Focusing on the One Thing Needful This Advent: Homily for the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple

Luke 10: 38-42; 11:27-28

In an age of seemingly endless controversy and conflict in
our society and world, it is easy to allow what is
prominent in our culture to dominate our lives, our sense
of who we are, and of what is ultimately most important.
In other words, it is easy to make the world our temple
and to offer our lives to its false gods. No matter what
form it takes, that is simply idolatry. Today we celebrate
a feast that invites us to a totally different way of
living and thinking that is focused on offering ourselves
to our Lord, and not to idols.

On the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the
Temple, we remember that when the Virgin Mary was a little
girl, her parents Joachim and Anna took her to live in the
Temple in Jerusalem. They were an old, faithful, and
barren couple who conceived miraculously and promised to
offer their long-awaited child to God. She grew up in the
Temple as she prepared to become the Living Temple of the
Lord, when she agreed to become the Mother of our Lord,
God, and Savior Jesus Christ.
“Theotokos” means Bearer or Mother
of God, and she has this title because the One whom she
bore, the One to whom she gave birth, is truly the eternal
Son of God.

Because the Theotokos accepted Christ into her life in
this unique way, every human being may now become His
living temple. By taking His humanity from her, Jesus
Christ has united every dimension of our life with His
divinity. As the Second Adam, He has healed and restored
all that went wrong with the first Adam. He has made us
His temple already through his Incarnation. But our
calling during this season of the Nativity Fast, of
Advent, is not merely to acknowledge that we are His
temple and then live according to the conventional
standards of our, or any other, society. Instead, it is to
become more faithful and pure temples so that we will be
prepared to welcome Him with integrity into our lives this
Christmas. And there is no better way to do that than by
following the example of the Theotokos, who was by no
means a powerful, famous, or conventionally influential
person according to the standards of her culture.

The Church gives us gospel passages today that highlight
her characteristics. When the Savior visited their home,
Lazarus’ sister Martha was busy serving the guests,
while his other sister Mary sat at Christ’s feet and
listened to His teachings. When Martha complained that her
sister was not helping her, the Savior told her that she
was worried and troubled about many things; but only one
thing is needed, and Mary had chosen to focus on that. In
other words, Mary had focused on the Lord, on hearing His
word, on responding to Him with faith. It was not wrong
for Martha to serve her guests; the problem was that all
her busyness had become a distraction from the one
ultimately important thing of being fully attentive to
Christ.

We also read in the gospel today that, when someone cried
out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the
breasts which nursed you!,” Christ responded,
“More than that, blessed are those who hear the word
of God and keep it!”

These passages point to the Theotokos, for she certainly
heard the word of God and kept it more than anyone else.
She is uniquely blessed because she was
prepared to respond in obedience to the astounding message
of the Archangel that she was to become the mother of the
Messiah. She welcomed Christ into her life in an
unfathomable way.

With all our concerns about our society and world and
about our own families and personal circumstances, it is
difficult to follow the Theotokos’ example of
hearing and obeying the word of the Lord. It is easy to be
distracted any time of year, but especially in the very
busy weeks between now and Christmas. Nonetheless, we must
follow her example for, if we are not careful, our
attention will be diverted from the reason for the season,
from the birth of our Savior. We will not become better
temples of the Lord by letting controversies, work,
school, parties, shopping, or anything else, keep us from
focusing on the one thing that is needful. In the midst of
all these distractions, we must focus on Christ and
welcome Him into even the dark and painful areas of our
lives. We must refuse to allow earthly cares, no matter
how appealing they are, to keep us from entering into the
temple, to distract us from following the Theotokos in
uniting every dimension of who we are to Christ.

That will be possible, however, only if we make a renewed
commitment to prayer, which includes attending services
faithfully and praying at home each day. It is also
includes praying silently whenever we have the
opportunity. So instead of obsessively fueling this or
that fear, worry, or grudge, we should focus our minds on
the Jesus Prayer as we call for Christ’s mercy from
our hearts. Instead of damning others with whom we
disagree or who have offended us, we must ask God to bless
and have mercy on them. Our Lord refused to become an
earthly king or to define Himself in conventional worldly
categories. He said that we must love our enemies, and He
prayed from the Cross for His Father to forgive even those
who had crucified Him. His Mother prepared to receive Him
through prayer and purity in a way that had nothing to do
with conventional assumptions about power and influence in
that time and place. Likewise, we must make humble prayer
the cornerstone of our life in order to find the strength
to reject the false gods of our age and to choose
“the one thing needful…that good part, which
will not be taken way.” Anything else is idolatry.

Even as we grow in prayer this Advent, we must remember
that hearing the word of God and keeping it also has a lot
to do with cleansing ourselves from all that is not holy,
from all that does not belong in a temple.
Thoughts, words, and deeds that we are ashamed
to offer to Him for blessing should have no place in us.
We should shut our eyes and ears to whatever inflames our
passions. We should turn our attention away from thoughts
of self-righteousness, anger, envy, and lust, and from all
unholy temptations. We should go out of our way to love
and bless our enemies and those whom we are inclined to
think the worst of.   We must become holy
temples of the Lord by following the Theotokos’
example of purity and obedience as we grow in our
participation in God’s holiness. That is why this
season is a time for repentance, for confessing our sins
in humility, for being assured of God’s forgiveness,
and then getting ourselves back on the right course.

It is also a time for eating a humble and simple diet that
requires us to place limits on how we satisfy our stomachs
and taste buds. We are all addicted to satisfying our
self-centered desires in one way or another, and fasting
is a tool for giving us strength in healing our passions
and reorienting our desires to God in a healthy way. The
point is not legalism or that God simply wants us to be
hungry of unsatisfied, but that we need to humble
ourselves before the Lord as we gain the strength to offer
every dimension of our lives to Him. Fasting is a powerful
tool for helping us grow in holiness as more faithful
living temples of Christ. Unless we have been advised by
our spiritual father or physician not to fast from rich
food, we should all make use of this tool for the healing
of our souls.

The weeks of the Nativity Fast are a time of joyful
preparation to receive Christ at His birth. They provide
us an alternative to the angry and anxious ways of our
culture. And on this Feast of the Entrance of the
Theotokos into the Temple, they call us to follow the
example of someone very different from the ones people
usually think are most important in life. We celebrate the
Theotokos’ entry into the Temple because that was
the beginning of her personal formation as the one human
being in all history who agreed to give life to Christ as
His Mother, to become His Living Temple in a unique and
astounding way.   She was not an empress or from
a wealthy or powerful family, but a young girl who focused
on the one thing needful to the point that, by God’s
grace, she became the New Eve through whom the Savior was
born. God still works through humble, faithful people like
her to accomplish His gracious purposes. My prayer for us
all is that we will use the weeks of the Nativity Fast
this year to follow her holy example. There is surely
nothing more important that we could do for the salvation
of the world, for the healing of our souls, and for
preparing ourselves for the joy of Christmas.

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