Well, today is the Feast of St Nicholas. As per the words during the homily during the Vespers service last night, it’s sort of like the “half-time” period of the Nativity Fast. It’s the time when we can reflect on how the fast is going, how our preperations for the coming of the Lord are going. Where we are spiritually on our walk.
As I began to write this, I felt as though I were doing very poorly. I felt more distant than ever from the Lord. My patience and temper were as bad as ever, I had given very little in the way of almsgiving; perhaps the only part of the “fast” that I had maintained was the abstinance from certain foods. I realize that I have been clinging subconsciously to things that I was consciously trying to get away from.
As I was walking home the other night, I was walking on a cold, dark, empty street. The sky was covered with clouds, the temperature had dropped to the point that Decmeber should feel like, there were few leaves on the trees, reminding me of the temporality of all things in this life. And, as I was walking, I couldn’t help but reflect on this and see my life in it. I was looking at the perfect reflection of my lie without Christ. I was gazing at the very image of my life a few years ago. And to see it again reflected, in a concrete form, it made me realize that this was exactly what I was walking away from, a life, as I often wrote, of being “alone and trapped within a crowd.”
See, when we experience something, no matter how amazing it is, everyday, we begin to take it for granted. It happens with foods, with weather, with relationships. And this is what the fast does, this is what the nativity does. It reminds us of what we walk away from when we allow Christ into our lives, when we submit to Him. We struggle through all of these earthly attachments that we’ve allowed to come into our lives, we find ourselves face to face with all of these temptations, we feel most distant from God, because He is reminding us of what we had before we had Him.
For the first time, I finally understand through His eyes what the Nativity season really means. We’re in the period of Scripture that Malachi was written, the period of time when things become sort of “routine” and we find ourselves slowly slipping back into old habits that we had been released from. I always kind of “knew” this, but this was the first time I’ve ever experienced it. And, you can never “know” God simply by learning about Him, to know Him, you have to know Him, which requires the investment, the sacrifice.
Am I looking forward to the glow in my son’s eyes when he sees his presents? Of course I am, but for the first time in my life, that isn’t really my goal this season. My goal isn’t to see the lights and presents, or the look of wonder and amazement, all beautiful things. For the first time, I understand that Christmas means that I am no longer alone, no longer forced to walk on that cold, dark, lonely street alone. It means that none of us ever have to.
For the first time, I finally understand that the denial of these earthly pleasures, the Nativity fast, is to deny us of those things which serve to distract us from what’s truly important. I always blinded myself with Christmas lights, eggnog, Christmas movies, shopping, the “war on Christmas,” anything that I could summon to distract me from what the season is intended to do. The meaning is to reflect on life without Christ, to help us to fully rejoice in life with Him. It reminds us that left to our own devices, we acquire all of these things that stand between us and our obedience to Him. We can fight, debate, justify; we do everything we can but obey. We celebrate our “freedom” by becoming enslaved to other things and then argue against the very tools that we have been given to obtain this true freedom.
As I began to write this, I felt that I was doing horribly this season, but as I began to reflect more and more on it, I realized that maybe I’m doing it correctly, it was my expectation that was wrong. There will always be those remnants that we cling to from our lives that we have left behind, and the fasting during the nativity truly spotlights those areas; it hurts to let go of them. But, as we reflect on them, we come to more greatly appreciate the fact that we are able to do so; remembering the words of the apostle St Peter, “he who suffers in the flesh has ceased from sin.”
May we all use this remaining time until the advent of our Lord to reflect on those sins which we still cling to, and to reflect on the life that He has saved us from; and to commend ourselves and all our lives unto Christ our God.
May the grace of the Lord be with you all, my beloved brothers and sisters.