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Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

This whole week following the start of the Feast of the Nativity is filled with the sober realities of the Universe-Changing Event of Bethlehem. God, the Uncreated, enters His world through the miracle of the Incarnation. He is born to the Virgin Mother of God in His flesh and He lives among us to fulfill all the promises He had made to Abraham, the father of the Hebrews. The world, human history, and my own life would never be the same again!

And The Church purposefully sets our thinking on the very real costs of being a serious follower of Jesus Christ. Our scripture lessons, our saint days, and our focused prayers are all about stirring us up to enter this sober and disciplined living.

Today is no exception. We recall the witness of St. Anysia, a young woman who was born to pious and wealthy parents in Thessaloniki. When they died, she continued to live her life as a serious Christian as a single woman. While she was on her way to the church, a pagan Roman soldier and asked her to come with him to the pagan temple to worship that false god. When she refused, he killed her with his sword. This happened in 299 A.D. What a lesson that we all need to embrace in this day when society has seemed to forget there are some truths worth dying for.

Look at our lesson today in Hebrews 7:18-25:

Brethren, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. Those who formerly became priests took their office without an oath, but this one was addressed with an oath, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘Thou art a priest for ever.'” This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

What a passage! And what a message. Don’t forget our Hebrews preacher is trying to get across to these Christians who were former Jews that what they have is better than what they left. In a day when making such a statement would be considered politically incorrect or culturally insensitive, the scriptures pull no such punches. You see, what is at stake is much more profound than temporary feelings. The claims of the Christian scriptures insist that Jesus Christ is the complete fulfillment of all the promises God made to Abraham, the Father of the Faithful in the first testament. So, to pretend otherwise is to mischaracterize the message of the Christian Faith. Our preacher wants to prove to these wavering believers that going back is going backward, and leaving what is better for what is already past!

Look at what he writes.

First, the former commandment (the Torah Law) is “set aside.” But why is it set aside? Because it’s wrong? Because it’s bad? No! The former is set aside because it is weak and, now that Christ has come and fulfilled the Law, useless. And it’s weak and useless BECAUSE it didn’t do what needed to be done. It didn’t make people perfect. Now it’s important to remember the word “perfect” here doesn’t mean “without flaw” but “complete”-“mature”-“grown up.” The Law was designed to prove to stubborn humanity that, no matter how hard we tried, we simply couldn’t overcome mortality by ourselves. The Law was to be our “schoolmaster” to teach us how badly we needed a Savior. And the Law did this completely.

Next, the new covenant is better. And why is that? Because this new covenant does what the old covenant could not: it (or rather He) could make humanity perfect because He is perfect and He is fully human as well as being fully God! The old system of sacrifices and laws only served to wake us up to our need for a Messiah, a Savior. But that was only halfway home. The Better Covenant brought to us by Jesus Christ provides a better Hope. He does what the old system could never do. He heals our relationship with the Father and reconnects us with Life Himself. And that, dearest, solves our real problem-mortality. We were made for life, not death!

Today, do you have hope? Do you know what your hope rests upon? Our precious and life-creating Faith solves your deepest weakness and destroys death so that you will reach the destiny you were made for in the first place. Being Orthodox on Purpose is always the better hope and that ain’t just a movie. It’s the real thing! O, and Happy New Year!

P.S. As a doubly-shining lamp * of truly mystical brightness * do ye shine upon the Church * like a high-towering beacon: * thou with beams of martyr’s glory, * O Anysia; * thou with rays of great ascetic deeds, O Melania. * Now together ye are honored * by Christ your Bridegroom * for your travails in His Name.

A Special Message from Fr. Barnabas: This is the last devotional for 2022. And 2023 means we are invited to renew our focused practice of our Faith. We here at Faith Encouraged are preparing for the New Year as well. Will you help us before the year is done? Your gift of $5, $10, $20, or $50 is your way of saying “We support your work, Fr. Barnabas!” Click the picture below and make that gift today. Thank you.

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