Today, we commemorate and remember all those righteous people who lived before Christ, people such as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, King David, St Joseph the Betrothed, and St. John the Baptist. There are certainly hundreds, even thousands more, that can be added to this short list, but limitations of time prevent me from mentioning even the most well-known among them.
The Church brings before us today, as examples of holiness, obedience, faithfulness, and sincere faith, all those people who were pleasing to God but did not live to see or hear of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, they rejoice with us, and the entire Church throughout the world, at the coming of the Messiah.
The lives of our holy forefathers and foremothers prefigured in myriad and wonderful ways the life of Christ. In the experiences of their lives, we begin to see the images of Christ, the Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. Abel, who was murdered by his brother Cain, is the prefiguration of the murder of Jesus on the Cross; a murder committed also by men. Melchizedek, the priest, is the prefiguration of Christ the High Priest. Enoch and Elisha, who was taken up to heaven, prefigure Christ who was taken up to heaven at the Ascension. Noah, who with his family alone survived the great flood, is a prefiguration of the baptism of purification and new life given to us by Christ at our Baptism. Job, the long-suffering, prefigures the long-suffering of Christ. Abraham, who was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, prefigures the sacrifice that God the Father made by giving His Only-begotten Son to redeem the world. Jacob prefigures Christ, for he saw the ladder that connects earth to heaven. Enabling heaven to come down to earth and earth to rise up to heaven. Joseph, who was betrayed by his twelve brothers, prefigures Christ who was betrayed by Judas and abandoned by the other eleven apostles. Moses, the leader of his people, who was given the great revelation of the Ten Commandments, prefigures Christ, for He saw the burning bush unconsumed, which is the Virgin’s womb, which was unconsumed by the fire of Christ. Joshua, whose name is the same as Christ’s, that is Jesus, prefigures Jesus, the Deliverer of His people. David, related by blood to Christ, saw Christ in the Psalms which he wrote. Solomon expressed the Wisdom of God in his books of wisdom. The Prophet Daniel saw the Holy Trinity in the Three Holy Youths in the furnace of Babylon. The Prophet Isaiah saw Christ in the Suffering Servant. The Prophet Jonah prefigures the three-day burial of Christ through his three-day sojourn in the belly of the whale.
All these holy forefathers, together with our holy foremothers Sarah, Rebecca, Ruth, Deborah, and many, many more whom we commemorate today are, in fact, our spiritual family, for they saw, long before we were born, the One Whom we confess, Christ the True God, the Messiah, the Anointed One, who comes to be born for our salvation.
In remembering our holy forefathers and foremothers, our ancestors in the faith, we see God inserting Himself into the genealogy and history of the created human order which He Himself called into being by His own Word.
While our forefathers point to Christ, our foremothers point to the prominent place women will play in mankind’s redemption through the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the new Eve, and the women disciples of the Lord.
The important message that today’s feast conveys to us is that Jesus Christ came to redeem and save all humanity, and make new human nature itself, in order to create a new race of Adam, one which is a mirror image of the community and life of the Holy Trinity.
We who worship here this morning, together with all Orthodox Catholic Christians throughout the world, are the heirs of the promise that God made to Abraham when He declared, “In your seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 26:4). The “seed” of Abraham is both the recipient of God’s blessings and the instrument through whom God’s blessings are passed on to others. Abraham’s seed will “be blessed” and will “be a blessing.” The seed about which God spoke is Jesus Christ, for Christ is descended from Abraham.
The Abrahamic Covenant promised blessings not just for the Jews alone, but for both Jews and Gentiles. In other words, the Covenant blessings were available not just to the descendants of Abraham, but to all peoples everywhere, to peoples of every nation. But the blessings promised within the Covenant were available only to those who bless Abraham’s seed. Those who reject the seed will be cursed.
The promised seed had to be born both God and man. He was to be a man in order to be the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15), of Abraham (Genesis 15:4; 22:15-18), and of David (2 Samuel 7:12-16). By His coming as man, Christ unites heaven to earth and earth to heaven. By His Incarnation, Jesus raises man up to heaven and brings heaven to humankind. God becomes man so that man can become God.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who testify to God’s greatness, His goodness, His mercy, His justice, and His love. Our holy and righteous forefathers and foremothers are constant reminders to us of the promised hope that is Jesus Christ. They announce with great joy and fervor that we should not despair; that salvation is coming, that the Light from the East shall illumine and enlighten the world.
Our forefathers and foremothers have shown us by the example of their lives how to be the people God first created us to be. They point us to Jesus, who is the life and salvation of the world and they exhort and admonish us that we must change ourselves that we may prepare worthily to receive the King of all.
Those whom we remember and commemorate today have taught us a great deal. They have pointed us toward the Light. It is upon their shoulders that we stand. It is upon their words that we have hoped. There is so much of God in all those who have lived before us and foretold the coming of the Messiah. King David is but one example.
We remember David’s great and glorious accomplishments. We give thanks for the value of his leadership and for all that he did for his people. But Scripture also tells us of his adultery and of his orchestrating the murder of Uriah so that he could marry Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When we remember our forefathers and foremothers, we remember the bad as well as the good. We hide nothing. In the case of David, we remember not only his greatness but his sin. We remember his failures and we remember his redemption. We remember the whole story; we leave out nothing, for that is how we learn and grow.
What is most important about today’s feast is that we are remembering human beings. Human beings who were flawed and sinful just as we are. Every human being since the creation of man has sinned. Even the saints in heaven sinned while they were alive, but they worked out their salvation, some to heroic degrees. That is why we remember them today because they give us hope and the assurance that if we remain faithful and true to God, we too can achieve great things.
The six weeks of Advent call us to prepare diligently and conscientiously to welcome the Savior into our midst at His birth in the flesh in Bethlehem. Our holy forefathers and foremothers foretold His coming and set us on the path to Bethlehem and Calvary.
We cannot separate the Manger from the Cross. Christ was born into this world to die. He came to live among us that we may live by His death. To encounter Christ is to encounter suffering and death. But from that suffering and death comes resurrection: new and eternal life and everlasting joy.
Many people today do want to encounter Christ. When they see or hear about Him, they turn and walk away, and for good reason. They are afraid to deal with the darkness of their soul that such an encounter will bring to light. They do not want the truth about them to be known. What they do not understand, however, is that there is nothing one can do to hide the state of his or her soul from God.
The more we make false gods out of other people, of possessions, of ourselves, the more we turn away from the salvation Christ was born to bring. The prophetic voices of our forefathers and foremothers have called out to humanity through the ages, announcing that salvation and hope were at hand. The birth of Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of the Eternal God, is the fulfillment and realization of the prophecies uttered by our forefathers and foremothers. To them, we owe much gratitude, for they have announced to humanity, and to us in our day, that all is not lost. They have given us messages of hope, of joy, and of salvation and redemption.
Christ comes to dwell among us because He loves us and wants us to be happy. He comes to bring life to a sad and miserable world in which the true meaning of love has been distorted and disfigured. God, who is love, comes to earth as a man, as a human being, so that we may once again know and experience real love, a love which brings with it great joy, immense peace, and indescribable happiness.
Let us listen carefully to the words and messages our holy forefathers and foremothers have for us. Let us, in these last few days before the celebration of the birth of the Savior on earth, read one, or at least one part, of their writings. Take some time alone, or as a family, to read especially the Book of Genesis, the Book of Exodus, the Book of Proverbs, the Book of Isaiah, or simply the Psalms, and let us re-establish and renew our connection and relationship with our ancestors in the Orthodox Catholic Faith.