In the Orthodox Church the Nativity Fast, known in the West as Advent, begins on November 15. Modeled after Great Lent, this is a 40-day fast in preparation for Christmas, the feast of our Lord’s birth. But there is another theme to this season as well. We not only prepare to celebrate the feast of Christ’s first coming into the word. We also use this time to reflect on our readiness to meet him at his second coming.

September Nativity

On September 8, we celebrate the first great holy day of the Orthodox liturgical calendar (the Church Year begins in September). The Nativity of the Mother of God celebrates the birth of the woman called to be the mother of the Messiah.

The Lord tells the Prophet Jeremiah:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. (Jeremiah 1:5)

If this is the case for the prophets, it is so for all God’s People. God did not choose Mary arbitrarily to be the woman who would bring his Son into the world. Mary’s ministry as “Theotokos”– “Birth-giver of God” – was in the Lord’s mind before he formed her in her mother’s womb. Before she was born, Mary was set apart, consecrated, for this great calling.

Indeed, none of us is here by accident. Like Mary, we all have a part to play in God’s great plan for his creation. What is required of us is the trust, courage, and resolve of our Lord’s Mother, to echo her words:

I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to your word.

John 3:17

Lots of people know John 3:16, but John 3:17 is equally important. When you read the two verse together, it’s clear that verse 17 completes the teaching:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

“I was glad when they said…”

I always enjoy the peaceful moments in church before Sunday Liturgy. There is a mix of both tranquility and anticipation.

“‘I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.'” (Psalm‬ 122:1‬)

Work pleasing to God

The Christian spiritual tradition outlines three disciplines necessary for inner healing and growth: prayer, fasting, and acts of charity (which can be broadly defined as acts engaged solely for the sake of another).

When we look at the lives of the saints, their stories of intense prayer, strict fasting, and absolute selflessness can make the average believer feel quite discouraged. You might not realize it but, if you’re worried that you’re not doing enough in your walk with God, you’ve got half the battle won. None of the saints believed they were doing enough. The worse thing we can do in our spiritual life is convince ourselves that, “I have arrived.” There’s always more that we can do.

As they say, “the struggle is real,” and the above quote from the desert father Abba Poemen offers good perspective and much hope. When people come to me for advice on the spiritual disciplines, I offer this rule of thumb:

  • figure out what you realistically can do, and
  • put in a sincere effort to just do what you can.

If you can realistically take an hour for your daily devotions, do that and may God bless you. If you can realistically only find five minutes a day for prayer, make sure you’re taking those five minutes every day and may God bless you. The quantity is not as important as the sincerity of the effort.

Furthermore, don’t forget that things change over the course of one’s life. When you can do more, do more, when you can’t, do whatever you can with a sincere heart, to the Lord’s glory.

Rather than focusing on what you think you “should” be doing in your spiritual life, focus on what you can do, and put every ounce of effort into making a habit of getting that done. This is the work pleasing to God.