Sunday Lunch: Between Heaven and Earth

One of my favorite hymns in the Divine Liturgy is the Cherubic Hymn:

We who mystically represent the Cherubim sing the thrice holy hymn to the life giving Trinity. Let us set aside all the cares of life that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

I offer its words to you today as a means of helping you “see the light at the end of the tunnel.” The angels that proclaim its message are right… we have a fast-approaching opportunity to “receive the King of all.” At this moment, it may seem difficult or even impossible. By now, the many demands we place on ourselves to “enjoy” this special season may have weighed us down… more so than usual.

We become stressed with heavy workloads and our priorities are taxed with extra seasonal demands. Complaining and criticizing others in response to our needs and priorities, without considering their situations and necessities makes us people to be avoided, to be feared, and perhaps to be disliked. It’s equally difficult to respond to others when they do this to us. It’s never easy to encounter others where we find them, whether they are whole or broken-down. With heavy demands and unrealistic expectations, whether from us or others, we’re stressed and distracted with many “cares of life.” Then, we fail to receive others like Christ did. We miss opportunities to respond to them with the love, respect, mercy, and forgiveness that He taught.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as the Cherubic Hymn above reveals, God calls us to “mystically represent the Cherubim [the angels]” to His fellowship around us. However, in this busy, demanding, and what has become to the world at large a burdensome season, we either mistakenly choose or somehow neglect the needs of others… whether they are from our family members, friends, workplace peers, parishioners or strangers that God places in our paths.

This time of year, we may have forgotten about those who are living alone or without the means to “celebrate Christmas”. Not to mention the sick who are in hospitals, nursing homes, or rehabilitation centers. There is no shortage of running into those begging for simple sustenance like food, clothing, and shelter. Our wounded warriors and veterans who offered exemplary service often return home to be unemployed and underserved with health care. There are many prisoners whose very existence is removed from easy access for us to visit and reinforce with God’s Spirit of hope and faith. The bereaved who are missing their loved ones, perhaps for the first Christmas, have their hearts weighed down with feelings of loss, sadness, and meaningful purpose. Our fellow citizens who argued and debated during the political season may have become distant and irksome to us; perhaps we’ve judged them as unworthy of our time and friendship. The plight of international refugees causes internal dilemma in our faith and understanding… how to help others from starving and offering assistance without becoming harmed or victimized? And then there are countless among us suffering from depression, isolation, and low self-esteem. They depend on us but are we focused and prepared ourselves? If not, what hope and faith can others receive from us?

Yes, we are longing to enjoy the long-awaited arrival of Christmas, but it seems easier to be like Martha, rather than choose the best portion like her sister Mary did in Christ’s presence. If you haven’t been distracted from other demands and are still reading my reflection, please know it is written through the grace of God’s Holy Priesthood. With His Holy Nativity in mind, I humbly direct us to focus our thoughts and efforts sharply towards the “light” that is soon to shine upon us. Yes, it is from the same star that guided the Wise Men to Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. No matter what “the world” tells you, let God’s Spirit within you affirm to you and your family that you deserve a respite. “God is among us” is the meaning of the name Emmanuel in Greek. Thus, let us be like Martha’s sister, Mary… let us align ourselves with the Good News which our Heavenly Father shares through our Incarnate Lord, Christ Jesus. For all the needs cited above and countless others, we have an opportunity to pray and ask God for His strength, His hope, His mercy and His forgiveness. As we travel to visit Him in the cave that He was born and largely unnoticed by most of the world, let us serve with Him to heal and restore all those in need.

This year we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ on a Sunday. In the Greek language, “Sunday” is expressed as “the day of the Lord.” On Sunday, December 25th, each of us is invited to receive divine gifts from Godon “His Day.” It coincides with His actual birth date.

