Sunday Before Nativity
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 from the great patriarch Abraham all the way through to the long-awaited time of the incarnation of God Himself, our Lord and Savior 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.
There are many names in the ancestry of Christ from which we may draw inspiration and courage. And yet, we do well to also recognize that within this genealogy we encounter sinfulness and scandal. Jacob received his blessing through deceiving his father Isaac; Moses fell short and was not blessed to set foot in the Promised Land; David fell upon the most grievous sins of murder and adultery. St Matthew’s Gospel includes mention of four women in the genealogy of Christ - the incestuous Tamar, the prostitute Rahab, the pagan foreigner Ruth, and the adulterous Bathsheba. All of this demonstrates that Christ was not immune in having a few ‘skeletons’ in his genealogical closet.
St John Chrysostom, meditating on the presence of these darker spots in Christ’s genealogy, remarks that ‘even if we were only reciting the family background of a mere man, we might naturally have been silent touching such matters, but since we are recounting the genealogy of God Incarnate, so far from being silent, we ought to glory in them, for they show forth His tender care and Hs power.’ Why, you might ask? ‘Because this is the very reason Christ has come, not to escape our disgraces, but to bear them. … He came as a Physician and not as a Judge.’ Christ, in taking on humanity and becoming our Kinsman, did so in full recognition of our sinfulness and, as the Great Physician, He comes near to us who are in the greatest need of His care, that He might make us whole again. As St. Paul says, ‘both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of One: for which cause He is not ashamed to call them brethren.’ (Hebrews 2:11).
It is so important for us to recognize Who He is… that this vulnerable Infant is God, the Maker of heaven and earth. And that God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, has become this vulnerable Infant. Think about this for a moment!...
When we contemplate the fact that God Himself has taken on humanity and become a man born in time and place, a man of flesh and blood, submitting Himself to cold and heat, to friendship and loneliness, to hunger and fullness, to joy and to sorrow, even unto death... we should not only be astounded by the generosity and compassion of God, but we also must recognize that God – having passed through the human experience – understands our own sorrows and trials in the most intimate way possible… for He has endured them all.
And not only has He endured our pains and sorrows, but as God, He has triumphed over them and has transformed them – giving us hope and opening them up as a door toward our own healing and salvation.
The Orthodox Church has fought valiantly over the centuries to uphold this clear truth about the nature of Jesus Christ – that He was fully God and fully man. This is not just theological hair-splitting… it is essential for us to be clear and faithful to this Divine Truth.
This is important because the Child Whose birth we are about to celebrate, being fully man, experiences our human life in all of its highs and lows with only one exception – He does not submit to sin. He has shed tears, even experiencing such anguish in the Garden of Gethsemene that those tears fell down as blood. God is not distant… He can be with you in your darkest hours because He has passed through more than any of us can ever even imagine.
And He is fully God… the Eternal One and Second Person of the Holy Trinity entering into this human life out of His great and compassionate love. This is critically important, because as God He sanctifies everything He touches – healing the blind, the deaf, the lame, and facilitating and inviting us to the healing of all of the human experience if we enter into this life of Christ. He has sanctified the human experience by gracing it with His Divinity. He has transfigured everything – even suffering, sorrow, and death… triumphing over all things by the radiance of His Holiness.
And Christ calls us to enter into and participate in His triumph as we unite ourselves to Him.
The feast of the Nativity, which we are about to celebrate, is THE pivotal moment in history. It can be THE pivotal moment in our lives if we come to this feast with a clear understanding of the great mystery and incredible mercy which is about to unfold - if we approach to worship the Christ Child offering the true and acceptable sacrifice of our love and devotion.
Let us watch and pray as we await the awesome Nativity of our Lord. Let us reflect on how incredible it is that He who cradles the universe in the crook of His arm deigns to be cradled in the arms of a young virgin. May the words of the Nativity Hymn guide our celebration: ‘Thy nativity, O Christ our God, hast shone upon the world the light of knowledge. For by it those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on High, O Lord glory to Thee!’