Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 13, 2020
The Parable of the Great Banquet is a call to joy. We are all invited to it. In fact, the Banquet can be seen as a metaphor for the Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving. Of course, not everyone comes when invited. Still God invites. He calls even those he knows will reject him.
The verse “many are called but few are chosen” can be confusing. Who is it that does the calling? It is God. Who is it that does the choosing? We are. The “chosen” are simply those who choose. It is not that God picks and chooses those he wants to save. That sounds like the doctrine of double-predestination that takes the choice away from us entirely. God, the All-Merciful, loves us all forever and ever and he leaves with us the choice to accept his invitation or not.
There are those among the holy fathers and theologians of the Church who believe that it is impossible for anyone to reject the invitation to God’s love forever. I am not a holy father or a theologian, but I tend to agree with them on this matter. The love of God is not irresistible, but it is eternal and all-encompassing and, as Christ, never leaves us nor forsakes us. It is a promise from the Lord’s mouth to our ears. And this is the one foundation for indestructible joy.
Happiness, of course, is different than joy for it rests on a foundation of shifting sand. Happiness depends on circumstances and since they are always changing, happiness comes amd goes like the wind. Happiness is not bad; it is just unstable. It is more akin to excitement than it is to joy. You can be joyful in the worst circumstances because it is not based on temporal things, but rather on unchanging and, therefore, eternal things. In fact, joy is a characteristic of God. Have you ever thought of God as joyful? For example, from the book of the prophet Zephaniah there is a beautiful verse (3:17) that talks about this:
“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”
Far too often we think of God as stern and grumpy, even cold, somewhat aloof and stony, and yet Zephaniah paints a different picture. He rejoices over us, his beloved creation, with gladness! “He will quiet you by his love.” I particularly like that part! Isn’t that what a good parent does or a relative or a friend? And then Zephaniah continues saying, he will exult, that is feel or show triumphant elation, over us. I don’t know about you, but that brings me great comfort.
Joy then is an energy of God. It is a gift, a sharing of his divine nature through his most holy energy. Joy is a characteristic of God and the only way we can experience its fullness is to empty ourselves and receive him. He alone can grant joy because he is its source.
The message of the Advent Season is, “He is coming.” The Son of God, the Son of David, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father whose kingdom will be from everlasting to everlasting. And on the Feast of the Nativity we hear the echoing refrains of the angelic hosts saying, “I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord!” Again…joy. Not for some, but for all brought to us by God himself who loves us so much that he came to dwell with us in human flesh.
The Incarnation of God is the all-encompassing mystery. Everything and everyone participates in it. Matter itself is deified, human flesh is deified, you and I are deified, not by works, but by grace, by the Word of God taking matter and human flesh into himself. Your flesh and my flesh has become one with his in an inseparable union that never ends. Is it any wonder that nearly everyone experiences the joy of the Nativity in some way? I believe it is because the Incarnation of God connects us all in an unbreakable bond of eternal joy. His blood flows through the veins of all people for it is our blood that flows through his and is transfigured in him. The blood of the Lamb is the blood of his Holy Mother and by extension and the sharing and interconnection of human nature is ours as well.
I remember something my systematic theology teacher taught us one day. It was to my then evangelical mind shocking and provocative. He said, “There is a man sitting on the throne of heaven and we are sitting with him.” Yes! He has lifted human nature into the heavenly places and as made it one with him. To experience joy is to dance to the music of his heart.
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2020/embracing-indestructible-joy.