Sunday sermon on the reading of Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord - Matthew 1:1-25
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
For us on the Old Calendar we are kind of late to the party. Most of America has already moved past the shopping and stressing season, also called the holiday season. Traditionally, for the Orthodox Christians, weeks prior to Christmas, on whatever calendar, are about preparation, and celebrations begin on the day of Christmas. And these celebrations last, basically, the whole month of January, and include the Feast of Theophany.
But on the Old Calendar, we begin our celebrations even later than that, after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, after everyone is burned out with all the shopping and stressing and partying. So, in a way, it is a blessing to be able to actually celebrate the Birth of our Savior, and not the mere gift-swapping, to celebrate an unexpected gift from God (the gift of God Himself), and not look for an expected gift from someone else.
This is one of the pleasantly unexpected consequences of the Old Calendar – a peaceful celebration of the Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. But all the noise that is made during the time when we should be preparing is not entirely our fault. Commercial industry begins its own preparation for the holiday season of Halloween, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas all the way back in, like, the summer.
That’s when we begin receiving emails and messages and texts and catalogues and whatever else possible about all sorts of products that we don’t really need. And today, with all the technology in our pockets, all I have to do is think about socks, and the next time I go online, I’ll see at least 3-5 advertisements about the best socks of my life.
All these commercials scream, “Buy, buy, buy our product. Buy it, especially now, in the magical Christmas season.” Doesn’t it make you feel special that virtually every company in America sends us an advertisement in hopes of getting us to direct our money to them? All the attention…
One of the industries that is persistent in their marketing is the ancestry industry, such as ancestry.com and ancestry DNA, 23andMe, and Family Tree DNA. Their selling pitch is a catchy one: “Find out your personal story in a whole new way,” or “Find your relatives that you didn’t know you had.”
These are multi-billion-dollar enterprises. Why? Because our ancestry is a big business. Why is it a big business? Because we are enamored of the idea of our ancestry, and for a good reason – our ancestors are not dead, they live in us, in our genes, in the blood that flows in our veins. So naturally, we want to know who our ancestors were, what their nature was, where they came from, and how we are like them and how we are unlike them.
Today, we heard the ancestry of Christ. Of course, Jesus is God, as fully God as God the Father and the Holy Spirit are, and as such He has no point of origin. There was no time when there was no God. Nothing and no one makes or creates God. God just always is.
But Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, is unique in that He became incarnate. God became man, a human being. In order to do that, He was born of the Virgin Mary. And since He was born from a human being, then He had an earthly ancestry through her and His caretaker Joseph.
Notice that, even though, Joseph was not the father of Jesus; nevertheless, the genealogy of Christ that we read today goes through Joseph, who was engaged to Mary and became the caretaker of her and her Son. The genealogy goes through Joseph because, legally, he was the head of the household, and so, not a biological, but rather legal father of Jesus Christ. That’s why the angel instructed Joseph, as the legal father, to name the newborn Child, just like fathers in those days did.
Saint Matthew, who provides Christ’s genealogy for us, traces it all the way back to Abraham, who became the father of Israel and to whom the initial promise of the Messiah was given. From Abraham’s line came King David, with whom God confirmed the covenant that was made with Abraham. From this line eventually came Jacob, who was the father of Joseph, who was the husband of Mary. And from her our Savior was born – God became man.
During these weeks of preparation for Christmas, Matushka and I (well, mostly Matushka) read with our kids at home about some of the people that led up to the birth of Christ. And we discuss with them how Christ’s lineage goes back to Abraham. So now my son, Vanya, is preoccupied with trying to figure out just how we might be related to Abraham and to one of the twelve tribes of Israel, to whom the Messiah was promised and from whom He was born.
Saint Matthew was able to trace Christ’s ancestry because every Jewish household kept a detailed list of genealogy, as their proof of belonging to one of the twelve tribes. As far as I know, my family did not keep such list, so it might be hard for Vanya to prove that we are the descendants of Abraham, unless he uses ancestry.com or one of those DNA services. But even then…
Yet, how cool would it be to say that we came from the same line that produced these Old Testament figures from whom Christ came? Wouldn’t you want to be related to Abraham, to kings David and Solomon, to Christ Himself?
Here is a really cool thing, without consulting ancestry.com or 23andMe or Family Tree DNA, we can say that we are the descendants of Abraham, we do share the same ancestry, we are part of the same covenant that God made with Abraham and confirmed with David and fulfilled in Christ. How?
In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul says, those who “were baptized into Christ, have clothed themselves with Christ [have put on Christ]” (Galatians 3:27). That’s exactly what we sing during the baptism service. So, when we are baptized, we become part of Christ’s family, and that includes Abraham, David, Solomon, Joseph, Mary, and each and every baptized Christian of the New Testament, up to our times. For a Christian to lay out an ancestry line is basically impossible because it includes billions of people.
Just like our biological ancestors are not dead but are alive in us, in the same manner all the people who witnessed to Christ before His incarnation, and those who came after His birth, death, resurrection, and ascension are alive in us by virtue of the fact that we are all part of Jesus Christ. When we read the genealogy of Christ every year on the Sunday before Christmas, we are also reading our own genealogy. It’s not only Christ’s family, it is our family because through Christ we became children of God. As Saint Paul also says, God adopted us (Ephesians 1:5) because we chose to join Christ.
All those ancestry and DNA companies say (and by the way, they did not pay me to say any of this…maybe I should reach out to them to see if they would be willing to change this injustice), “Learn something amazing about yourself.” So today, let us re-commit to knowing our full ancestry that produced all those people that led to the Virgin Mary and Christ Himself. Let us remember that our personal story includes Christ. Or rather, that God, by virtue of His incarnation, has included our personal story in Himself.
Who are we? What is our ancestry? We are Christians, we are all God’s children, we are one family by virtue of having the same ancestry.
How cool would it be to say that we are related to Abraham? It is really cool. As we are finishing our preparation for Christmas, let us marvel at our rich ancestry.
This sermon was inspired by a wonderful sermon from here.