Sermon/Wish for the New Year: Courage

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Last sermon for 2020 and a Wish for the New Year: Courage
By Fr. Vazken Movsesian
Based on a sermon delivered on 27 December 2020 at St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church in Pasadena, California on the Feast of St. Stephen. The video of the sermon in Armenian and English is shared below.


Courage is the topic of today’s sermon. It is timely on this last Sunday of the year as we look forward to the New Year. We have all heard the complaints about 2020 and the wish that it would hurry and go away. We want to banish the year into memory with the expectation that somehow and someway 2021 will be better than the past year plagued with pandemic, racial unrest, political chaos and for us as Armenians, war, which has crippled us physically, morally and spiritually. And while the start of the year 2021 might seem like a convenient place from which to measure time, we should know that viruses and feelings of intolerance don’t follow calendars. Change comes about when we work and actualize change. It takes courage, to accept the current conditions and opt to bring about change.
We are in the season of Advent – preparing for the Christmas message that Christ is born and revealed. Courage is required to fully accept and act upon that message, because that message was one which has and can change our world toward something better.
In talking about courage, we remember that yesterday our Church celebrated the feast of St. Stephen the first deacon and the first martyr of the Christian Church. Unfortunately, our people have turned into a people consumed by topic of martyrs and martyrdom (and tragically we are back at it in the aftermath of the War). It is unfortunate because we forget the reasons for the sacrifice in martyrdom, namely, we have lived life and lived it in a productive manner.
Rather than look at St. Stephen’s ministry, I’d like to focus on the descriptor “first” in his title. To be the first at anything requires courage. It requires going against the rules. It means you’re charting a new course. In our church we ascribe the title “Nakha” to those who were the first, for instance, St. Andrew is called the “Nakhagoch” or the “First-called” disciple of Christ (John 1:40). He was the brother of Peter the fisherman. You can only imagine the courage it took for him to tell his brother, “We have found the Lord…. Come let’s follow him…” Courage is found when you are committed to your beliefs, without wavering. Andrew put it out on the line – risking being mocked and even being on the receiving end of anger.
To be the first requires courage because you will be up against the strong current to maintain the status quo. Generally, people want change, but without a cost, that is, without discomfort. Courage is necessary to bring about change because you have to be strong in your commitment and you must be devoted to it completely, and full-heartedly. This is where your faith has to be strong, as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Certainly, St. Stephen was committed to his Faith, because he paid the ultimate price for his faith. You don’t give up your life for things that you don’t believe. Courage comes when you are committed to your faith, when you’re willing to take the first step in the dark knowing and trusting that the staircase is there. And it is with this commitment to our faith in God that we embark on the New Year and accept the message that Christ is born and revealed!
Today’s Gospel message came to us from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 19. It’s a story that many of us have heard but perhaps not in the context of courage. It’s about a wealthy man who gives three of his servants a considerable amount of money for them to use while he tends to business in another land. (This is pre-pandemic time, when travel was allowed and Zoom meetings were not necessary to conduct business.) And when the man returned, he asked for an accounting from those three servants. The first had taken the money and multiplied it by 10 and was awarded rights over ten townships. The second had multiplied it fivefold and was awarded rights over five townships. But the third servant was so scared to use his money that he wrapped his money in a handkerchief and returned it to his employer. Now mind you, he had not squandered it, nor lost it, but he did not use it! He is referred to in the parable as a “wicked” servant. In the Armenian grabar (ancient and original translation) he is called “anhavad,” that is, “without faith.” Yes, we note the connection between wickedness and being without faith.
Now think of this parable in terms of where you are in life. You’re looking for change toward the good. God has given you so much more than money. He has vested you with life, with love, with compassion. How are you using gifts? Courageously? To be courageous means you have faith and invest toward the change that brightens your life and the lives of others. Jesus concludes the parable by saying that the little that the wicked servant had was taken from him and given to the other, to which the parable ends with this disturbing verbal exchange: “‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away.  But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’” (Luke 19:25-27)
It is disturbing on the face of it because we think in terms of material wealth and gain. No, this is not Jesus advocating for the capitalist dream of wealth accumulation. It’s a simple proclamation, that if you’re courageous enough to exercise your faith, you will find more faith.
My prayer for all of us is that we find the courage to live out our Faith, by sharing the goodness of life with others. During this period of Advent we prepare for the message of Christ is born and revealed. In fact, His Birth and Revelation is not about an event 2000 years ago, but about the possibilities as he’s born and revealed in our lives today, in a hurting world where courage to live, love and share is called for. May the New Year be filled with the expressions of our Faith and courage. May the blessings of the Christ Child push us to these expressions which make Christmas an event every day of our lives.

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