December 29, 2020

Homily on the Bronze Serpent and the Nativity of Christ (St. Luke of Simferopol)


By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and Crimea
For many, many years, the people of Israel roamed the desert after their exodus out of the land of Egypt with the God-seer Prophet Moses at the head. The Lord God nourished His people with God-sent manna. It was a difficult path in the desert. It was very difficult for them to find water to drink. And the people of Israel began to complain to God and Moses, why they were uprooted from Egypt in the first place. And God was angry against the people of Israel for their complaining, and He punished them harshly.

By His order came a large number of poisonous snakes, which bit them so that thousands of people died. Let us remember this, too, how terrible and devastating it is for one to complain to God.

The people, terrified of the snakes, begged Moses to pray to God to escape from this cruel punishment. The Lord was merciful to them and ordered Moses to make a large bronze snake and put it on a pole which looked like a cross, "Anyone who is bitten by a snake and looks with hope at this bronze serpent will not die but will live," the Lord said.

Moses fashioned a large snake from bronze and put it on a pole similar to a cross. This was a clear type of our Lord Jesus Christ, who saves all from the death of sin, who with deep faith turn to Him, and with tears venerate His cross, through which He saved the world. He carried the excess of the great weight of the sins of the whole world on the cross.

Think of who, not only from mortal men, but also from the heavenly angelic powers, could carry the sins of the whole world and not be flattened by them. Who, but He alone, who is without ceasing praised in song by all the heavenly powers, crying out to Him: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal!" Who, except Him alone, that in the solemn hymn, "God is with us, know ye nations and be conquered, for God is with us", the Church calls Him "mighty God, exalted one, prince of peace". The serpent, which Moses fashioned and put on a wooden pole similar to a cross, was made from bronze, because in the olden days bronze was considered the strongest of all metals. Is it precisely for this reason that the bronze serpent was the type of the Savior of the world hanging on the cross?

It was not only once that God punished the people of Israel because of their complaints. On two other occasions during the forty years, in which the people roamed the desert, God erupted in anger against the stiff-necked and thick-headed people. God's anger was so great that He wanted to completely annihilate the entire people and create another faithful people from Moses. It was only after the entreaties of the great Moses that God did not bring His plan to fruition.

The first time it was done was on Mount Sinai, where Moses received from God the divinely-written law. Forty days and forty nights Moses was on the mountain. The people lost their patience and told Aaron, Moses' brother, to fashion a golden calf. This calf was called a god, who delivered them out of Egypt, while the true God was rejected.

The second cause of God's wrath was the mutiny of Korah Dathan and Abiram and their group, who defected against the Prophet Moses and his brother Aaron. This mutiny was a mutiny against God Himself, who elected Moses to carry out His will to the people of Israel. This sin had almost the same weight as the worship of the golden calf at Mount Sinai, for there is no sin greater than to rise against God and His commandments.

If the Great God, through the intercessions of the Prophet Moses, three times took pity on the stiff-necked and thick-headed people of Israel, this means that the intercessions of the great saints before God can change His plans and decisions. These are possible to change. However, let no one dare with their bold and blasphemous mouth say that God's will is unstable.

Our God is living love, as revealed to us by the great apostle John the Theologian in his first catholic epistle. But He is also the Sun of Justice. And this, which in the eyes of men may seem to be the instability of the Divine Will, is in reality, at the same time, a successive display of the two great attributes of God: His incomparable love and His exact justice. And the best example for this case is the narrative of the bronze serpent.

The stiff-necked people, who complained against God, were harshly punished with snakes, as God's justice demanded. Immediately however the huge wave of His inconceivable love was revealed, because the bronze serpent was a type of the incomparable great event of the salvation of the human race from the power of the devil and from the eternal death of sin and lawlessness through the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us now leave the stiff-necked people of Israel at this terrible but at the same time blessed place, where the bronze serpent was raised. For many years to come, these people will wander around the desert of Arabia. Let us leave them for another thousand years, during which these people, even though they had arrived in the Land of the Promise, they did not stop angering God, by abandoning Him and worshiping the gods of the nations, Baal and Astarte. Let us leave them as far as the Babylonian captivity, and the dark history of this unbelieving people, and we shall all be in the grace-filled new era, the beginning of which came the great event of the Birth of Christ, which we celebrate today.

And God, Who never goes back on His word, did not forget the bronze serpent, which rose before the eyes of the whole world, and which was the type of the salvation of humanity from eternal death by sin.

Let us take, my brethren, a deep breath, and read in the Gospel of John the words of our Lord Jesus Christ: "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 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 3:14-17).

After this great promise, we will turn our gaze to another point, to the first catholic epistle of the Apostle John, where we read his gladsome evangelical words:

"In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:9-10).

For this great and glorious feast of Christmas we prepared ourselves with fasting for forty days, during which we heard many times the blessed and cheerful irmos of the Christmas Canon. Let us take a look a little at the first and try to understand its meaning:

"Christ is born; glorify Him! Christ comes from heaven; go to meet Him!"

The God-man Christ is born and descends to earth, glorified by the angels. He's ready to step on the earth, let's run to meet Him.

"Christ is on earth; be exalted!"

Now the Divine Infant is already in the manger in a cave in Bethlehem. With great joy and rejoicing, we shall rise with our spirit and mind to the heavens.

"Sing to the Lord, all the earth! And praise Him in gladness, O people, for He has been glorified!"

We believe that the joy of the Birth of Christ, in a way that is incomprehensible for us, is sensed by all of creation. Together with the shepherds and the magi, we shall also worship the Divine Infant, and we shall offer Him as a gift our hearts full of faith and reverence. With our own hands let us offer Him with fear and love our hearts that He may glorify us in the life of eternity, of which there will be no end. Amen.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.