that He speaks to us in varying ways, using a frame of reference we may understand? Two gospel writers identify Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy. Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: When his mother Mary, was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the power of the Holy Spirit Matthew 1: 18; In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. Upon arrival the angel said to her: "Rejoice, 0 highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women." She was deeply troubled by his words and wondered what his greeting meant The angel went on to say to her: "Do not fear, Mary. You have found favor with God You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus. Great will be his dignity and he will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end" Luke 1: 28 -33. Just as sin and separation were introduced into the world through a woman, it is through another woman that reconciliation and salvation is brought about.
Yet another Old Covenant prophet, Micah, foretold that Israel's Saviour would come from the obscure town of Bethlehem, located about six miles south of Jerusalem. He would descend, according to Micah from the tribe of Judah, one of twelve family lines comprising the nation of Israel. This individual would rule and bring peace to the nation. But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah. From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler of Israel; whose origin is from old, from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them up until the time when she who is to give birth has borne, and the rest of his brethren shall return to the children of Israel He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord his God! And they shall remain for now his greatness and shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace... the remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many peoples, like dew coming from the Lord, like rain drops on the grass, which wait for no man, nor tarry for the sons of men and the remnant of Jacob shall be among the nations, in the midst of many peoples, like a lion among the beasts of the forest, like a young lion among flocks of sheep; when it passes through, it tramples and tears, and there is none to deliver. Your hand shall be lifted above your enemies and all your enemies shall be destroyed Micah 5: 1 - 4.
The prophet goes on to say and enumerate how all that we think is important for so-called national and political life, for personal success, our own misunderstandings and misinterpretations of what the Church is, which pre-occupy so much of our time and thinking and attention, will be destroyed, that we then have an opportunity to pay sole attention to the matters of value in living which is the salvation of our souls.
And now that another sign is given to us with the icons of the Birthgiver of God at St. George Church in Taylor, Pa., streaming myrrh so abundantly, even a blind and close-minded non-believer can grasp the much-needed intervention of our God once again. The very same purpose served by the prophets in the Old Covenant is being renewed another time, this time for our contemporary benefit. The invitation to the banquet is proffered once more. We must cancel all other appointments and plans. God's attention to us as believers or purported believers must not receive a bored and indifferent ho-hum. We are given another opportunity to literally tune up our faith response to God's first shown love. We are called to tune into the message because it is a profoundly challenging one.
Micah speaks on and on for those eager to hear his heavenly teaching and reminder as nature itself witnesses the prayer, as we see even the balming oil from heaven submitting to God's will and manifesting itself: Hear then, what the Lord says: Arise, present your plea before the mountains, and let the hills hear your voice! Hear 0 mountains, the plea of the Lord, pay attention, 0 foundations of the earth! For the Lord your God has a plea against his people, and he enters into trial with Israel 0 my people what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Answer me! For I brought you out from the land of Egypt, from the place of slavery I released you and sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam Micah 6: 1- 4.
The same wonders and signs delivered in the past are being repeated in our blessed Church today. Are we going to be just as dumb, deaf and blind as they were in the past? The love of our Father God for his faithful baptized children is thundering and pouring itself out on the very face of the vehicle He used to bring his son into the world for the sake of our salvation. The Virgin cried on the way to the Cross, at the foot of the Cross, just as did her divine Son and our God over the city of Jerusalem because it failed to embrace the Messiah. 0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, murderess of prophets and stoner of those who were sent to you! How often have I yearned to gather your children, as a mother bird gathers her young under her wings, but you refused me. Recall this saying, `You will find your temple deserted' Matthew 23: 37; Jerusalem, Jerusalem you slay the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother bird collects her young under her wings and you refused me! Your temple shall be abandoned Luke 13: 34, 35.
The message of the myrrh streaming icons is the same as the most important prophecies brought about by our God for our immediate response. Just as from the seemingly insignificant town of Bethlehem came the world-embracing miracle of salvation, so in a similar community in northeastern Pennsylvania, a continuing, unchangeable appeal is thundered forth. The tears, in miraculous icons, the streaming of blessed oil from dried-out wood is the same as the budding of the rod of Aaron in the Old Testament which our God commanded be placed in position of honor and remembrance in the Ark of the Covenant as a sign of God's unrelenting interest in his Church, his Body and Bride, his chosen vehicle for man's salvation. The results today must also be the same: we must respond as our God expects. The coming of our God among us in the flesh elevates and strengthens us positively and affirms us in our conviction: God desires our salvation. But we must respond to his desire. Our heavenly Father cannot save us without us!
Our loving eternal Father is affirming in us in our faith. He is strengthening us because we have weakened in our salutary endeavors. He is reminding us who we are; that we belong first and foremost to him! He does not want us forgetting our human dignity created in his image and likeness. Our only enduring destiny is citizenry in heaven.
How shall we respond? How are we now going to live with this sign among us? Is it indifference? Is this a message for our neighbor and the person sitting next to us in the pew? Or shall it be with appreciative gratitude and total transformation? The very same God who causes mere paper on an icon to effuse a blessed myrrh oil, the very same God who causes material created matter to be his witness in the world is the same God who will also permit the radiance and fragrance of his holiness to fill our hearts and souls. He comes among us in this manifestation to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, to waken us from our lethargy. Make yourself usable to God so He can change your life and those around you whom you love!
The material composition of the icons submitted itself to the will of God; we can also submit to his will and be transformed! We should be as eager to have the holiness of God oozing from our being as the myrrh flows from the icon. Our physical frame should not be allowed to contain and limit the virtues of God in us. Let us change our thinking, our doing and our living! We can no longer play Church, we must be Church!
We want to know the message of this latest and most dramatic of communications our God directs to us for the sake of our salvation. It is not simply and only the message of the approaching feast of his coming among us in the flesh. It is not simply the object of all the sacramental Mysteries of the Body of Christ. God's message is always the same and is consistent throughout history. We must stop calling on our absentmindedness and conveniently relying on forgetfulness. If we recognize him for who He is, if we respond as believers in Jesus Christ should, the words of the Scripture shall be fulfilled: All
mankind shall seethe salvation of God! Luke 3: 6.
The forgiving God has come among us. He has anointed one of our own through whom his message is made obvious and apparent. Even as the Assyrians under Cyrus were not only allowed, but commanded by God to punish and chastise the disobedient and recalcitrant Chosen People, Isaiah, as a faithful soul, in appreciation and gratitude, is able to assure them: Let
justice descend, 0 heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down; let justice also spring up Isaiah 45: 8. In imitation, we pray to day, Heavenly Father, as you send healing to us from on high, permit the myrrh streaming icon be a witness of our devoted response in loving presence among us. May this holy myrrh rain down on us and in repentance, wash away and cover up our sins. Gently may we be anointed and healed with forgiveness that the justice of permanent reconciliation with You takes place.
Appealing to the best that is in us, the streaming of these icons in a supernatural way points to our dignity as his children to be genuinely sorry for our offenses, to spread and share the message of heart-felt repentance in that parish, in that deanery, in our entire diocese and national Orthodoxy. It is a compelling sign we must be so convincing in our lifestyle as believers in Jesus Christ that the remaining physical community surrounding that parish church and all of the rest of our parish churches, is brought to its knees in worship and adoration, that the world reverse its course and changes its lifestyle to eagerly and happily embrace the salutary gospel of Jesus Christ as Saviour of the world! Through us the Eternal Father hopes to transform the world! It must begin with us! It must start here and now, with you and me!