A slap to the face.

Homily 388 – 28th after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 29, 2019
Epistle: (200) Galatians 1:11-19 (Sunday after the Nativity)
Gospel: (4) Matthew 2:13-23 (Sunday after the Nativity)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

In the middle of the Christmas season – a time of joy and hope and peace – we’re given a rather abrupt, hard slap in the face.

Humanity rears its ugly head, and pride becomes dominant.

Pride, which morphs into jealousy, which leads to annihilation on a huge scale.

We have this truly barbaric Jewish King, Herod, who gets wind that a rival has been born. And in response to this perceived threat, he murders all the male children in the region of Bethlehem.

The Church recalls the number of victims as 14,000.

Christ entered a world that very much lacked what He brought – peace, love, a desire to heal. Herod embodied the depths of the fall of humanity – self-centeredness, vengeful, insecure.

Christ perhaps entered the world on a “Silent Night” as the hymn goes, but the world quickly grew noisy with the jealousies and greed and power struggles of humanity.

He didn’t wait until humanity corrected itself – He came in the midst of our failings.

He came in the midst of our failings. He would not tell us that those failings were fine, that we can continue, because that’s just who we are – how God made us.

Rather, He would tell us that regardless of our failings, He loved us anyway. Nothing we could ever do, including murdering 14,000 innocent children, could dissuade this love for us.

He would never, ever, reject us. We might not always be with Him – but He would always be with us. He accepted us as we are.

He expects us to be better – He expects us to be what He Himself created us to be, the humanity that existed before the Fall, when we still lived in Paradise. While we pursue that, though, He will remain with us. As one of us.

Let’s go back to the 14,000 innocent children, whom the Church honors as martyrs for Christ. How can a loving God allow innocent children to die?

It perhaps sounds shocking – but the reason is love. Love, in order to be love, must respect free will. Love cannot be offered under compulsion of any type.

So, when Herod uses his free will to slaughter innocents, God, in His love, respects that free will choice.

Just like He respects our free will choices when we disregard His will and follow our own. Just like He respects the choices made by the first created humans in the Garden of paradise, when they followed their will, and their desire, disregarding His will and His desire for them.

Much like the fallen world, love is a tricky thing.

It can be evil – when we love ourselves, our position, our power, our authority enough to murder.

Or it can at the same time be used of God to fulfill prophecy and to bring those murdered into heavenly love and care, eternally in peace and joy.

The implications of this powerful love are many. First and foremost, we need never worry that God will reject us.

There is nothing we can do that will cause God to reject us. We can reject God – and He will respect our choice – but He will not reject us.

We only need to repent. Repent means to change. We need to change from rejecting God to accepting Him. From following our own will and desire to denying our will and desire, denying ourselves, and adopting Christ’s will as our own.

Consequently, as one’s who adopt Christ’s will as our own, we must never reject another human being. We must love them as Christ loves them. Because what Christ desires becomes what we desire.

Even when they reject God. Even when they reject us. We don’t wait for them to change. We accept them knowing that by following our path with us, they will change.

Love comes first. Change – or, better put, repentance – comes after, as a result of Love.

We have to model Christ. Not model the morality of Christ. Not model the leadership of Christ.

We have to model the Love of Christ. We have to model the humility of Christ.

We must tell God – nevertheless, Your will be done. On earth. Here and now. As it is in heaven.

“What would Jesus do?” isn’t the right question. The question we have to ask is about who Jesus is, as a person.

We can do what Jesus would do. We can behave morally, righteously. Without love, though, it is filthy rags before God. Without Love it is sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Without love – it is without Christ.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!