Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Advent (12/24/17)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we observe the sixth and final Sunday of the season of Advent. It is also the Sunday before Christmas, the day which we call “Genealogy Sunday.” We call this last Sunday of Advent “Genealogy Sunday” because, as you heard in St. Matthew’s Gospel, we read the genealogy or family tree of Jesus. Now, one may ask, “Why is the genealogy of Jesus so important? It is so boring to have to sit and listen to such a long list of names that are so hard to pronounce and have no relevance to my experience.” But, the genealogy of Jesus is, in fact, very important to all of us, because it plays a significant role in salvation history. It lays the groundwork for what is truly the greatest event to happen in human history, the Incarnation of the Living God, who comes to dwell among human beings as one of them that He may save them by offering Himself as a sacrifice on their behalf.

The genealogy of Jesus is quite a mix of colorful individuals. Some were not so honorable; in fact, some were downright scoundrels. Just like us, Jesus had no control over His ancestry. As the old saying goes: “One can choose his friends, but he cannot choose his family.”

Yes, you may find this Gospel reading boring and unimportant. But, for the Jewish people, however, genealogy was very important. It told you who your people were, what tribe they came from, and most importantly, if you were 100% Jewish or not; they would have been horrified to think that they were not one of the Chosen People. Thus, the Jewish people kept very careful records of their genealogy. Knowing your genealogy was important to a people who cared about maintaining their identity, which is why many people today use such services as Ancestry and 23andMe to go back and try to find out who they are and where they come from.

There is one group of people who care about genealogy more than any other today, and that is royalty. It is essential to royalty to be able to prove that they are indeed descended from the royal family so that they can make a claim to the throne. There are people who have made a living out of studying the royal line and being able to determine exactly who is in line to be the king. Remember the movie “King Ralph?” That was exactly the premise of that movie. The royal family of England gathers for a picture, and they are all electrocuted. So, the English people must search back through the records to find the 100th person or so in line to be king, and it happens to be an American played by John Goodman. Sounds silly, but it is important to royalty to be able to prove that the person on the throne is really descended from royalty in the proper way.

That is exactly why the genealogy of Jesus is so important: it proves that He is the man who was to be the King of Israel. You could paraphrase the first 17 verses of Matthew by saying, “Hear, O Israel! Here is your king! Jesus, son of Joseph, is the only living legal heir to the throne of Israel. The records prove it. And if you have got a problem with it, check it out. The lineage is indisputable. This is Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews! King of all who would be a subject in the Kingdom of Heaven. Your king if you would so choose.”

And so, it is worth a bit of our time to look at this long line of ancestors that Matthew lays out for us. Do not worry, I will not bore you by going through every name, but an overview of the genealogy of Jesus gives us so much valuable information about Him that it should make a difference in your life.

First, Jesus’ genealogy shows that God will go to ridiculous lengths to keep His promise to save us. The list of names shows that Jesus is the answer to mankind’s greatest needs. There are two things that we need: We need to be saved from the grip of Satan, a grip which he has had on us since the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God. We need a King to come to win back this world from Satan. We need to be saved, the world needs to be saved. Jesus shows the ridiculous lengths that God will go to, in order to fulfill both of those needs.

In Jesus, God gave the whole world the means of redemption and salvation. Instead of us having to die for our sins, God sent His son to die for us instead. That is why Matthew makes it clear by giving us this genealogy that Jesus is the Son of Abraham, the promised sacrifice. You can trace the names all the way back and you will see that Jesus is the one that God intended to send when He said he would give Abraham a sacrifice that would be a blessing for all the nations.

But, we also need a king. This world is a complete mess, and God will not be satisfied until it is cleaned up and reclaimed for His glory. Thus, Jesus comes to us to clean up the mess we have made over the centuries since the fall of Adam and Eve. Who alone but God can save us and the world from utter destruction? Who alone but God has the power to make all things right? Surely, mankind cannot do it.