What if before our customary “Sunday ‘Christmas’ Lunch”, we join our Savior and accept His Eucharistic Gifts first… before exchanging our personal gifts with our family and friends. It’s the Lord’s Birthday! “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in Him.” (Psalm 34:8)

Remember, we are called to “set aside all the cares of life” before “we may receive the King of all.” At the Divine Liturgy on Christmas morning, after the bread and wine have been consecrated as Christ’s Holy Body and Blood, the Celebrant Priest will pray the following prayer. It signifies how precious God’s gifts are for us:

Our God, the God Who saves, You teach us justly to thank You for the good things which You have done and still do for us. You are our God Who has accepted these Gifts. Cleanse us from every defilement of flesh and spirit, and teach us how to live in holiness by Your fear, so that receiving the portion of Your Holy Gifts with a clear conscience we may be united with the holy Body and Blood of Your Christ. Having received them worthily, may we have Christ dwelling in our hearts, and may we become the temple of Your Holy Spirit. Yes, our God, let none of us be guilty before these, Your awesome and heavenly Mysteries, nor be infirm in body and soul by partaking of them unworthily. But enable us, even up to our last breath, to receive a portion of Your holy Gifts worthily, as provision for eternal life and as an acceptable defense at the awesome judgment seat of Your Christ. So that we also, together with all the saints who through the ages have pleased You, may become partakers of Your eternal good things, which You, Lord, have prepared for those who love You.

Inviting the faithful to come forward, the Priest exclaims, “Approach with the fear of God, faith, and love”.*1 In response, we choose whether to come and receive the One Who was born in a cave, Who took on human flesh, and Who willingly was sacrificed so that His creation could be reunited and live forever in His Heavenly Kingdom.

Having prepared in advance to partake on Christmas of our Lord’s Precious Body and Blood, we are united as God’s Body throughout the world at His Eucharistic Banquet. With deepest respect and awe, I offer that this gathering is the best way to share your “Sunday ‘Christmas’ Lunch.” Our Messiah, Christ Jesus, unites us with His Heavenly Father… through His Holy Spirit… in His House… at His banquet table… with His children… everywhere… now and forever… and to the ages of ages! Amen!

In thanksgiving after receiving God’s Gifts, the Priest prays:

We thank You, Lord, our God, for the communion of Your holy, most pure, immortal, and heavenly Mysteries which You have granted us for the benefit, sanctification, and healing of our souls and bodies. Grant, Master of all, that the communion of the Holy Body and Blood of Your Christ may become for us faith unashamed, love unfeigned, fullness of wisdom, healing of soul and body, repelling of every hostile adversary, observance of Your commandments, and an acceptable defense at the dread judgment seat of Your Christ. For You are our sanctification and to You we give glory, to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.

Even on the anniversary of His birth date, our Father in Heaven will not be too busy or distracted, nor will He overlook His children on earth. He will never take away His providential care from us. Indeed, He rejoices in response to our presence, prayers, faith and service to His Kingdom. He will continue to unite His Body on Earth with His Kingdom in Heaven through His Holy Spirit that resides in each of us.

In gratitude for His priceless gifts… treasures that surpass all others, we are given the opportunity once again to praise and glorify our Messiah like His angels did on that first Christmas… as we proclaim His “…good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).

This Christmas Day, “between Heaven and Earth,” we join together with our brothers and sisters around the world and encounter our Incarnate God. To prepare us and remind one another of how great an opportunity Christmas is for us, our choirs and chantors sing the following hymn on Christmas Eve:

When the Lord Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, Magi came from the East, and they worshiped God become man. They readily opened their treasures, and they offered Him precious gifts: pure gold to the King of the ages; incense to the God of all; and myrrh to the immortal One, who would die for three days. Come, all nations, let us worship Him who was born to save our souls.

May our Incarnate Lord bless you and your family always.
Christ is born!   Glorify Him!

*1 In anticipation of receiving the Holy Gifts on Christmas, let us pray with our families on Christmas Eve the following Communion prayers. In addition to your disciplined efforts to fast and confess your sins, these prayers help us prepare for the Holy Gifts we are blessed to receive on the Day of the Lord – the Holy Nativity of Christ Jesus:

I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me.

Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.

Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom

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