“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1Tim 1:15)
In these few words, the whole purpose of the incarnation is summarized for us by the Holy Apostle Paul. As we look forward to the feast of the incarnation and the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is good to have this reminder of why it all happened. The “reason for the season”, as they say, is not simply “peace on earth”, giving presents to one another, and all the warm family and friendly togetherness (although these things are all good); the “reason for the season” is to remember that “God became man and dwelt among us”, “to save sinners of whom I am chief.”
When God created the universe and all that is in it, He saw that everything was good. He created man in order to be the pinnacle of all creation, the perfect embodiment of all that exists in the universe and the ruler over it. Through man, God would commune with His creation and through man all of creation would commune with God. For this high calling – to be the link between creator and created – man was first created.
However, as we know, man strayed from that calling by his own sin. Rather than ruling over all creation, man was made subject to creation – vulnerable to all the hardships and dangers within it. This change in place did not negate the high calling and purpose for which he was created, but it did result in many insurmountable barriers to the fulfillment of that purpose. In order to rescue man from this predicament in which he put himself, God has come to raise up again as many as will hear His voice and follow Him. And so, God, the creator, has become man in order to restore man, the creature, to his original place in the order of creation. The God/man Jesus Christ has come to save us, that is to restore to us our life of union and communion with God that was lost by our sin.
In the Gospel today, we heard an account of the healing of a woman who had been disabled, that is bent over and unable to stand erect, for 18 years. This healing illustrates for us the salvation that God has come to give to us. Just as this woman suffered and was crippled by a twisted and bent body, so also we are all crippled by a twisted and bent soul. The burden of our sins has weighed us down and though we may desire to reach up to God, it is not possible because our soul is bent so severely.
This woman had no ability to straighten herself or even to look up at another person, but Jesus seeing her condition came to her and spoke to her, raised her up by his word and blessed her with the laying on of His hands. He is the good shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep and when He sees one of His lambs caught in the trap of his sins, half dead and injured by the thorns of sin, He does not wait for the lamb to cry out for help, but makes the first move to come and free His lamb.
In this case, He spoke to the woman first, saying to her “Woman!” He did not say “Cripple” or “Monster” or “Sinner”, but rather “Woman”. With these words He reminds her that she is not merely some animal or some useless cast off, but she is a unique creation – a creation in the image of God. She is called not to look constantly at the dirt and dust of the world, but to look up to the heavens to search out the face of God. She is called not to be an outcast but rather to live in union and communion with God.
“By this word alone, the Lord restored her lost dignity. He then loosed her from her infirmity by his word and lastly He placed His most pure hands on her, to perfect [her].” He gives to her “first: a compassionate look; second: a word of power; and third: a loving hand.” (St Nicholai of Ochrid)
This is the same thing that our Lord offers to us. He does not come in wrath to punish us, but He comes as a loving and compassionate shepherd to rescue us from our crippled state.
He first speaks to us, reminding us of the purpose for which we were created, restoring to us the dignity that we had cast aside in our sin and which was then stripped from us by the demonic tormentors. Jesus speaks to us calling us “Man” and “Woman” reminding us that we are not animals, we are not driven by instinct and passion, we are created with a high purpose and calling, that we do not look down at the earth but rather up towards heaven. In this way He restores to us our lost dignity – as a prince who had been captured, beaten down and enslaved by enemies is suddenly ennobled again by the memory of his birth and the reminder of what he was born to be.
Having reminded us of our calling and purpose, our Lord then frees us from the crippling hold of sin on us. He lifts the burden of our sins which we carry and heals the damage inflicted by our sins.
When we sin, it is not just that we disobey a law or break a rule; each time that we sin we inflict upon our soul a new and fresh wound and we pick up a stone which is then added to the load that we carry. This burden of stones weighs us down and holds us back from ascending towards heaven. Each injury that is inflicted weakens us and impairs us a little more so that our soul is constantly sapped of its strength. But simply by His healing word, Jesus removes this burden from us and heals our wounds making it possible to straighten up and to strive again towards that purpose to live in union and communion with Him.
But it is not enough to simply know of our calling and to strive towards it. No man, by his own power, can ascend into heaven and stand before the throne of God. We need help and so our Lord gives us what we need. He lays His hands upon us and fills us with His grace. It is this grace of God working in us that lifts us up from this world and which transforms us into the image and likeness of God.
The grace of God makes up that which is lacking in us and it is by this grace, this gift of God, that we are then able to pursue our calling and purpose. By using the grace that God has given us and by joining our labors to that grace, we can be transformed, we can be changed, we can become not only new, but perfect creatures rising to stand before God and to bask in the light and warmth of His presence.
With the help of God’s grace, not only can we look up into heaven seeking the face of God but we can ourselves rise up to heaven and stand before Him living in union and communion with Him. This is our calling and our purpose; this is the reason for which we were created.
The “reason for the season” – that is the reason that Christ Jesus came into the world – is just this, to save all of us who suffer under the burden of sin.
He restores to us the dignity of our calling. He heals us with His word and delivers us from the burden of our sins and the injuries which they have inflicted upon our souls. He touches us with his hands and imbues us with His grace by which we are perfected and brought into union and communion with Him.
This is the purpose of the incarnation, the coming of the God-man Jesus Christ. God has come and dwells among us so that we might also live with Him.
“Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief:” this is the true “reason for the season.”
Posted with permission from Archpriest David Moser
Priest Seraphim Holland 3010.
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