Do not be afraid.

Homily 573 – 29 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 24, 2023
Epistle – (328) Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40
Gospel – (1) Matthew 1:1-25

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Family – our roots – are important.  Seems obvious, but sometimes in our urgency for independence, we forget this.  Family grounds us.  Family gives us stability.

Family connects us to the past.  Family helps us define who we are – providing context to our lives.  We can’t know what makes us unique until we first know how we are the same.

Family isn’t something that we choose – at least not most of us.  Many of you know that I have twin sisters who are adopted.  One might say that they got to choose their family – which isn’t really true because they came to us when they were 8 months old.  Even those adopted later may have a choice, but they still cannot choose their lineage.  They cannot choose their DNA.

What this Sunday, the Sunday before the birth of Christ tells us, first and foremost, is that Jesus is like us in every respect.  He also had a lineage.  He had a family.

One major difference is obvious to us now – He was the Son of God.  His Father was THE Father.  That is still something that as humans who are in God’s image, but not God’s nature, struggle with.  We want to understand how Christ is unique.

That isn’t necessarily how the Church would have us look at this, though.  What the Church offers us is how Christ is the same.

In that, as we go further back in time, we find that we are all from the same lineage.  We are all sons and daughters of the Creator.  We are all brothers and sisters.  Christ is our brother, as well as our Lord.

Unlike Christ, however, we sometime – occasionally – reject our creator in favor of doing our own thing.  We, unlike Christ, are selfish, wanting what we want and unconcerned about our family of God.

We sacrifice the role we are needed to play in the family for the role that we want to play in the family.  We want to be prominent – above the others – but refuse to serve them.

And, in our most intimate moments of self-reflection, we understand that our actions, our selfishness, is shameful.  That our selfishness is not God’s will nor desire for us, His Children.

We can look back in our family histories and find those who were selfish, and those who served.  Sometimes it is the same person, even, because no one except the saints are pure in motivation.

Looking back in my own family tree, I find on my father’s side a line of hard working, hard living Scots-Irish for generations.  Same on my mother’s side, except they were German.

My German great-great grandfather immigrated to the US just before the turn of the 20th century, for likely less than honorable reasons.  He had a wife and family in Germany – and we don’t know the full story, but he left them in Germany and came to the US, because Germany wouldn’t allow divorce at that time.  He arrived in the US with a woman who became his wife.  He had another family.

Again, we shouldn’t be too hard on our ancestors, since we likely don’t know everything about the situations.  But it would definitely be a challenge to think of how this action served his former family in Germany.

His son, my great-grandfather, served in World War I, and fought against his own half-brothers and sisters, presumably.

Now, that’s my story.  Not good, nor bad, just facts.  I can learn from it.

St. Paul tells us we can learn from our Old Testament ancestors also.  He lists the names, and doesn’t necessarily detail the stories of each of them, recognizing he can’t replicate the entire history of the nation of Israel in one letter.

He does give us enough to ensure we can go back on our own and uncover the accounts of these people, these prophets and kings.  And what we find will give us more information about who they are, and in turn, who we are.

Because brothers and sisters, the genealogy of Christ is also our genealogy.  We can look at what God asked of them, and if they did it or not, and what the consequences were both for them and for the nations.

We can apply those lessons to our lives, and make our decisions accordingly – will we go off on our own, or will we be faithful, serving others and not ourselves, showing love, accepting our own torture of the world in which we live, to achieve a better outcome – our resurrection?

Both the Birthgiver of God and her betrothed husband Joseph accepted what God placed in their path.  God didn’t tell them beforehand – this wasn’t something they had to seek out.  They simply accepted the circumstance and understood, to an extent, that this was indeed God’s will.

They still, both of them, could have opted out.  Like the rich young ruler they could have walked away.  In fact, this was Joseph’s plan – to put Mary away, quietly, not to cause her shame.  But the angel visited him, offering Joseph a simple message:

Do not be afraid.

We do well to follow this life lesson.  If God is involved, and He is involved in every circumstance, we should not be afraid.  Every situation works for our salvation we are told.  Every circumstance is used of God.

Do not be afraid.

Even if you don’t understand what is happening, accept it, thank God for it, and offer love to the world.  Do your best to love God and love everyone and everything God created.

Do not be afraid.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.