So, when you look at God’s hand at work in history, He was somehow able to do the unlikely: He arranged it so that one man would come to the earth that would be both a king who would reign forever and a sacrifice that would die for the sins of the earth. He would die on the cross and yet through the resurrection would rule forever on the throne of David.
It would seem impossible to have one person be both a son of David and, also a son of Abraham, a promised king and a promised sacrifice, but all one needs to do is start with Abraham, go through Isaac and Jacob and so on, all the way through David and Solomon and on to Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is called the Messiah: the king who came to save the world.

Yes, the genealogy of Jesus shows us that not only does God go to great lengths to save us, but He worked through all kinds of trying circumstances to bring our Savior to this earth. Listen to the names of these people and the things they went through:

  • Abraham wandered from Babylon to Egypt and back to the Promised Land, narrowly escaping death many a time. Although he and his wife were childless beyond the normal time, God provided him a son who would eventually become a nation.
  • Abraham’s son was Isaac who was almost sacrificed on a mountain.
  • Jacob was nearly killed by his own brother and had a difficult time even finding a wife. At the time he died the entire nation of God was less than 100 people.
  • Judah’s generation would have died in a famine had it not been for his younger brother Joseph being sold into slavery.
  • Then the nation of Israel lived as slaves in Egypt for 400 years, seemingly forgotten by God.
  • Having been freed from Egypt by escaping through the Red Sea, the nation wandered in the desert for forty years. God was disappointed with the nation of Israel but allowed the nation to live so that the next generation could take the Promised Land.
  • Once they were in the Promised Land, the nation had to fight the people living in the land. When they obeyed God, they did well; when they rebelled, they suffered. Yet, God kept the nation alive, and the line of Abraham continued on; God would not break His promise.
  • By the time we get to Jesse, King David and Solomon, the nation had become great, but they had also become spiritually corrupt, worshiping other gods. It would have been understandable if God had just given up on this rebellious nation and started over. But God kept working through this lineage because He had promised that the Savior would come from this line.
  • From Solomon through Jehoiachin, God had to be patient with a nation that was wicked, corrupt, and faithless. Over and over He sent His prophets to warn, beg, and threaten His people to turn back to Him. But over and over the people turned their back on God.
  • So, God allowed His people to be taken off into exile. Rather than just allowing them to be killed off, God had them carried off. For generations, the nation lived in exile.
  • Meanwhile, nations came and went. The Babylonians were defeated by the Persians. The Persians allowed the Jews to go back to the Promised Land, but then the Persians were defeated by the Greeks. The Greeks spread their beautiful nation around the Mediterranean, giving all nations a common language. Then the Romans came, bringing peace and roads and shipping that would unite the Mediterranean.
  •  But, in the midst of all this upheaval, God preserved the Jewish people. And a man named Jacob gave birth to a son named Joseph, who married a woman named Mary, who gave birth to a son named Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

From a wandering Jew in Babylon, through slavery in Egypt, through wandering in the desert, through warfare, through kingdoms rising and falling, through empires waxing and waning, through rebellion, through apostasy, through godlessness, through it all, God kept the line from Abraham to Jesus unbroken so that Jesus could be born to be a sacrifice and a king for us. No matter how unfaithful the Israelites were, no matter how hopeless things seemed, no matter how impossible it was to keep going, God kept going.

Why? Because God loves mankind so much that He wanted to make sure that Jesus would come to save the world from its sins. God loves us so much that He was willing to literally move heaven and earth to get His Son to earth to be the king of all.

It is like our emergency responders, whose motto is, “Failure is not an option.” They must get in and save those who are perishing; their job is too important to even entertain the thought of not getting it done. They resolve never to get to a point where they quit and say that they did the best they could. “Failure is not an option.”

You might say that this is God’s motto in making sure that Jesus would come to save us, “Failure is not an option.” Through wars, famines, betrayals, slavery, exile, and turmoil, God made sure that salvation would come to the world in the person of His Divine and Only-Begotten Son. When we read the story behind these names, we realize and understand that God loves us so much that He worked through all these situations to make sure that Jesus, the Messiah, would come.

When you look at all these names, you can only come to one conclusion: God will work through ridiculous people to accomplish His will. Most people will get fighting mad if you say something bad about their family or their ancestors. They would feel that if you say something bad about their relatives then you are by default saying something bad about them. So, if you were to ask someone to list their ancestors, they would probably sugarcoat things, listing the kings and the heroes and leaving out the pirates and cutthroats.

