The reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew. (3:13-17)
Today we come together and celebrate a special occasion, this Sunday is given to us with extra blessings and grace from the Lord. Today we celebrate the Feast of Theophany together, This feast commemorates the baptism of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ and the manifestation of the All Holy Trinity together after His baptism in the waters of the Jordan.
We also come together and celebrate the reception of our new members into the community. We received these wonderful people into the Church yesterday evening. Today our newest members will receive Holy Communion and truly enter into the fullness of the life of the Church, into the fullness of life in Christ and with His saints. We are full of joy for them!
Finally, among the many things that we celebrate today, we are celebrating our first Sunday Liturgy since the start of the new year. We are reminded that what we are doing here is not some trivial action. It is the heart of the matter. We come here to enter into a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and this happens in a very focused way, precisely through the act of praying the liturgy together. As I have told the catechumens on a number of occasions, the central, most important human activity that we undertake is to come together for liturgy. Why? Because God made us to be people that seek Him and know Him and through our pious and reverent participation in the Divine liturgy, we are granted immediate and powerful access to God, through the grace of the Holy Spirit and through the grace of the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ.
The reason why the early Christians, and the Church have continued in the practice of receiving the Lord’s body and blood each and every Sunday is because this is the central and powerful act in our life as believers. We don’t come to receive a symbol but to partake of the very Lord Himself. Since Liturgy is our most important human activity and since eucharist is the pinnacle of the liturgy it is important that as we begin the new year, we contemplate and think about how we can fully partake of these things in the best way possible. What can we do to enter more fully and more energetically into the life of the Church, the life of Christ?
We can begin by looking at our newest members of the Church and remembering that at one time we were all like them, newly illumined, newly baptized and chrismated. We are reminded that the decision to enter the Church and to follow Christ with our whole heart, first begins with a decision to leave our old ways behind. The decision to put on Christ in baptism begins with the decision to die to the old man, first through repentance. Indeed that is exactly what John the forerunner was preaching to all the people as he eagerly waited for the appearance of the long awaited Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. He taught the people to repent. Even our Lord himself, when He first opened His mouth to preach, taught the people to repent. I am not saying this to you in order to remind you of these things that you already know, I am saying this to you in order to encourage you to start by embracing a life of repentance.
How do we embrace this life? We start by praying in secret and asking God to forgive our many sins and failings. We should not do this only once in a blue moon, but each and every day. Next we go to others and we ask them to forgive us, we do this whether we have done something or whether they perceive that we have done something to them. Either way, we try to clear the ground of our heart and prepare a place for the word of God and His grace to rest. We try to be at peace with everyone around us. After this we can come to the sacrament of confession and Christ will grant us forgiveness through the hands of the priest.
We continue to embrace the Christian life by studying the word of God, especially the teachings of Our Lord in the gospels. When we know the teaching of Christ, we have a rule to live by. We can repent properly because we can compare our lives to His teaching and His life.
Next, we can go further and deeper in our spiritual life, if we will spend time reading the lives of the saints and their writings. We should be doing a little bit of this, each and every day. The lives of the saints are like nutritious multivitamins. You don’t take a vitamin only once a month or once a year if you have a deficiency, you take it often to help cure the deficiency.
One of our deficiencies as Christians is the modern world of which we are a part. One of the ways that we are healed and brought to a proper relationship with God and our neighbors, is through reading and knowing the ways that the saints lived and acted in their context and in the world around them. We can study them, we must study them, if we hope to follow in their footsteps. If you are saying to yourself “I don’t want to be a saint, that sounds boring.” Then we are misguided and we don’t understand. To become a saint is the most exciting thing possible, to become exactly who God meant you to be from the beginning. To have unending communion with Jesus Christ our master and with His saints, to live forever, to love unconditionally.
So here we are at the start of the year, doing the most important thing together, seeking communion with Jesus Christ, and loving one another. Let us remember the first things, the essential aspects of our walk with Christ. If Christ and His commandments are our focus and our concern at the start of this year and at the start of each day and each moment of our life, then we are truly rich and truly blessed. I pray that the Lord will be your guidance, your hope and your rest today and throughout this new year and unto ages of ages. Amen!