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Lepers, Gratitude & Faith
Sermon for Sunday December 9th, 2018 “The Ten Lepers”
Luke 17: 12-19
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today’s Gospel concerning the ten lepers is about nothing if it is not about Gratitude. “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks.”
The healed leper came back to thank Jesus, but even more than that, he came back to prostrate and worship Him. That’s why Jesus says to him, “Your faith has...” what? “Made you well?” No. “Made you whole?” No, that’s not it. That’s what the translations say, but that’s not what the original Greek says. It says that the Saviour says to the healed leper, “Your faith has SAVED you!” It means so much more than a simple cure of a disease. It means the healing of soul and body, it means the salvation of the whole man, due to his faith and due to his gratitude.
What are we doing during this Advent season dear ones? What is the purpose of our fasting? What is purpose of the Church singing the Christmas Canon at Matins? Why are we singing Christmas carols and preparing delightful Christmas treats? Why are we busying ourselves with decorating, putting up Christmas lights, and shopping for gifts? Why are we making an effort to share our treasure with the poor and with the church? Why? In order to generate gratitude and faith in preparation for the coming feast of the Nativity. We need to be grateful to God because He sent Jesus to us to heal us and to save us from our sins. And we need to rekindle and to share our faith that Jesus is God incarnate Who came to restore our broken and sin-inclined nature to the joy of communion and union with God!
This brings me to one of the icons that is out for veneration today. It’s called the Icon of the Mother of God “Unexpected Joy” and today is one of the days that it is commemorated. Let me tell you a little about it. The history of this icon is related by the Holy Hierarch Dimitry of Rostov in his work, "The Bedewed Fleece." There once was a man, a sinner, (the saint tells us,) who despite living a sinful life, nonetheless had a pious love and devotion to the Mother of God. Without fail, he daily prayed before her icon, saying those words once spoken by the Archangel Gabriel: "Rejoice, thou who art full of grace!" It came to pass that as he was about to go off to engage in some sinful (some say “criminal”) activity, he turned to pray before the icon of the Mother of God. Immediately he began to tremble, as he saw the image of the Mother of God appear to move, and gaze at him. He also saw wounds opening up on the hands, feet and side of the image of the Divine Infant which then dripped blood. Falling to the ground, the transgressor shouted: "O Lady, who has done this?" The Mother of God answered: "You and other sinners who, again and again, are crucifying my Son. You call me merciful. But then why do you insult me with your lawless acts?” “O Mistress,” answered the sinner, “may my sins not overcome your inexpressible goodness! You are the only hope of all sinners. Please, entreat your Son and our God on my behalf.” Our Mistress twice entreated her Son, Christ that the sinner be forgiven, but He remained adamant in His refusal, until finally, the third time, he responded to the persistent entreaties of the Mother of God: “I will fulfill your request. May your will be granted. Because of you, this person’s sins are remitted. Let him, in token of forgiveness, kiss My wounds.” And lo, the forgiven sinner, before whom the inexhaustible mercy of the Mother of God was manifest in such a wonderful manner, raised himself up from the ground, and with inexpressible joy kissed the wounds of his Saviour. From that moment, he lived a clean, righteous and pious life. This event provided the faithful with the inspiration to produce the "Unexpected Joy" icon of the Mother of God. On this icon, as you can see, is depicted a man, on his knees, praying before the icon of the Mother of God. Below the icon is written the opening words of the story: "There was a certain transgressor...etc." So, Advent, too, is all about the coming of the Divine Infant Christ to save all of us sinners from our sins through the agency of the Mother of God, and to change the weeping of our repentance into exquisite and unexpected joy.
The coming of the Christ Child is all about the incarnation, and all about deification. Christ clothed Himself in our humanity, in order that we might be clothed in His Divinity. There is something else here that we can learn from the holy icons. Fr Chad Hatfield reminded me about this at yesterday’s retreat at Holy Trinity Cathedral. You all know, without doubt, that there are very strict canons governing how icons should and should not be made. One such strict area has to do with how colors are used. Did you ever notice, how traditionally, Jesus is always depicted in a long red tunic as an undergarment, and a blue mantle or cloak as His outer garment? And what about His Most-Holy Mother? She is usually, traditionally, clothed in a blue under-tunic and a red maphorion, which is a more shaped mantle with a hood that covers the head. The color scheme is exactly the opposite of Jesus. Did you ever wonder why? In order to understand this, we have to understand the meaning of the colors! Red represents the Divine. Blue represents humanity. Red means the fire of divinity, blue means us because we are made dust and what? Water! Blue stands for water. Some say that a human being is around 65 percent water. Babies are 78 percent. And what’s the rest? Carbon, calcium, various other minerals, in other words, dust, dirt. But I digress. Blue stands for humanity and red for divinity. Christ’s red tunic represents His divinity. The cloak that He puts on, is our humanity, which He takes from the Virgin. For the Virgin, she is human, so her undergarment is blue. The red maphorion that she puts on, is divinity, deification, given to her by Christ. And there you have it...the Gospel. In these two icons we see the Gospel, and we see what Christmas proclaims: God becomes man so that man might become God, that is, deified! And that is the message of Advent. That is the Unexpected Joy of Divine Forgiveness, and that is the Healing of our leprosy of sin and death. Glory to God for all things! Amen.