DECEMBER 30, 2006- 1 JOHN 2:12-17; LUKE 2:36-40
THE WORLD WITH ITS SEDUCTIONS IS PASSING AWAY BUT THE ONE WHO DOES GODíS WILL ENDURES FOREVER. This passage of St. Johnís first Epistle and other similar statements by our Lord as recorded in the Gospel, will remain fundamental for the spiritual life of Christians in every generation. This teaching is one of those basic truths that once it is accepted it seems too obvious to require repeating. To anyone who reflects at all on life and the experiences that fill up each day only to pass away and make room for the events of a new day it becomes evident that the world as experienced is ceaselessly disappearing only to be replaced by other forms and figures that soon perish. And yet how readily we are absorbed by the scenes as they come upon our notice and draw us into their movement so that they are felt to be all that is real and we forget they are slipping away from us even as we admit them into our minds and hearts.
The world that St. John warns his readers against here is precisely the created universe in so far as it absorbs our attention and desire and claims us for its own, on its own terms. It is the world, not as the living symbol of Godís Providential care and the vehicle of his Presence but known as its own end, as offering all we desire and need. John here sums up this world in a few phrases: "Carnal allurements, enticements for the eye, the life of empty show- all these are from the world. "It is this world of which he warns "Have no love for the world, nor the things that the world affords. If anyone loves the world, the Fatherís love has no place in him."
St. John was an old man, a reliable tradition tells us, when he wrote this warning. This way of looking at life, it may be thought, comes easier to some one who is about to leave it, being full of years and made wise with large experience. But no, such wisdom does not come as the distillate of disappointing experience; the contrary is the case: if one has lived seeking happiness and fulfillment from the offerings of this world, he will not find peace in looking forward to the world beyond. For, as our author adds, it is only "the man who does Godís will who endures forever." And in fact, John himself had learned and practiced this lesson from his youth, as the same tradition informs us. Such wisdom comes , not from disillusionment with the worldís inadequacies but rather it is a gift of the Spirit of God. This holds true whether one receives it in youth or in old age: Only "the Spirit of God knows the mind of God and what He has prepared for those who love him".
We find such wisdom exemplified in the person of Anna as depicted in todayís Gospel. If Anna in her old age comes upon our Lord in the temple at just the right moment and recognizes him as the one sent by the Father for the deliverance of Israel, it is because she had become sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit. Long did she practice what St John here teaches: she was still young when she chose to turn her expectations from the world and made the service of God the one goal of her life. Luke presents her, along with Simeon, as a representative of the Poor of the Lord. She represents those whose hope and trust was not in worldly success or influence but solely in the merciful care of God the Father. Her chief occupation, once she was widowed, had long been that of prayer, fasting and worship. She was thus left free to concentrate on the one thing that gives meaning to all the rest, the service of God. Few in her day were circumstanced to be able thus to live a life deliberately and practically centered on God. She was, however, a prophetess who recognized the Lord Jesus when he came to the temple and, by her way of life, also foretold the lifestyle later adopted by many of his followers who gave expression to their faith by a life of prayer and praise separated from the world and the things of this world.
John did not write for widows alone or for monks and nuns, of course, but for all Christians. All are called to the same goal in this life whose center and meaning is God himself to whom we are united in his son. The true follower of Christ, he insists, sets his heart not on this world that passes away in its use, but on the will of God. In doing so we take on the mind of Christ and become capable of that knowledge of God that is eternal life. Once we attain to the use of reason we are never too young or too old to live according to this wisdom that comes from the Spirit. May we put it into practice this day and always until the day of Christ Jesus when he comes in his glory..
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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