On the Sunday Before Theophany
Sermon preached by Fr. Nicholas Manikas on the Sunday Before Theophany on Sunday, January 3, 2016
Today is the first Sunday of the New Year 2016. As the first Sunday, we have before us twelve new months, new opportunities to do those things, to gain those things, to improve those things that we perhaps were not able to do fully in the past year. It's almost like being born again. We have the chance to do the things that we really want to do.
I would hope that as we make our plans and goals for the year, we would also give some thought to improving our minds, and improving our inner body.
If in the past, you felt that something was lacking in your spiritual life, if you felt in the past that religion wasn't really doing something for you, if you had ever felt ignored, forgotten, abandoned, this year can be a completely different year if you want it to be. This year can be the beginning of a brand new experience in which you will find yourself getting closer and closer to God. Consequently, living the good life according to the promises of God.
In today's Gospel, St. John the Baptist tells the people that he was baptizing them with water, but soon someone else was to come who would baptize them with something greater, with the power of the Holy Spirit. That someone did come and brought with Him for all humankind the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for the remission of sins, and for the inheritance of God's Heavenly Kingdom.
Here we are now, all baptized Christians, children of God, and yet, not feeling that different. Perhaps feeling empty inside. With genuine enthusiasm for Christ and for our Orthodox Christian faith. We are here, we make our stewardship pledge every year, we bring our children and grandchildren to sunday school, but for many of us, our religion is not a joyful experience. It is not as thrilling as it should be.
How many of us have taken the time to find out what Jesus Christ is saying about your life? For how many of us does religion make sense living each day, facing each challenge, opportunity, or difficulty, and solving with the power of the Holy Spirit? I'm sorry to say that I don't think it's happening for some of us, perhaps many of us. Our religion isn't giving us a purpose in life enough. Our religion isn't giving us the power that the early Christians had, the power that we need. For many of us today, our religion is peripheral, it's on the outside, it is only skin deep. Our faith has not yet penetrated deep enough into our hearts and minds, into our very soul.
Please forgive me for saying this. As a priest for 60 years, I have learned that the name Jesus is only a name in a dusty book. Jesus is only an icon on the wall of the Church or our bedrooms. Jesus has not become a living person for us. He has not become the Savior of our souls and the giver of eternal life. So, we go through the motions of being Orthodox Christians, and some of us have not yet encountered Christ. We know that Jesus Christ is God who came to gave to give us life, the abundant life. He offers to us His Holy Spirit to dwell within us! Have you ever thought about that? Can you wrap that around your mind? God the Father and Jesus give us the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity to live inside of us right now whether you know it or not. Right now, God is living inside of you. How wonderful it would be if you became more aware. It is a fact, it is a truth.
On the other hand, perhaps there are many of you who know Christ personally. Many of you have already taken Him into your hearts and minds. But if we are living the authentic Orthodox Christian life, if we are indeed living the way Christ wants us to live, then there are certain specific things and characteristics that should describe our lives more and more.
St. Paul says that if you are Christian, if you have received the Holy Spirit into your hearts, then remember that "the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control." This powerful verse should describe each and every one of us priests and each and every one of you, the faithful members of the body of Christ. If we are truly Christians, living the way God wants us to live the best we can, then your life can be full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control. If we look at our lives so far, and we have not lived up to par, in our religious commitment and our faithfulness to Christ, then we have a new opportunity to grow in the likeness of Christ. It is a new year, a new chance to make a new start at bettering ourselves and becoming real Orthodox Christians who live the Christian life and not just look from the outside as faithful, but rather with their hearts and minds that they are faithful to their Orthodox faith and to Jesus Christ.
A wise person once said that there are two journeys that a human soul can take. One goes from place to place seeking something or someone to satisfy, but it is often disappointed and continues to go here and there and continue to journey again and again in vain. The other journey is a journey with Jesus Christ our Lord. There, one finds peace that is lasting and a presence that lasts forever.
So, my dear friends, we will do well this year. Don't just get a new car. Don't just move into a bigger, better house. Don't just change your wardrobe. Rather, let us change ourselves; let us take our journey to Jesus Christ. Let us take Him in our hearts, and this year will be different. Let Christ in you with His joy, so that you will find the peace that is lasting, and a presence that truly satisfies.