What we should want for Christmas.

Homily 527 – 27 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
December 18, 2022
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.

This Sunday, the Sunday before the Nativity, we always hear the genealogy of Christ.  We know that during the time the Gospel was written, genealogy of an individual was critically important.

Tracing one’s lineage would determine a myriad of things ranging from the city or town considered a hometown to the ability, and requirement, to serve as a priest in the temple.

So the fact that we hear the genealogy of Christ isn’t particularly surprising.  It establishes several things about Christ.  Primarily it tells us that Christ was humanly descended from King David, and was a rightful heir to the Kingdom of the Jews.

Both Mary and Joseph were of that lineage, we are told.  Interestingly, the other genealogy in Luke indicates that the lineage of David the King was through the relationship with Bathsheba – an illicit arrangement to say the least.

And not the only one.  Those who know their Old Testament well will recall that Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and slept with her father-in-law:  Judah.  Rahab was a prostitute and a Gentile, but was a protector of the people of Israel by sheltering their spies.

There is a lot of illicit relationships in the narrative of the human side of Christ.

We know that the purpose of Matthew was to establish the Kingly line, descending from David, and the purpose of Luke was to establish the humanity of Christ, as his genealogy goes back to Adam, the first man.  The Messiah, the Jews understood, had to be a descendant of David.

Christ became, in the writings of many of the Church Fathers and Mothers, the Second Adam – the one who restored humanity to us all.

Even though we understand the place of the genealogy in the narrative of the Gospels, that leaves us the question:  What is the relevance of the genealogy to us today, here, in this place?

Surely if it was important then, but not now, the narrative would have fallen out of the rotation of the Lectionary that provides us with our Gospel readings.

So, what is the relevance now?  What is the purpose?

The genealogy of Our Lord tells us that to be human, to be ourselves, to be part of humanity, we need to be grounded in our family – our lineage.  No longer does our lineage define who we can become, or what role we may play in the society in which we live.

No longer does lineage define our means to make a living, or who we can or can’t marry – at least not in our society.

But our lineage, our genealogy, serves to provide us with roots – with grounding, a stability that doesn’t exist elsewhere.

And that is somehow necessary to offer us the chance to restore our humanity in ourselves.

We don’t exist independently of others.  We have obligations to others, we have needs that only others can meet.  It is cliché perhaps but it does indeed take a village to be human.  The South African Indigenous idea of Ubuntu – meaning, I am because of all of us – holds true here as well.  And lest we believe ourselves to be truly independent, we need not look far to understand how quickly we would perish were that to be true.

In the 1960’s, there was a guy named Dick Proenneke from a place called Primrose, Iowa.  Primrose is in extreme southeast Iowa, just west of Fort Madison.  He journeyed to a remote part of Alaska to live alone in a log cabin he constructed by hand.  You can visit that cabin today.

But even Dick Proenneke, who made his own tools and his own spoons and cutlery, was not completely independent.  For example, while building his own cabin, he lived in the cabin of a friend who had previously built one.  He brought with him huge cans of food, and a few sharp tools, from which his other materials were made.

He got resupplied by air.  He was never self-sufficient to grow his own food.  He hunted for some of it, but much was provided from outside sources.  Even as off-grid as he was, he wasn’t completely independent.

How much more so are we dependent on one another?

And yet, even in the midst of this special season, we are perhaps reluctant to share of our blessings with others.

The true spirit of the Nativity, the true meaning of the Incarnation of our Lord, is found in giving.  Sadly, and yes, I do it too, we too often focus on receiving.  We teach our kids to receive – we encourage it!

When I was smaller, a pre-teen, and even a teenager, my mother would always ask us to make a Christmas list of what we wanted.  We were privileged that way.  Our families would want to know that their gift was desired.  Pragmatic.

So, we would pour over the Sears and Roebuck toy catalog – which is how we shopped before Amazon and the internet.  And our list would be made.  The older kids might request a book to read, but mostly toys.

What does this teach us?  Would St. Nicholas approve of our approach to receiving gifts?  Of making lists of what we wanted?

I rather think that St. Nicholas’s list would be focused on the needs of others.  As would the lists of most of the Saints, and of our Lord.

And not just at Nativity, but each and every week, each and every day, each and every hour.  We would be continually sharing and giving to those in need, those we love, sharing of our blessings with others in every way we can.

So that like our Lord, we can empty ourselves, to be filled with Him.  May this Nativity be the beginning of a lifestyle of giving, emptying ourselves, unburdening ourselves, so that everyone experiences the joy of the Incarnation of our Lord, God, and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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