Blessed Feast of the Nativity and of the Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ on this new year's day, 2022!
This holiday season we remember those who have led by example. The best leaders on the path of righteousness lead not by their own examples, relying on their own strength and resources. Instead they point to the Lord's instruction and examples of obedience, like the Theotokos who responded, "I am the Lord's servant. Be it unto me according to thy word!" (Luke 1:38)
May the prayer of 2022 be for all who serve in the Lord's household, "Not my will, but Thine be done!"
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director of the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Today's episode on this Feast of the Circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ and New Year's Day 2022 is in honor of my maternal grandmother, Irene Lee, who departed this life just a few weeks ago on December 12. She was 99 years and 11 months old, so close to reaching her 100th birthday. She came from humble beginnings, being born in a little log cabin on the Missouri River. And she humbly accepted whatever work the Lord required of her as a wife and mother and member of her community where she lived in Montana. Today's scripture reading was recorded by my grandma about 30 years ago when I asked her then to read aloud some of the Psalms and gospel passages into a cassette recorder so that I could make copies and give them to my siblings and cousins, and one day, God willing, to our own children, so that the faith we received through grandma's example, could be passed down to the next generation. In today's episode, we will hear the birth of Jesus from Luke's Gospel leading up to his circumcision and naming of Jesus on the eighth day. I chose this passage not only because of the festal season, but also, when I remember my grandma, I can't help but think of the words of the Virgin Mary, when she was told she would bear the Son of the Most High and exclaimed, "I am the Lord's servant. Be it unto me according to thy word." The trust and faith of these words is what I witnessed so often in the life of my grandma. For many of us who have lost loved ones, the holiday season is a time where they are sorely missed and remembered for their best qualities, how they loved and cared for others around them. Their best moments are remembered as shining examples to live by. So I hope that this episode provokes memories and gratitude of your loved ones who have passed on, entrusting them to the Lord's eternal memory.
Irene Lee 2:15
Now we'll read about the birth of Jesus, found in Luke 2 beginning with the first verse and we'll read through 20. In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son, She wrapped him in strips of cloth, placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And now concerning the shepherds and the angels, there were shepherds and living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shown around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you, you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger. And suddenly a great company of the heavenly hosts appeared with the angels praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men on whom his favor rests. When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord told us about. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told him about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they'd heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Hollie Benton 5:14
Thanks be to God. "I am the Lord's servant. Be it unto me according to my word," is what Mary exclaims when Gabrielle announces the Nativity of Jesus in chapter one of Luke's Gospel just before this reading we heard from my grandmother Irene of blessed memory. As I mentioned before, the very response uttered by the mother of our Savior Jesus Christ, served as the prayer my grandmother lived by. I have vivid memories as a little girl visiting my grandparents and waking up in the stillness of the morning to find my grandma already dressed and pouring over her Bible with psalms of prayer and earnestly entrusting to the Lord by name, all of her children and grandchildren and the neighbors children and many, many other names on her prayer list. There are those who talk about doing God's will. And then there are those who understand that if they are actually going to do the Lord's will, they first have to hear and to learn and to know what the Lord's will is, which is written plainly in Scripture. Like the psalmist says, "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night." In everyday conversations, my grandma would often refer to biblical texts, quoting them just as easily as the words of an advertising jingle could roll off our tongues. Her speech was an encouragement filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, not because she was stating her own humble opinion, but because she was quoting the biblical text. Grandma devoted herself daily to the learning of God's word, and meditating on it through prayer.
"I am the Lord's servant. Be it unto me according to thy word!" Like the trust and obedience of the Theotokos, I marveled at grandma's trust and obedience in the Lord. Out of deference to the Lord, she submitted to her neighbor, and the wisdom she received. She read and studied scripture and prayed and attended church regularly and served her neighbors, because that is what the pastor of her flock called her to do. Simply put, submission to the will of God was also manifested through the respect she's showed to others in the body of Christ as members of the community who occupied unique and critical roles for the well being of the whole community. She respected and valued the teachers, the health care workers, and the tradesmen for their expertise and service to the community and to her personally. For example, another part of her morning routine was a series of leg lifts and back exercises because her doctor told her to do them. Even in her 80s, in a short period of time, she had both shoulders and both knees replaced, and her doctors were just amazed at her recovery, her strength, and range of motion because she actually did the physical therapy they prescribed. She didn't make excuses. She didn't argue with them, she didn't force her own opinion. She simply submitted to their knowledge and their expertise. This kind of obedience and submission to wisdom and professional expertise is less common today where each person can be his own expert, by turning to the google gods and doing so called research for an article or video to justify their own will and position.
