“Jesus began to preach and to say, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’” (Mt 4:12-17)
“Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am first” (1Tim 1:15-17)
“To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift … He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…” (Eph 4:7-13)
“We have seen the true Light!” This is the hymn with which we conclude every Divine Liturgy, and indeed it is fitting for in the course of the Liturgy we have beheld Christ, Who is the Light of the world, among us. Not only have we seen Him, but we have touched Him and have taken Him into ourselves in the Holy Mysteries. These days when we celebrate the feasts of the Nativity and Baptism of our Lord are often referred to as the days of light, for during this time the Light has come into the world and illumines the world. As we leave these days of light we hear in the Gospel how our Lord, having accomplished his Baptism, now begins to call the whole world to Himself saying, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
What is the purpose of our Lord’s call? Why did He come to live among us in the first place? What is the goal of His teaching? The answer to this is summed up by the Holy Apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy from which we read today: “Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am first.” God created us that we might live in union and communion with Him, surrounded by the eternal and uncreated Light, in other words, surrounded by Himself. But mankind sinned and, cut off from the Light, fell into darkness. We are blinded by sin and no longer are able to perceive the Light. But God Himself, Light of Light, came to us to bring the Light that we might be healed and again see the Light and enter into it. God incarnate, the God/man Jesus Christ, has come to bring light to a darkened world and to heal our blindness. He came to save each and every one of us. It matters not whether we are the least of sinners or the greatest of sinners – our Lord Jesus Christ has brought the Light to each one of us and offers to heal us that we might see it and live in it.
It is worthy of note that as we depart from these feasts of the coming of the Light, we immediately begin to prepare for Great Lent and our entry into the Paschal cycle. In this we see that our Lord did not just come to call and to teach and to preach – He came to do everything necessary to free us from our blindness and to make it possible for every person to embrace this Light. He suffered disbelief, persecution, suspicion, torment, torture and even death upon the Cross that He might bring us to Himself. In opposition to His incarnation, the enemy of mankind sought to extinguish the Light and to plunge the world back into darkness – but wherever the Light went, even into the depths of hades, the darkness was banished and the Light prevailed. On Pascha, on the feast of the Glorious Resurrection, the Light which today has come into the world, defeats forever the darkness of sin, death and devil, breaking the power of our enemies and the Light breaks forth even from the tomb, a beacon of hope and salvation for all mankind.
In order for us to again perceive the Light of Christ that has come into the world, we must be healed of our blindness. This healing is accomplished by the grace of God which He pours out upon us. Without this healing, we would be eternally unable to perceive the light and would be trapped in darkness – but our Lord pours the healing balm of His grace on us to correct our disability. He does not, however, impose this gift against our will, but in His love He waits for us to choose to open ourselves to Him in order to receive and use the grace that He pours out upon us. This grace that God gives us is also the means by which we are transformed and are joined to Him. To each of us He gives grace according to His measure. All of us receive the same grace, however, in each of us it has varying effects according to our strengths and how we use the grace that He gives to us. In this way we become each one a star, filled with the divine Light which comes from God alone.
The light of creation was gathered by God into many centers: the sun and other stars of the heaven, and those stars are all different from one another – some bright, some dim; some near, some far; some red, some blue, some white. They all contain the same light, but in each it has different qualities. These different stars together comprise a beautiful whole. This variety of lights is reflected also in the spiritual world with the different ranks of angels, each with its own place and purpose and each filled with the Light which comes from God alone.
This variety of lights is also reflected in the Church for to each of us is given grace according to the measure of Christ so that there is one Church but within that Church many different functions and roles. Some are apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, some teachers; to some are given gifts of wisdom, to some gifts of leadership, to some generosity, hospitality, knowledge, and so on. Each of us within the Body of Christ has received His grace that enables us to be filled with His Light and to reflect it back in an infinite diversity. Like the heavens that are filled with a myriad of stars in a variety of constellations – so also the Church is filled with a myriad of saints, all coming together in different ways to reflect the divine Light in a beautiful symphony of praise to the One Who is the source of the Light.
God has come to us! Light of Light coming to enlighten the world and to banish even the deepest darkness. He has come not to torment us or to burn us or to consume us; He has come to heal us, to enter into us, to transform us and to make us like Himself. He has come to fill us with the eternal Light of His presence so that we might in turn shine forth in a symphony of Light. He comes to each of us bestowing grace according to His measure and our strength. He gives to each of us what is needed so that we might in our own way radiate the Light with which He fills us. But He does not push or force us in any way – He waits for each one to choose to open himself to receive the Light, to be healed by grace, to become a light shining with the great Light. He shapes us and molds us according to the grace and gifts that He has given us that we might together present a brilliant constellation in the eternal heavens.
We have seen the true Light! We have received Him into our innermost being. He has begun to transform us into His image, filling us with His Light that we might in turn glow and radiate that Light throughout eternity in His Kingdom.