How much more do you think that would be in the genealogy of Jesus? You might think that Matthew, a good and devout Jew, would do his best to paint the best picture possible of Jesus’ ancestors, to show that not only was He the coming king but that He came from good stock. But, when you look at Jesus’ ancestors, the people in the line from Abraham to Jesus, you see just the opposite. Each person has skeletons in their closet. Abraham twice said that his wife was his sister so that he would not have to fight for her. Isaac did the same thing, saying that his wife was his sister, and then got caught snuggling up with her. Jacob was a flat-out cheat and swindler; his name even meant “He struggles.” He lied to his father, cheated his brother, and ripped off his father-in-law. Judah sold his own brother into slavery and slept with his daughter-in-law, thinking that she was a prostitute. Rahab was a prostitute. Ruth was a Gentile from a despised country. David committed adultery and then had the husband of the woman killed. Solomon allowed his wives...and he had many... to worship false gods. Rehoboam split the nation of Israel in two with his harsh ways. Many of the kings in Jesus’ line were wicked and evil. They worshiped false gods and did many cruel things. One king, Manasseh, even sacrificed his own son to an idol, among other detestable things.

The one common thing all Jesus’ ancestors had in common was that they were all very human with very human weaknesses, some worse than others. I am sure that every family has skeletons in the closet that they would like to keep there, but in Jesus’ case, their deeds are right there in Scripture for all the world to see. You might think that the son of God, the King of the Universe, the Messiah Himself would have a good pedigree. But this is not so.

And yet, God used all these sinful, fallen people in His plan to bring the Savior to the world, to save the world. God used murderers, cheats, liars, prostitutes, pagans, and swindlers to accomplish His plan to save the world. Kind of neat, in a way, is it not? Now you might ask “Why is it neat?” Well, because God sent His son to save murderers, cheats, liars, prostitutes, pagans and swindlers. You know, people like you and me. He allowed His perfect son to be born from such imperfect ancestors because it was those kinds of people that God came to save.

When you read the names in Jesus’ ancestry, you see a cross-section of humanity, in all its glory and shame. Some did great heroic things, some did despicable things, some did both. But you know something? We are all like those people in Jesus’ family tree: some good, some bad, most in between, but all of them capable of redemption.

The incredible thing about all this is that God, in His infinite inscrutability, loves us, warts and all. He loves us enough to work through all these fallen people to bring His Son to earth to keep His promise to save us and to redeem His world from the clutches of Satan. That is what we learn from this genealogy.

You might never have taken any time to look at it because you think it is boring or irrelevant, but Jesus’s genealogy tells an amazing story. So amazing in fact, that I know of several people, an atheist included, who converted to Christianity simply because they read Jesus’ genealogy. They were amazed to see a Savior that did not come from some perfect mythology, but who came from history and humanity; a Savior with a past and a promise to keep. A believable Savior sent by an unbelievable God.

St. Matthew might have written this genealogy to prove to skeptical Jewish minds that Jesus was truly a legitimate descendant of Abraham and David, but it shows so much more. It shows a God who was willing to go to ridiculous lengths to keep a promise. It shows a God who worked through ridiculous circumstances to bring a Savior. It shows a God who worked through ridiculous people to save ridiculous people like you and me. It shows a God whose love for mankind knows no bounds, that He would do whatever is necessary to show us just how much He loves us.

When you look at Jesus’ genealogy, you see the great lengths of time, space and circumstances that God went through to save us, to make sure that we would have a Savior to free us from our sins and bring us to life everlasting, to eternal joy and happiness, to live in perfect communion with the Holy Trinity. Considering all this, what are you willing to do? Are you willing to show God how much you love Him? Are you willing to acknowledge Christ as your King and Savior and that of the whole world? Are you ready to go to the manger and fall down in worship and adoration of the One Who Was, Who Is, and Who Ever Shall Be unto the ages of ages?

Life is short, beloved, so do not waste what precious time you have left. Discover the true meaning of Christmas. Give glory to the newborn King, the Messiah, the Anointed One who comes to save you and me, and not to the gods of this pagan, corrupt, and fallen world.

Amen.

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