(Matt. 1: 1-25 / Hebrews 11:9-11;17-23;32-40)
On this Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hear the Gospel account of the parental lineage of Jesus Christ – those generations of fathers from the great patriarch Abraham all the way through to the long awaited time of the incarnation of God Himself as Jesus Christ.
We have before us in the reading of the names of these men a rich and amazing history of the expectation of mankind and of the long-suffering patience and trustworthiness of God. Today’s Gospel reading is complemented perfectly by the Epistle appointed for this Sunday of the Holy Fathers in which we recount how by faith Abraham was tested by God in offering up his only son, Isaac. How by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. And Jacob, by faith gave his last testament prophesying of the departure of the children of Israel. And of the faith of Moses the God-seer and of David the King and Psalmist and of Samuel and all the prophets.
On this Sunday before Nativity, the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, we have laid out before us the generations of men who lived in anticipation of the revelation of God and of His promised Messiah. In today’s Epistle reading we hear of these great and holy men who “through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens… (They endured) trials of mockings and scourgings - and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.”
These heroes of the faith, these men of God, these people of whom the world was not worthy – these holy ones of God were not privileged to see the fulfillment of God’s promise – the coming to the world of He Who was foretold and promised for so many generations, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is remarkable to realize that you and I are able to stand here this morning – recipients of the fulfillment of the promise of God. You and I have been blessed to live in these ‘New Testament times’ to know the outcome of this long awaited promise from God – the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but as Orthodox Christians we are invited to partake of that great and holy Mystical Supper which brings us into such intimate contact with God that even the holy prophets could scarcely imagine.
And what should be our response to this great blessing and mercy? Are we heroes of the faith? Are we those of whom the world is not worthy? Do we treasure and hold our faith as something more dear to us than life itself? This is most certainly our calling…
Commemorating today the generations that led up to the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and recalling the heroic faith of the Holy Fathers, we should recognize as well that this legacy of spiritual heroism is a continuous thread within the Church of Christ. In these New Testament times, we continue to have a great legacy of sanctity as we gaze upon the centuries of those Holy Fathers who preached and rightly defined the Word of Truth. These righteous men and women also worked righteousness, raised the dead, fought the good fight, and gave up everything for the glory of God. Let us also remember today those holy ones who were tortured, had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, of chains and imprisonment. Within our own times Orthodox Christians continue to be mocked and beaten and martyred for their bold adherence to the faith of their fathers.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must recognize and realize how greatly blessed we are to live within the time of the fulfillment of God’s promise and to stand here today as recipients of the rich inheritance of our Orthodox Faith. On this day of the Holy Fathers, as we prepare ourselves for the great and glorious feast of the Nativity of Christ, let us reflect on and appreciate the generations of holy and righteous ones who gave everything they had to God, including their very lives, for that pearl beyond price – the Truth of God.
We, as Orthodox Christians, have received an inheritance beyond measure. As we sing at the end of each Divine Liturgy “We have seen the True Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the True Faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, for He hath saved us.”
May God preserve us from all slothful indifference, from blind and preoccupied worldliness, and from our spiritual insensitivity which indeed make us unworthy heirs. And may we awaken to understand and treasure and begin struggling to live up to our great and rich inheritance – established by God, prophesied and anticipated by the Holy Fathers of the Old Testament, suffered for and preserved by the Holy Fathers of the New Testament, and received and entrusted to you and me.
May God bless us and strengthen us in faith as we prepare for the wondrous feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we spend these days ‘watching and praying’, taking the remaining days of this Holy Fast to reflect on the mercy of God as He has revealed Himself throughout history and let us examine and recognize how He reveals Himself within our own lives each day.