27th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily for Sunday before Nativity and Ancestors of Christ

Today on the Sunday before Nativity, we remember the genealogy of Christ, those who prefigure Him.  Matthew’s Gospel for today intentionally traces Jesus Christ’s lineage through Abraham and recounts Christ’s lineage not thru Mary but thru Joseph, Christ’s earthly father through adoption.  In doing so, he gives us another ‘sign-posts’ of our salvation: Jesus Christ, Himself adopted by Joseph, adopts all mankind, bringing us to the Father as adopted sons.  

The righteous ancestors of Christ pre-figure and point us to Him; they ready us for the coming of the Messiah, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Throughout the Old Testament, their stories of faith are also stories of redemption, of God working through human sin and failings to preserve and prepare the way for the salvation and renewal of the entire human race.  God brings about the fulfillment of all His promises to Israel.  He gives us a new way of interacting and relating to Him—that of adopted sons and daughters of the living God, sealed by the Holy Spirit.

The righteous Seth, who was born to Adam in the place of Able, murdered by his brother Cain, reminds us that Christ was born as the newAdam, to inaugurate a new spiritual race.  “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive” (I Cor. 15:22), as St. Paul assures us.

We remember Noah, who saved his family from the wickedness and evil around him, whom God used to continue the human race and save animal life on earth.  Noah believed God and put his faith in His saving power, thereby saving his household, bearing them upon the waters of the flood in the ark until they reached the dry land God provided for them on Mount Ararat.  Christ, likewise, saves his ‘household’—all those in the Church—from the stormy seas of deceptive doctrines, every wind of heresy. Christ carries us upon the ‘ship of faith,’ His Church, to the shore and haven of His Heavenly Kingdom.  

We remember Abraham, who offered his son, Isaac, in obedience to God, pre-figuring the offering of Christ Himself, who is both the Offeror and the Offered: the ultimate and final ‘sacrifice’ through His defeat of sin and death on the cross, His willing sacrifice of Himself for our salvation.  Whereas Abraham’s hand was stayed from offering his son, Isaac (as it was a test of his love and devotion toward God), God does not withhold His Only-Begotten Son, His Word made flesh, who enters into death as man and defeats it as God on behalf of all.

Fittingly, Christ’s lineage is royal as it is priestly for Christ is both our Great High Priest andthe King of Kings.  He draws His human ancestry from both the royal line of Judah, from which King David hails, and from Levite, the priestly line.  The Feast of Christ’s holy Nativity is also then referred to as “the Winter Pascha”because We trace our salvation through the incarnation, in which Christ, the life of the world, enters into and renews that human nature, completing this salvation by defeating sin and death itself on the cross by His death and glorious resurrection.  As a result, the Feast of the Nativity and Christ’s baptism lead us directly to His cross and resurrection.  They cannot be understood without the Incarnation.  St. Athanasius writes, “It was in the power of none other to turn the corruptible to incorruption, except the Savior Himself, that had at the beginning also made all things out of nought: and that none other could create anew the likeness of God’s image for men, save the Image of the Father…” (On the Incarnation).

Isaiah, likewise, prophetically told God’s faithful 700 years before Christ to look for this sign as they awaited the Messiah and all that God had promised Israel and the world: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14).  ‘Immanuel’ means, “God is with us.”  He is with us through His Incarnation, through His abiding presence in His Church, through the Eucharist, the Sacrament of His Holy Body and Blood.  These very words, “God is with us,” are used by St. John to describe the miraculous Incarnation of God: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).   

The Sunday before Nativity is then an invitation, the most important invitation of all—one with eternal consequence: to become adopted sons of God, to be grafted into His redeemed race of the ‘new Adam.” It is also a call to renewal of that adoption.  We too can become part of salvation history, part of the spiritualgenealogy of Christ, His progeny by grace.  St. John declares in the Gospel, “as many as have received Him, to them He gave power to become sons of God” (Jn. 1:12-13). As Christ Himself was ‘adopted’ by Joseph so we too become adopted by Christ into His redeemed race.  Through Baptism, we put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) and enter into that redeemed race of Christ God, the new Adam.

We have in promise, then, the gift of grace as we journey to the attainment of our salvation.  We battle with all those passions that would otherwise drive us from this redeemed life with Christ, cause us to be ‘unfit’ for the Kingdom of God, to be in His holy, divine presence.  We pray.  We repent.  We confess our sins. We learn step by step to cooperate with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to become more obedient as Christ is obedient, to become more humble, as Christ is humble, having condescended to become one of His own creation.  In this way, you and I become lovers of the Truth even as we die to self, even as Christ Himself has led the way in His defeat of sin and death by the cross on our behalf made possible by His Incarnation-in-the-flesh. 

This is the message that the genealogy of Christ directs us to.  In order to attain salvation, each of us learns to live, not for our own will, but for the will of God who became incarnate for our sake.  

Now the Feast of the Incarnation is upon us. We look with great expectation and renewed vigor to Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, as His salvific Incarnation draws near.  He who has become incarnate in the flesh for our sake, for our salvation, desires to make us adopted sons and daughters of the Father and co-heirs of His eternal Kingdom.  Will you receive Him as He comes to be born as a little child?  St. Gregory Palamas offers us this challenge: “May we all attain to this, to the gloryof Christ and of His Father without beginning and of the life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and unto unceasing ages.  Amen” (Homily Fifty-Seven on the Sunday of the Fathers).  

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Sunday, December 22, 2019
Epistle:            Heb. 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40            Sunday before Nativity; Forefeast of Nativity
Gospel:            Matt. 1:1-25