Fr. Luke A. Veronis serves as the Director for the Missions Institute of Orthodox Christianity at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, pastors Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Webster, MA, and teaches as an Adjunct Instructor at both Holy Cross and Hellenic College. He also taught at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (2005-2008). Fr. Luke has been involved in the Orthodox Church’s missionary movement since 1987. Together with his family, he served as a long-term cross-cultural missionary in Albania more than 10 years (1994-2004), and as a short-term missionary in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana for 18 months (1987-91). Since 2010, he teaches a summer missions class which he takes to Albania for two weeks every year. He has led four mission teams from his church to build homes for the desperately poor through Project Mexico. His published books include Go Forth: A Journal of Missions and Resurrection in Albania (2010); Lynette’s Hope: The Witness of Lynette Katherine Hoppe’s Life and Death (2008); and Missionaries, Monks, and Martyrs: Making Disciples of All Nations (1994). Fr. Luke teaches the Preaching course at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, as well as numerous classes in Missiology and World Religions. His weekly sermons since January 2013 can be found at http://www.schwebster.org/sermons/ Fr. Luke is married to Presbytera Faith Veronis, and they have four children.
GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY FOR CHALLENGING TIMES
Christmas 2015 – Webster, MA
God Rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing you dismay,
for Jesus Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day,
to save us all from Satan’s power e’re we have gone astray,
O tiding of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.
This beautiful Christmas carol, like so many of the traditional Christmas carols, summarizes the essence of Christmas. Sometimes, I like to reflect on these meaningful old carols. Here’s the carol again in contemporary language:
May God give rest to all people and let nothing worry us or lead us to dismay
for Jesus Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day
to save us all from the darkness and evil of the world before it leads us astray
Good News of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O Tidings and Good News of comfort and joy!
That’s what Christmas is all about – Good News of comfort and joy! No matter what’s happening in the world, and no matter how much it seems like darkness and evil may be all around us, WE’RE REMINDED NOT TO BE AFRAID! There may be terrorism, random shootings, and what feels like uncontrollable events all around us, but we don’t need to live in fear. Be careful of listening to the politicians and media who play off current events and stoke people’s fears. Instead, listen to the Good News of Christmas when the angel proclaimed to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY which will be FOR ALL PEOPLE. For there is born for you this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
The darkness of the world, and the threats of violence and danger have always been in the world. That is why the author of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen wrote these words 250 years ago, and the angel proclaimed the good news 2000 year ago. Our fallen world doesn’t change too much – the sins and shortcomings, the darkness and evil, the violence and self-centeredness of the world is still present. But with Christmas, we remember that a light has shined in the midst of darkness!
The Jews understood this throughout their history of suffering and waiting centuries for the coming of their Messiah. They waited under oppression and injustice. They waited in poverty and hunger. They waited in confusion and fear. They waited centuries, yet they never lost hope! God had promised a Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One to come and reign in a new kingdom. So they waited with hope and in faith under extremely difficult and dark circumstances.
The event of Christmas fulfilled their wait! As St. Paul explained in today’s Epistle reading, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son…we may receive adoption as His children!” The fullness of time had come, and God decisively acted!
In times of uncertainty and fear, like times of today, Christmas reminds us that God has not forgotten us, nor has He abandoned us. In fact, God has come to us, and even become one of us! The unfathomable mystery of our faith is how Almighty God, the Eternal One, the Creator of heaven and earth accepted to become human, a humble creature, and entered a fallen world where evil prevailed. He tasted the darkness of life – as a refugee, as a poor villager, as an oppressed people. He witnessed the suffering of the masses. He faced violence, oppression, and death itself. He understood the evil that our world can produce – He tasted it, He confronted it, and ultimately, He overcame it!
Christmas is about “GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY” – and the good news is that Jesus not only showed us the way to live under a different reign than the kingdom of this world, but He promised to WALK WITH US, to BE IN US, and to HELP US LIVE THAT DIVINE PATH OF LIGHT. While others choose to live in darkness, we live in the light of God. While other choose a path of violence, we act as agents of peace. While others are tempted by greed, we live in love and charity. While others choose to live under the delusion of power and authority, we live in simplicity and humility. While others choose to live with hatred and vengeance and violence, we live in mercy and forgiveness and grace. While others choose to live in the fear of death, we live life to its fullest, never fearing death, because we know that death is not the end!
The “GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY” that Christmas brings is nothing less than a new way of living, a new way of becoming truly human in the deepest sense of the word. The Christian path means becoming human as Jesus was human – lifting humanity to a new level, the original level it was meant to be lived. St. Athanasios summed this up by saying, “God became human that we may become divine.” God became one of us, so that we could become united to Him and live in Him!
When we look around at the darkness of our world –the violence, the extremism, the greed, the impurity, the superficial and empty claims to fame – we must realize that these images on the internet are only one side of the human story. We can choose to follow these paths of evil and end up in similar disappointment, despair and emptiness, or we can choose to follow a completely different road, with an entirely different ending. Christmas, and the coming of Christ reveals to us a radically new path in life that He invites us to follow – the way of divine love, the way of mercy and forgiveness, the way of humility and service, the way of meaning and purpose, the way of abundance that leads to eternal life.
Now, this way of Jesus is not an easy path! It is a way that begins in a humble cave in a simple manger in the poor village of Bethlehem, continues in a life of sacrifice and service to others, and ultimately ends on a Cross. Yet if we choose, in our own lives, to walk this narrow and difficult path of Christ, we are choosing to live with the Christmas spirit throughout the year. We will live a life of wonder and joy because we will miraculously be transformed by the truth that “God is with us.” As Archbishop Anastasios writes, “Our lives will be transfigured in a joyous feast breathing and moving in the atmosphere that “God is with us.””
No matter what the media says about ISIS or terror in the world around us, don’t ever be anxious or afraid. The feast of Christmas proclaims to us loudly that God has acted decisively in the world, and if we choose – it’s up to us – if WE choose to invite Christ to be born anew in our hearts, and live under HIS REIGN and in His kingdom, than we can be assured that “God is with us” and He will help us remain victorious over any and every dark evil that the world offers. There is never anything to be afraid of, for God is with us.
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