His Eminence Archbishop Joseph's Advent Message: "The Orthodox Advent Tradition"
Contemplating the blessings of the Advent season, at times we ponder whether we have lost our blessings to the material world in which we live. Surrounded by ostentatious displays of wealth and unhealthy indulgences, we realize that they are slowly taking the place of more appropriate preparations for the celebration of Christmas. The very foundation of the Christmas Feast is the birth of an unassuming Child born quietly, humbly. The King of Glory was born of a mother who was turned away from every house, in a cave among the animals who could not speak.
Advent is the time of our preparation to meet the Lord of Lords. Certainly, we desire to offer our best gifts to the Christ Child, but they must be gifts of substance - the gifts of prayer, repentance, forgiveness and love. We want to adorn Him with our virtues.
In the words of King David, “A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit, a heart that is broken and humbled God will not despise.” Advent gives us the opportunity to offer Him hearts that were broken but now healed, minds that were filled with turmoil now at peace and bodies once diseased now whole and healthy. These are the gifts that He desires of us – our entire person healed, changed and renewed through the despising and renouncing of sin.
Making the effort of fasting, heightened prayer and almsgiving during Advent prepare us to receive the Christ Child. How will He recognize us as His own if we are stained with pride, self-love and the stench of un-repented sin? Meanwhile, when we repent truly and deeply, through our tears and His mercy, our sins are washed away and we are purified. He accepts us with great joy and is well pleased.
Advent is the time of year prescribed by the Holy Orthodox Church as an opportunity for renewal, for a re-dedication of our lives to Him. Just as He was born to give His life for us, so, too we renew ourselves and are born in the Spirit. In so doing, we offer ourselves to God just as our Lord Jesus Christ offered Himself for us on the Cross.
While we speak of the birth of Christ, we remember His offering on the Cross. Just as Advent is the foreshadowing of Great Lent, one is the preparation for the joy of the Resurrection and the other lays the groundwork for the same event through His Incarnation. We are reminded that Christ was first born incarnate and then resurrected. We follow that example, seizing the opportunity for spiritual renewal.
Repentance in any moment gives us the gift of renewal. After Baptism, repentance through confession and liberating ourselves from sin, places us in a restored state and now properly prepared to experience the true joy of the Feast of the Nativity.
As my beloved in Christ, I urge you not to be "distracted with much serving" as was Martha during Jesus’ visit. In gratitude for all that He has blessed you with, “choose the good part which will not be taken from you”. This Advent, make a change and prepare the best gift possible for the Greatest Guest. Prepare yourselves in order to receive the true joy of this Holy Season - the realization that the Savior is born within you.
Christ is Born! Glorify Him!