"I am the Lord's servant. Be it unto me according to thy word!" The Virgin Mary served the Lord's will by giving up her own will. Similarly, I saw my grandma selflessly care for so many people around her. She constantly was cooking and visiting and attending to her neighbors, a local nursing home, and people in her church community who were ill or lonely or grieving. She taught Sunday school to the children. She put together regular care packages for missionaries. She was a reliable church musician. The church community could really count on her commitment for any need. And just as my grandparents were looking forward to their retirement, her own mother suffered a terrible car accident that resulted in a leg amputation. My grandma's siblings weren't in a position to care for their mother who was now bound to a wheelchair. So my grandma accepted the duty as her caretaker as though the Lord Himself assigned the work to her hands. Later on, my grandpa developed Parkinson's disease. And again, my grandma submitted to the work at hand and lovingly cared for him. He was very tall, so the work was very difficult for her small frame. She lost sleep, and her own health suffered, and it was a very difficult decision for her to finally admit him to a care facility. I remember a conversation with grandma around this time about how it can be difficult to learn and accept your own limitations. She viewed this time as a lesson in trust. A lesson we might learn better as we age because one can only hope and trust that the Lord will provide for your needs through the service and care of others. Her words reminded me of a friend who was a quadriplegic. Although He is helpless to physically care for himself, he realizes the powerful gift he can offer to others by kindly asking for help and speaking his trust and his gratitude for their care. People tell him that his words of encouragement far outweigh the value they might provide as they attend to his physical needs.
"I am the Lord's servant. Be it unto me according to thy word!" Mary trusted in the word of the Lord and treasured all these things at the time of Jesus's birth and pondered them in her heart, perhaps not quite knowing exactly how everything would turn out, but trusting that everything would be firm in the hand of the Lord. I'll never forget that single year in 1995, when my grandmother lost not only her mother, but her sister, and even her daughter to cancer. The grief at such a loss may have been unbearable, but my grandma just wouldn't feel sorry for herself. I heard her say over and over to people who expressed their condolences, "I can only hope and trust in the Lord. He is my refuge and my firm support."
Only a few weeks ago, before my grandma passed away, I asked for her words of wisdom, as I myself am growing older and seek God's will in these times of uncertainty. Her words to me were, just accept it. Trust and obey and pray every day, "be it unto me according to thy word." And in the words of our Savior, "Not my will, but Thine be done." To wrap this up, it may be evident that I see my grandma as one who has led by example. She would be the first to tell you she's not perfect. Yet those who have known her have witnessed her faithful example, as a servant in the Lord's household. When people talk about leadership, we lift up those who lead by example. And those who are in positions of leadership and fail in their example, put the health and stability of their communities at risk. Hypocrisy in a leader can really tear a community apart. But here I'd like us to reconsider who it is that leads by example, or by whose example are we truly led. The Psalmist warns, "Put not your trust in princes, nor in the sons of men, and whom there is no help." I'm becoming more convinced that those who lead by example on the path of righteousness, do not do so by their own strength and resources. Instead, they turn attention to the biblical story, to the example of the Virgin Mary who professed, "I am the Lord's servant. Be it unto me according to thy word," or to Jesus Christ who prayed, "Not my will, but Thine be done. This was the strength of my grandmother's example. She didn't lead by her own example, she led by the example she found in Christ by submitting in obedience to His Word. Even my own father of blessed memory made this clear when I was a cocky teenager, and tried to pin him down on the basis of leading by example, and argued, Well, why should I do it when you don't do it? Shouldn't you lead by example? He said to me, if you were wise, you won't do as I do. But do as I say, and really, it's not even what I'm saying, it is what God says, as we hear from what is written in this chapter and this verse. And I have recently heard a priest make this point clear by declaring, "I'll be the first to tell you that I'm just a man, a Pharisee, a hypocrite. But as your priest, I am bound to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, by which I may stand condemned on the last day, while trembling and trusting in the great and rich mercy of our Lord." So, if you're a leader in any capacity, and you're trying to lead by example, consider whether the strength is in your example, or if you're deferring to the better example that we find in Jesus Christ, who prayed "Not my will, but Thine be done." And if you find yourself growing disappointed in your earthly leaders, consider whether or not your hope is truly in the Lord. Do not be dismayed, because the only true leader, the only true example is in Christ who reigns victorious. Put your hope and trust in the Lord's instruction, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to visit the imprisoned and to pray like the Theotokos, "I am the LORD servant, be it unto me according to thy word." And like her son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,. "Not my will but thine be done." May this be our prayer of this new year.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai