Homily 441 – 28th Sunday After Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 20, 2020
Epistle: (328) Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40 (Sunday before Nativity)
Gospel: (1) Matthew 1:1-25 (Sunday before the Nativity)
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
As we begin the Nativity celebration this morning we get a foreshadowing of what is to come by remembering the roots of Christ’s incarnation in the flesh. We remember the ancestors of Christ.
St. Matthew catalogs the physical ancestors. St. Paul catalogs the spiritual ancestors.
Part of the Nativity story is about the physical incarnation of God in the flesh. Part is about the spiritual incarnation of God in humanity.
The physical incarnation reminds us of the importance of family, and family determining who we have become. I do dabble in my own genealogy from time to time. I have one branch of my family, through my maternal grandmother’s mother, that I can trace back to Sir Richard of Yorke in England in the late 15th Century.
Sir Richard is my 14th Great grandfather. I’m interested in the parallel with St. Matthew, who traces the lineage of Christ in three groups of 14 generations.
As a math nerd, I also have to recognize that the number of family members in that 14th Generation is 2 to the 14th power – which is 16,384 members. Just in that generation.
The cumulative total through generation 14 is 32,766 people. So, in my case, one of the 32,766 people was of some relative noteworthiness.
In looking at the genealogy of Christ, the genealogy goes back to Abraham, in three groups of 14 generations. In Luke’s account, it goes back to Adam.
Both have a purpose in their genealogy. Matthew goes back to the first recorded interaction and covenant between God and humanity, through Abraham. Luke shows the parallel between Adam and Christ – who is referred to as the “second Adam”. Adam is called the son of God.
So, where does this lead us?
In the case of St. Matthew’s genealogy, it is one of the potential thousands of lineages but reveals very important aspects of Christ.
David is mentioned – Christ is from a royal lineage. Although it is hidden a bit in the transliteration of Hebrew names, Amon, or Amos is mentioned – Christ is from a prophetic lineage. Same with Asa or Asaph – Christ is from the Psalms of Israel.
The women mentioned are of particular interest. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, or Rachel, or Rebecca are not mentioned. Rather, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
Canaanites, prostitutes, and Moabite women – not the matriarchs of the Hebrew people. Solomon himself was the product of the adulterous relationship between King David and the wife of Uriah.
This genealogy, while being very specific, is also deeply inclusive. It incorporates all of humanity, as well as the key elements of the Hebrew people.
So, too, does our genealogy – our family. Our families, like Christ’s physical family, incorporate good and bad, those who followed God and those who rejected Him.
We embrace our families as God through the incarnation of His Son embraced humanity.
Some may say, “Father, I’m estranged from my family.” Or, “none of my family still lives.” We recall that Christ identified his family – His mother, His brothers, and sisters, with the ones who seek after God. The Church is also the family for all of us.
And like our physical families, the Church incorporates the fallen humanity of us all – those who follow God, and those who fail to follow God. That is our spiritual family. Not lesser – but different than the physical family.
St. Paul also adds the spiritual legacy component to the genealogy of our Lord. He speaks of the Old Testament faithful – imperfect, but seeking God – and the fact that the promise for all of those faithful is fulfilled in Christ.
They didn’t receive a reward for their faithfulness in their lifetimes, for the most part. One might say Elijah received the reward of being assumed into heaven without dying, but that would be an outlier.
In recounting the earthly sojourn of these faithful of God, St. Paul spares no comfort. The experiences of those faithful are – for me at least – disturbing.
The common thread is exhilarating, though. The promise of perfection. The promise of Union with God, and complete fulfillment of our humanity. The promise of Theosis.
And so, since the Incarnation of Christ, even our reality of family changes. It is no longer just our brothers and sisters and relations by blood. It is our relations by spirit also. Because we are all of one spirit – one body, which is Christ.
The object of the family – the love of family – has a new dimension. The dimension of Theosis. Union with God. Our love for one another both foreshadows and enables our Love of God. Our unity with one another both foreshadows and enables our unity with God.
Finally, the incarnation is a story of obedience. Joseph, fearing a stolen union (as the hymns say), thought to end the relationship with Mary. After all, a child out of wedlock was not exactly a law-abiding Jew’s glory.
But, having been informed of the truth, and regardless of the appearance of the situation to the world, Joseph was obedient and soldiered on, and took Mary and the Child.
That is a common thread to all the passages we read this morning. The appearance to the world is one of intrigue, and scandal, and shame. But to the faithful, the incarnation is the beginning of Life itself.
Our lesson is that appearances are deceiving, and what we see doesn’t necessarily represent reality. The things of God, the true and real and only existing things, are sometimes – oftentimes – unseen.
And we should focus on this reality, and not on appearances.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!