In many families, there is a familiar occurrence around dinner time. The child comes into the kitchen as dinner is being prepared.
“I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?” the child asks.
“No, you’ll spoil your appetite,” the parent responds.
“But I’m starving!”
A few minutes later, the table is set, the hot food is on the table, and the parent calls, “Dinner is ready! Come to the table!” The child does not come.The parent repeats, “Dinnertime!” No answer. From the child’s room comes the noise of playing: maybe that recognizable sound that only comes from digging around in a bin of Legos, or the digital sounds of a video game. Minutes before, the child was “starving” but now something has distracted him. Something else seems more important than dinner.
Sometimes children, especially young children, need several warnings ahead of time to change from one activity to another. They need transition time. Giving a ten minute warning and then a five minute warning helps children put down the toys and come to the dinner table.
Today we are getting close to dinnertime: the feast of Christmas is just around the corner. Today our heavenly Father is giving us a ten minute warning, so to speak. We’ve spent the past several weeks in a period of fasting—soon we will be feasting. Our Father knows we need transition time, so He gives us the two Sundays before Christmas to make a transition. We put down fasting and penitence to feast and rejoice at the birth of our Savior, the Incarnate God.
We are called to the literal feast of Christmas, and given time to prepare. But every day we are called to the heavenly banquet in the Kingdom of God. We are invited to rejoice and praise our heavenly Father every day. But often our toys and games distract us, and even though we are starving for the heavenly bread, we don’t come to the table when our heavenly Father calls us.
Like those in Christ’s parable of the banquet, we’re often burdened by worldly cares: finances, relationships, our health, our comfort… and so we say “no” to God’s invitation. We prefer our toys and games to the heavenly banquet, and so we go hungry.
Why don’t we say “yes” to God’s invitation? What keeps us away from the banquet? Paul tells us today in the epistle reading, “put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Our desires are messed up, Paul tells us. We desire what we don’t have. Rather than rejoicing and praising God for what we do have, we imagine having what we don’t have. We are dissatisfied with what God has given us, and we want more.
Then Paul tells us that not only our desires are messed up, but our aversions, our anger, is messed up. He calls this “anger, wrath, slander, and foul talk.” We want what we don’t have, and we reject the things we do have. We say “no” to the gifts that God gives us. We’re not satisfied when things aren’t how we want them, so we get all bent out of shape. We get angry, or we despair. We rage or pity ourselves.
Our energy to desire and reject is our human will. Our human will is broken—it controls us and does not allow us to rejoice in the truth, to have joy in how things really are, to praise God for his gifts to us. We say “no” to the heavenly banquet.
Our will is broken, and we don’t praise God for the way he orders our world and our life—his providential care for our lives. So we say “no” to the banquet. And we’re miserable.
Our will is broken and we can’t fix it by ourselves. A broken will can’t fix a broken will. We need help, what do we do?
The problem, Paul tells us, is idolatry. He’s not simply talking about paganism, or atheism, or any other “-ism.” He’s talking about our tendency to worship things that are not God. We find a thing, or a person, or an idea, and treat that as if it were God. We obey it and worship it. We put our highest value on money, or a relationship, or our career, or some political ideology. Even if we are Orthodox Christians outwardly, sometimes our allegiance is to these other things, rather than Jesus Christ. We put something else in where God should be.
But when we place God where God should be, we are transformed. When we worship the true God, and trust in his providential care of our lives, our broken will is straightened out. What I want is no longer as important as it once was. We once were scrambling for what we didn’t have, but now we rejoice in the gifts God has given us. We once were angry at what we thought was wrong in the world, but now we see God at work in all things. The old nature has been put off and we put on the new nature, as Paul put it.
We worship Jesus Christ, true God of true God, who united human nature to divine nature in his own person. We worship him outwardly, by coming to Church, and participating in the holy mysteries. We worship him inwardly by letting him reign over us, and submitting to his will for our lives.
He helps us put down our broken will, our out-of-control desires and anger. We learn to say “yes” to God’s invitation. When we rejoice and praise him, we “taste of the banquet” of the heavenly kingdom. The joy of the Christmas feast is God’s gift to us when we accept his invitation to the banquet.
Sermon given at St. Innocent Mission on December 16, 2012, based on these readings: Epistle of Paul to the Colossians 3:4-11 and the Gospel According to Luke 14:16-24.