The message this morning from St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesian church can be summed up in two words: “Awake” and “Arise.” While St. Paul’s letter was written nearly 2,000 years ago, the same warning needs to be heeded by us as well today. For too long Christians have been wasting the precious time on earth in what amounts to a moral stupor while the rest of the world is quickly disintegrating around us, threatening to catch us up in its vortex. St. Paul’s message should be our renewed call to action; a clarion call to sleeping souls to awaken and arise.
The sad moral state of the world we live in is brought into our homes on a daily basis. Whether it’s the nightly news or digital media, we do not have to look very hard to find another story about the degradation of the human condition in our society. In too many situations, human life has little or no value. Unfortunately, the more we are exposed to this sinful state, the more desensitized we have become. God help us that now mass murder seems to be so common that we are no longer shocked by the news when another mad man takes the lives of multiple innocent people. Even our places of worship are no longer safe, whether it’s a church in Texas or a masque in Egypt, it seems that we are no longer able to escape the madness of the world. We can add to this the moral decay brought to light by the recent revelations of sexual exploitation and aggression that have been taking place for years in both our nation’s capital and in Hollywood, and it is easy to understand why we find our country in the dire state that it is in.
St. Paul’s warning to the Ephesians has important meaning for us as well: “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (vv. 15, 16).
St. Seraphim of Sarov said that that Christ “likens our life on earth to a market.” We are each called to “economize the time for receiving heavenly blessings through earthly good works.” These are the good acts that we are expected to perform in the name of Christ. This insight from St. Seraphim is in complete contrast to the commercialized understanding of the world, especially during the Advent of the Nativity of God in the Flesh. Rather than using our time to perform good works for our fellow human beings, our economizing generally means improving the economy by spending at the local malls and shops. It is no longer the acts of charity that characterize Christmas; instead it is the buying and selling of material goods that the world uses as a measure by which to gauge the success of the holiday season. This standard has become so distorted that Christmas “officially” begins in the wee hours on the day after Thanksgiving with a flurry of promotions to entice everyone to leave their homes and families, and seek the meaning of “gratitude” by running up their credit cards in a frenzy of spending that never seems to deliver the real, lasting happiness that we so desperately seek in our lives. Little wonder the day is called “Black Friday.”
So we should ask: What does it mean to “walk circumspectly?” The word “circumspect” means carefully or prudently, watchfully and discreet. So our call as Christians is to live carefully, as wise Disciples of Christ. We should not be filling our minds and bodies with wine but with the Holy Spirit. This news will come as a shock for those who live by the motto, “take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” For as in Jesus’ parable of the Rich Fool, the day of reckoning will come, “then whose will those things be which you have provided?” (Luke 12:20) Our overindulgence in the excesses of the holiday season causes us to be listless, tired and careless. The things of the soul—fasting, prayers and good deeds of charity—are not as important as the eating, drinking, partying and spending that now mark this time of year. We then fall into a spiritual stupor and run the risk of missing out on all of blessings that God has in store for us during the Nativity Fast. A time that should be dedicated to spiritual renewal is instead wasted in dissipation. By the time Christmas day comes along, we are all “partied out,” physically, spiritually and emotionally drained.
Now is the time to shake off the fatigue that seems to engulf our lives this time of year. If we use the time set aside by the Church for spiritual growth, then we should not have to worry about experiencing the “Christmas Blues” that seem to overcome so many people when the holidays are over. “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.” We all want that “light” in our lives, especially during this time of the year, but in order to receive it we must first awake and arise. Nothing good is going to happen if we continue to move through the Advent period on spiritual autopilot. The meaning of Christmas has been and continues to be here all along—there is no need to reinvent or rediscover it. The feeble attempts to cover it with tinsel and twinkle-lights to make it more commercially appealing will only have the opposite effect.
So rather than all the nonsense that the world says is so important to our happiness, we should follow St. Paul’s direction, and speak “to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” That is exactly what we do at each Divine Liturgy and every service of the Church. The focus has always been Christ, Who is celebrated without all the trappings. A Christmas with Christ is the one gift that fits all, is the perfect color, and no one will be boxing up to return to the store the next day. Salvation is the gift that you will want to keep this year.
There is nothing that this world can do to improve on what God has already given us: His only begotten Son. It is therefore up to each of us to make the most out of every day during this Nativity Fast. Give thanks to God for the gift of His Son. Be amazed and spellbound by the fact that God so loved the world that He became incarnate, to assume humanity so that it might be saved. And through our spiritual efforts during this Nativity Fast, by the grace of God, we will all awake on Christmas morning, arise to a new dawn of creation, and receive the light of Christ Jesus into our lives.