Audio for homily HERE

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be!

We really have a couple of rough readings for the homilist this morning, especially with the joy of the Nativity season. We have St. Paul talking about his own apostleship in Christ, and we have the continuing story of our Lord’s flight to Egypt and return to Nazareth. I thought about looking at some of the Orthodox traditions regarding our Lord’s time in Egypt, but I’ve decided instead to look at one of the saints we remember today, James the brother of the Lord. The life and ministry of St. James meld very nicely with the celebration of his brother’s birth in the flesh as Lord and King and God.

The holy Apostle James is called the brother of the Lord, and was the son of St. Joseph by his first wife. There are multiple discussions about exactly what the relationship was – we know that St. Joseph was not a child of Mary (ever-Virgin & scene with St. John at the Cross) – in ancient times some of the Western Father’s of the Church had a few differing ideas on the relationship between James and our Lord, but early on in the Orthodox East it was known that James was the son of Joseph. So in our modern terminology he was really the step-brother of the Lord. From his earliest years, St. James dedicated himself to God as a Nazarene. The Nazarenes vowed to remain in virginity, to abstain from wine and meat, and they didn’t cut their hair. They were about the closest thing to monastics in the Jewish tradition. Their vows symbolized a life of purity, a life totally dedicated to God. So from his earliest years, St. James’ desire was to serve God.

When our Lord’s ministry was revealed and He began to preach and to work the miracles of the Messiah, St. James believed in his brother and became one of His Apostles. He is remembered at one of the Apostles of the Seventy (he is not, of course, James the son of Zebedee who was one of the twelve). After our Lord’s death and resurrection and ascension, St. James was chosen as the first bishop of the Holy City of Jerusalem. He presided over the Apostolic Council (recorded in Acts 15), which became the model for all of our Orthodox Councils. He pronounced the final decision of the Council with the famous phrase, “for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us” – forever a reminder that the Holy Spirit should be our guide, that Christ is present leading and steering His Holy Body, the Church. Our task as the Church and as individual Christians, a very difficult task at times, is to hear Him.

During his 30 years as Bishop of Jerusalem, St. James converted many of his fellow Jews to Christ. Of course, this greatly angered the Pharisees and the Scribes and the leaders of the Temple, and they began to plot together to put St. James to death. They lead him up to the top of the Temple in Jerusalem and they began to ask him what he thought of Jesus. The holy bishop began to preach and to expound the Scriptures and to show that Jesus was the Christ, the expected Messiah of Israel. Filled with fury, the leaders of the Temple threw him off the roof of the Temple. The fall did not immediately kill the Saint, and as he was being stoned to death, he lifted his eyes to the heavens and prayed for the forgiveness of his enemies. The martyrdom of St. James took place in the year 63 AD.

I like looking at the Saints any time of year, and St. James’ life is so powerful at this time of year firstly because he is the brother of the Lord and his life ties us directly into the earthly life of Christ, which we’re continuing to celebrate in this festal Nativity period. Also, and particularly because he gave everything he had, even to his very life, for the Christ he had come to believe in. He spent his life for the glory of God, and his death glorified God again.

Two additional notes we’ll end with:
The Holy Apostle James also composed a Liturgy which bears his name – a Liturgy still used around the world in various churches, though typically only served in the Orthodox Church on his name day. And finally, as we all well know, one of his Epistles has been preserved at part of the New Testament canon used by all Christians even until today. We continue to be inspired not only by the life of this great man of God, but also by his words, which continue to be read by Christians everywhere.

Holy brother of the Lord, James, pray to God for us!

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!

Author Matthew Jackson