In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
On this Sunday of the Fathers of Christ, we have heard His genealogy from the Gospel of Matthew, the family-tree springing from the Patriarch Abraham, in a succession of forty one generations.
Though it reflects Jewish patriarchal tradition in ending with Joseph the Betrothed, it also records the ancestors of the Mother of God, who, like her betrothed-spouse was of the tribe of Judah and a descendent of King David, sharing her ancestors with Joseph, the guardian and protector of her and her Divine Son.
Though today’s Gospel may seem tedious, even boring to some, one thing that it is NOT, is pointless. In its intricacies, its generations, its succession from father to son, this Gospel is a sign and record of God’s love, mercy and compassion in His redemptive plan, which was not rushed, but unfolded in His time and according to His will.
Generation by generation, individual by individual, God prepared to put right the fall of the first-father and first-mother, and today’s long and complicated Gospel is a testimony of the fact that God would not redeem humanity as a distant ‘outsider’, but would rather save humanity from within. He would not simply save humanity as God, but scandalously and shockingly, He would save humanity as Man.
The physicality and creatureliness of human nature would be central to the person of Jesus; not only part of of Whom the Jesus of the Gospels was, but of Whom Jesus still is, now worshipped in heaven not only as God, but also in His Humanity.
Divinity and humanity, united in the person of Jesus, was laid as a newborn-child in the manger, as the supreme expression of God’s saving love that voluntarily unfolded and drew closer in the lives of Abraham and his descendants celebrated in today’s Gospel.
When Abraham was called from Ur in Chaldea, leaving his homeland, his culture and people, it was because the All-Knowing, All-Wise and All-Merciful God, had chosen him to not only be the father of a multitude, set apart and chosen by God, but to be the ancestor of His own Saviour and Redeemer.
In reading the Old Testament in a truly Orthodox Christian way, we have to put aside historical linearity and the sequences of time, to understand the Old Testament in the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church, and to see and understand the calling of Abraham from the perspective of the end of today’s reading.
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
God-with-us as the Word-Made-Flesh: the precious crown and joy of Abraham, and his descendants.
God-with-us as the Child of Bethlehem, having received His humanity not only from Mary, but from all of the ancestors who came before her.
The very meaning of the calling of Abraham, the first name in the genealogy was that God would and could be with us, which is why we honour and celebrate the Patriarch and the other ancestors of Christ, according to the flesh.
In Christ-Emmanuel, the promises made to the Patriarch were supremely fulfilled, and the Incarnation was the ultimate purpose of Abraham’s life; of the promises God made to him and the very meaning of his Seed.
In the Epistle to the Galatians, St Paul identifies the ultimate meaning of God’s references to the Seed of Abraham.
“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)
Christ-Emmanuel, God-with-us, was conceived and born as that wondrous Seed.
For the Hebrews, the Church Fathers and the ancient Christians, the future generations of Abraham’s descendants, Christ’s ancestors, were already within his loins as the father of a multitude.
Thus, according to God’s plan and the economy of salvation, not only all of the Saviour’s ancestors according to the flesh, but even Christ’s humanity were already in Abraham, to be passed down the centuries from generation to generation – from Abraham to Mary of Nazareth.
God Who is ceaselessly worshipped by the angels, would become the Seed of Abraham and his descendent, even though He testified to His own Divinity when He said, “Before Abraham Was, I Am” (John 8:48).
As the Seed of Abraham, He would enter the world in the poverty of a stable to be worshipped by the shepherds,
As the Seed of Abraham, He Who created the stars would become a small and fragile child, Who would lead the magi to Himself by the very stars He had made.
As the Seed of Abraham, Christ the Only-Begotten Son and Eternal Word of God would hide His Divinity beneath His human flesh, choking and conquering the devil who so greedily rushed to swallow Him at His death on the the Cross.
As the Seed of Abraham, voluntarily dying on the Cross, He would become the Conqueror of Death and Author of Life.
This is why it is this genealogy that is read today as a genealogy of vocation and election, setting a people apart for God’s plan to be realised in time and space; unfolding in history; in real individuals with stories, personalities, relationships and families – and through the wonder of the Incarnation and the Nativity, Christ became a relative of all of those whose names we have heard.
Christ became one flesh with them, becoming one of their own even as they became His own. Through becoming Man, the Son of God not only embraced them, but as Saviour laboured for them, suffered for them, sacrificed Himself for them in the the ultimate sign and realisation of God’s love on the Cross.
This Sunday is a great celebration of that love, in that He allows the offender – humanity – to play its part in the economy of salvation, contributing to the Incarnation, undoing the disobedience of Eden through lives of Faith, as so clearly stressed by the joyful words of the Epistle that remind us that all the patriarchs and fathers of Christ achieved was BY FAITH.
Not only did God reach out to them, but they reached out to God. They followed him, were guided by Him, putting their lives in His hands, giving us an example to follow in abiding in God, so that God is not only with us, but we are by our own volition with God.
Through their lives and examples, their personal faith, their relationships with God, we are brought to the Cave of Bethlehem, to the moment in which the Virgin gives birth and the Christ-Child is laid in the manger.
It is only by such personal faith that we too are brought to Christ, and that we become heirs of the promise and the spiritual children of Abraham, as children of the New Covenant, but the New Israel of Christ’s Church.
As St Paul wrote to the change in Galatia, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29)
As the New Israel, we joyfully celebrate those who have been the ladder through which God descended to earth, and humanity ascended to heaven, knowing that is through the generations of Abraham that the gates of heaven are opened to us.
So, today, we rejoice with the patriarchs and matriarchs, prophets and prophetesses, not only from Abraham onwards, but from all generations of the Old Testament righteous ones who were God’s bridge from heaven to earth, and whose memory and example bring us to the approaching glory of the Nativity Feast.
“Rejoicing today, Adam is adorned with the glory of divine communion, as the foundation and confirmation of the wise forefathers; and with him Abel doth leap for joy and Enoch is glad, and Seth danceth together with Noah; the all-praised Abraham doth chant with the patriarchs, and from on high Melchizedek doth behold a birth wherein a father had no part. Wherefore, celebrating the divine memory of the forefathers of Christ, we beseech Him, that our souls be saved.”
(Stikhiron on “Lord, I have cried.”)