God is with us, but are we with Him?

A homily by His Grace Bishop Partenij of Antania, Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Bigorski, given on the Sunday before the Nativity of Christ, January 1, 2023

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Man’s ultimate purpose is to be in union with God. Since he was created by the overwhelming love of God, his only purpose is to be in communion with the Creator. This is how it was in the beginning. We read in the first pages of the Holy Scriptures that the first-created Adam and Eve were in constant communion with God.

However, man’s fall into sin and disobedience caused him to incur a debt and so, unfortunately, man’s free choice caused him to be without God’s grace. Without God, human life is a complete failure. Being by nature the master of creation, man becomes a slave to his own lifeless passions. By directing the powers of his soul towards sin, he becomes a disoriented miserable being and likewise turns this world, given to him by God, into a valley of tears.

Since he has deprived himself of God’s justice through his self-will, man thus becomes condemned to his own judgment. Therefore, in the Gospel when the Lord Christ teaches the disciples not to judge anyone, He knew how hardened and petrified human hearts were, and thus He scared them not with His judgment, but with their human judgments. He addresses us all with his words, “With what judgment you judge, with such judgment you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:2). This is the answer to the question that all of us have so many times asked ourselves: Why is this world so evil and corrupt? Where did all those cataclysms, both physical and spiritual, and moral catastrophes come from? We live in a time when all of nature is rebelling against man, as a reaction to our excessive and unjust exploitation of the natural world. Terrible troubles and problems befall us every day, both on a personal and a societal level. Why? Because we are given over to our own judgment. We do not accept God’s mercy and love and thus we are subject to human judgment and punishment.

The days of the last week before the feast of the Incarnation of the Son of God are upon us. John the Theologian tells us about this saving event, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth… and from His fullness, we all received grace upon grace” (John 1:14-16). However, when a person does not want to dwell with God, then God has no choice but to withdraw His grace and leave His creation – at his own request and choice – to his own judgment. And we all know what human judgment is like: ruthlessness, cruelty, callousness, cruelty.

Today, in this week before the great feast of the Nativity of Christ, we rejoice in the commemoration of His holy forefathers and ancestors. The Church appointed the Gospel reading for today that we just heard. As we can see, it is divided into two parts. The first part recounts Christ’s genealogy, that is, the genealogical tree of our Savior’s ancestors according to the flesh. We heard many names, from Adam, all the way to Saint Joseph and the Most Holy Virgin Mary. The second part, on the other hand, explains to us how the Birth of the Messiah on earth took place. The Evangelist Matthew connects his recounting of this event with an ancient prophecy uttered by the Holy Prophet Isaiah, that is, he presents the Birth of Christ as an answer and fulfillment of that prophecy: “And behold, a Virgin will conceive in her womb and give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Emmanuel – which means: God is with us!” (Matthew 1:23).

This prophecy and its fulfillment once again confirm what we said at the beginning: man was created to be with God. And it is not God Who has forsaken man, but man has forsaken God. Despite this fact, God Himself came here, to this valley of weeping, to suffer humiliation, spitting, beating, crucifixion, the Cross, and finally — to rise again for our salvation. He, being perfect God, also became man. This is exactly why the Apostle Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy, wanting to show us that Jesus Christ is not a mythological person, not a romantic story, but a real Man, Who has His ancestors like every man who is born. The Son and Word of God came to Earth and took on human flesh, to be with us as one of us. Therefore His Name is Emmanuel, God is with us. There is nothing more beautiful than God being with man and man being with God.

Since we are certain that God is with us, the question arises whether and how much we are with Him. It is good to ask ourselves now, before Christmas, Are we really with Him? We will never be with Him unless we open our hearts in repentance and invite Him to come into it. Believe me, if we do that, He will most assuredly come and dwell in us. He wants to be with us, that’s why He came here. He wants to dwell in a humble and contrite heart, in a heart that is compassionate towards its brother. Is our heart ready to listen to our brother, the neighbor who has difficulties, who needs our help, our attention, and our compassion? If it is ready, then God is with us. If, on the other hand, we close the door of our hearts to compassion for our neighbor, then we are not with God. Are we ready to have empathy for everyone? Do we pray that no one is lonely in this world? And not only do we pray, but also do we help those in need? If we do that, then God is with us.

Are we ready to stop judging? My beloved, surely you as well have noticed this disturbing, God-hating phenomenon present among Christians, including in our holy Church. We are talking about condemnation, about judging. It is enough to take a look at social media for a person to realize how much God is not with us, or rather how much we are not with Him. Slander, gossip, condemnation, and hypocrisy are everywhere. Ordinary and uninformed laymen, probably encouraged, unfortunately, by some members of the clergy of the Church, dare to condemn bishops, priests, and monastic communities; they spew forth profanities, lies, and condemnation, even on the holiest of days. We are in these purifying days of the Fast, but that doesn’t mean anything to them at all, so they write all kinds of gossip and slander. This is why the world is the way it is. Christians have lost their salt, their love has cooled. If Christians, who are supposed to be the light of the world, are darkness, then what kind of darkness will it be? (Cf. Matthew 6:23) What should those who are outside the Church be like, if we are like this?! If we who are called to be with Christ, with the light, are in darkness, then what will the world without Christ be like?!

My beloved, the Lord Jesus came into the world as the Sun of Justice, as the brightest light. Consequently, we, His followers, should be nothing but spiritual light, love, and compassion. This is the only way that this proclamation of “God is with us” will come true, which will also fulfill the purpose of our life and His coming. May God give us mental and spiritual strength so that we might become such children of God, children of His love, united with Him. May the Lord grant us to meet Christmas this year as true Christians, to become His authentic witnesses, and then He will be our Emmanuel, He will be with us, now and always and forever and ever. Amen!