Accepting the Gift of Salvation
Have you ever been so excited about something, that you could not sleep? During this Christmas season we have seen our children's excitement, as they awaited the coming of Christmas day, and the gifts they hoped were waiting for them under the Christmas Tree. This sense of anticipation, excitement and joy in regards to the feast of our Lord’s Nativity is an important part of one’s childhood experience, something that we will remember our entire life.
But what if, our children or we did not find what we really wanted under the Christmas Tree ? Has this ever happened to you? I remember once wanting a shortwave radio that I could listen to police and fire calls on. I remember seeing what I thought was this radio under the tree, only to find out it was the wrong radio. It was a shortwave radio, all right, but did not receive the right frequency and I could not hear our local fire and police calls.
I was crushed, but because my favorite grandmother gave it to me, I didn’t let on and pretended It was the one I wanted. Respecting her, I made the best of it and, guess what, I enjoyed it none-the-less. Instead of being able to listen to police and fire calls, I could listen to ham radio operators around the world, airplane towers and even television. I could have kicked up a fuss and made my grandmother return this gift, and if I had done so, I would have missed out on the unexpected benefits of receiving it.
Recently, during the Advent Season, we read in Church the gospel lesson about a young man in a similar situation. This young man was rich and had a lot going for him. He appeared to be a good person, and he followed the commandments of God. He had the great blessing to meet our Lord Jesus Christ! Wouldn’t you and I love to have the same opportunity? He was excited and filled with anticipation - he had a question to ask the Lord, and the Lord gave him a wonderful gift, an answer that could change his life - he offered him the gift of eternal salvation.
What must I do to be saved he asks? Our Lord in answering him runs through the list of commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,'and 'Honor your father and your mother. The young man in listening starts to get excited, the anticipation is building, he thought he was getting the answer he hoped for... and that would be Christ saying "you need to do nothing more, you’re in.. here is the gift of salvation... its wrapped and waiting for you under the Christmas Tree." He indeed did get a gift, that was beautifully wrapped - and when he unwrapped it in the presence of the Saviour , the second person of the Holy Trinity who was born in a cavern and laid in a manger in Bethelehem, the scripture tells us he was sorely disappointed... Instead of it being a free pass to Heaven, he was told, he needed to strive for perfection... if he wanted to be perfect, if he really loved God, and really wanted salvation, then he needed to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor. Now this was not the answer he was looking for, not by a long shot – he had many possessions, and we learn he was not ready to give them up. He left disappointed. Rather than shaking off his disappointment and accepting this gift, he rejected it and in doing so, however, he missed out big time. Had he listened to the Lord, and appreciated this gift, and did what he was asked, he would have gained much more than he ever had before, the richness of the Kingdom of God.
Now we might be tempted to look at this Gospel reading and think that the Lord was being incredibly unfair. The young man was a good person, he was virtuous and the Lord asked too much of him. Couldn’t He have told him just to make a couple of token donations to someone who was needy? Yes he could have, but he loved the young man too much to do that. Loved Him, you might say, how could that be? Our Lord knew this young man intimately as He does everyone of us. He knew what made him tick. He knew that this man’s riches stood in the way of his inner spiritual life. If he did not separate himself from his possessions while he was still young and could change, he would become possessed by them, he would be paralyzed by them and eventually his love for money would overtake his love for God and his zeal for the Kingdom of Heaven. Yes our Lord was using tough love, tough because it would have been much easier and pleasant for Him to give the young man the answer he wanted, but love, in that He gave him what he knew he needed to have a fulfilling and peaceful life. Think about it, what has the news been focusing on lately, Tiger Woods, a nice young man, a good person in his heart most likely, an excellent athletic, a fantastic golfer who was given a great gift from God. But alas, somehow, these riches and fame went to his head, and now his life is closing in on him, he is miserable, he is losing his family, and public opinion is against him and his sponsors are beginning to drop like flies.
The point of this Gospel lesson and the message I am hoping to leave with you, is that the Kingdom of Heaven, Salvation, is and should be the gift in life that we would most like to find under the Christmas tree. It should be what keeps us up at night, that causes us great excitement and anticipation. But, we have to accept this gift on God’s terms and not ours – we need to follow His will for our life, and rid ourselves of what ever it is that will prevent us from being saved. If it is our love of riches, nice things, fancy clothing or any other self indulgence, that causes us to be self absorbed and distracts us from prayer and enjoying the little things in life, then lets get rid of it.
On this note, please don’t think that money, a comfortable home, or all creature comforts are evil. Scripture does not tell us that money is the root of all evils but rather that "the love of money is the root of all evil." (1Timothy 6:10) The problem comes when we are possessed by our possessions. That is, when they restrict us from loving and serving the Lord.
Besides material things, there are other things that we cling to that get in the way of our relationship with God, such as pride, petty jealousies, holding grudges, being and staying angry and not forgiving others. These negative possessions can also possess us as well. It is sad, but true, that some people actually enjoy possessing these bad feelings as much, if not more, than earthly possessions. Some people really enjoy being angry, negative, upset and hurt because it gives them something they really want, power and attention, and the ability to get even and make other people feel as miserable as they do. If we are honest, from time to time, all of us are guilty of this and more... not only are we depriving ourselves of a wonderful gift of God, but we are causing ourselves and those we love to experience needless pain and suffering.
Thank God, as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, we do not have to remain unhappy, and spiritually ill. The Church is here to rescue us from the stormy seas of life and to give us the courage to accept this great gift of salvation and all of the implications that come with it. During this Advent season, I encourage you to come to Holy Confession, after carefully and humbly examining your conscience . Come with an open heart, and ask your confessor for his advice and counsel - Come and ask that question of the rich young man, Father, what must I do to be saved, and then be ready to take the spiritual medicine that is given you, for the Health of Body and Soul.
Dear ones, This is the season where miracles can happen, this is the season of joy, and hope, this is the season of new life. By Virtue of His Nativity in the Flesh, the Lord has given us a marvelous gift, the Gift of Salvation, the gift of joy, peace, hope, love, happiness and serenity. Let us willing accept it, follow the instructions that the Church gives us, and then prepare for the unexpected, prepare for a wonderfully fulfilling life in the Spirit, in the joy of the New Born Saviour. Amen.
Very Rev. Protopresbyter Peter Paproski, National Senior ACRY Spiritual Advisor