2008 12 - God So Loved the World...

       During a recent Sunday School class, the pre-school teacher was telling the children about angels and their many ranks including Seraphim, Cherubim, Archangels and the rest. At one point, she asked them a question; “Which group of angels is closest to God?” After a long and quiet pause, the teacher gave the children a hint; “Sera...” Immediately, one of the children very excitedly put up their hand and shouted out, “Sarah Palin!”

       What is on your mind during these days of Advent (the 40 days before Christmas)? How has the news of the economy or of our country’s politics affected your focus on this holy season? There is an interesting story from the sixth century about a man named Peter. In the days of the Emperor Justinian (527-565 A.D.), the chief imperial tax-collector in Africa was one Peter, a very rich man who was also very harsh and merciless.

       At one time the beggars were grumbling among themselves that not one of them had ever received alms from Peter. Then one of them bet that he would succeed in getting alms from him. He went off and pestered the flinty-hearted man for alms until, in a fury, Peter threw a loaf of bread at him, having nothing else to hand. The beggar joyfully grabbed the loaf and fled.

        Immediately after this, Peter fell ill of a sudden and dangerous illness, and had the following vision: he saw himself being weighed by a demon in the other world. On one side of the scales, the demons heaped Peter’s sins, so that this side of the scale was weighed down, while on the other side stood angels, lamenting that there was not a single good deed in Peter’s life to place on the other, empty side of the scales. One of the angels said: ‘ We’ve nothing at all to put in except the one loaf that he threw at a beggar a couple of days ago.’ The angel quickly put the one loaf on the empty side of the scales, and that loaf balanced the other side with all Peter’s sins.

       When the vision was over, Peter said to himself: ‘Truly, that was not a hallucination, for I saw all the sins I’d committed from my youth. If one loaf could be of such help to me; a loaf, moreover, that I threw at a beggar, how much help would I have from many works of mercy, performed from the heart and in meekness? And from that time, Peter turned into the most compassionate man in his town. He gave all his goods away to the poor and, when he had parted with them all, sold himself into slavery for thirty gold pieces, and himself gave this sum away to the needy as alms in the name of Christ. He thus became known as Peter the Merciful (Celebrated on September 22 on the Orthodox Church Calendar).

       How do you respond to God’s love? For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life... (John 3:16) During the season of Advent we celebrate the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation through the incarnation of God the Son. The nativity of Christ changed the world. God loved us even with all our imperfections and sinfulness. His great love drew wise men from the East to come and offer worship. How much more should it draw us who are called by His name to offer thanksgiving and gratitude back to Him?

       As you make your plans for these Holy Days (“Holi-days”...), remember to keep God first. No matter Who the rest of the world may wish to exclude from this time of year, let’s keep Christ in Christmas. And as you make out your gift list, please remember your Church and your stewardship pledge for next year. If you have concerns about what the economy may bring, just remember the following;

Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.

Have a very merry Christmas and holiday season.