Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As we savor the coming of the Saviour of the world to us in these days, it occurs to me that – as critical as salvation is – God doesn’t rush it. Join St. Joseph the Betrothed, Guardian and Protector of our Lady and her divine Child, in pondering the deep and inscrutable Mysteries of God. Despite the presence of sin and death that has despoiled God’s good creation, God doesn’t rush salvation, but unfolds it – works it out – in His own perfect time, according to His perfect will. How many centuries elapse from the time of the Fall to the time of the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ according to the Flesh? And, then, another 33 years later, the Cross and Resurrection, the Ascension and the Sending of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit, the culmination of how many millennia of awaiting the fulfillment of the promise of God in the ancient Garden, known as the Protoevangelium – the first Gospel. “’And I will put enmity between thee and the woman,’” God declares to the serpent, “’and between thy seed and her Seed; it shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise His heel’” (Gn. 3:15).
As we hear the ancestral lineage read today in the Holy Gospel, what we hear is the working out of our salvation, the prophesied crushing of the serpent’s head by the Child of the New Eve and Mother of Life, the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary. What we hear is God acting one person at a time down through the ages and long corridors of history, bringing to fruition that seed of saving hope planted there in the Garden. Each person – each soul – named is a unique human being in time, created in the image of God, having his or her own unique history which he or she contributes to the saving and sanctifying work of God, to bring about that which the Prophet so long ago foretold, “’Behold, a Virgin shall be with Child and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His Name Immanuel’ (which being interpreted is, “God with us”)” (Is. 7:14). God brings about the salvation of the world, not by a magician’s wave of a wand and the words “Abracadabra!,” but through the steady, though time-consuming, march of human flesh and blood beings, until such time that He fills that flesh with His own divine nature, in all of His divine fullness in a particular Babe (Co. 1:15-20; 2:9), nestled in the virginal womb of a particular woman foreordained (Ga. 4:4), in a particular but obscure village of Israel called Bethlehem, the city of David. “’But thou, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto Me He that is to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting’” (Mc. 5:2).
And so, “Abraham begot Isaac, and Isaac begot Jacob, and Jacob begot Judah and his brethren. . . . .” and on and on until we hear this, “and Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus, Who is called Christ.” The Evangelist makes clear that Joseph does not beget Jesus, “Who is called Christ.” The flow of so-and-so begot so-and-so is interrupted. Joseph is the husband of Mary, but he is not the father of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, that is, Joseph does not father Jesus, but he does adopt Him as his own, just as God adopts us as His very own through faith in the Son of God. Joseph’s people, his long line of ancestors, are Jesus’ people. Jesus takes His place in the lineage enumerated, but it is “from the pure blood of the Virgin who gave birth to [Him] beyond nature, by the descent of the Holy Spirit and the goodwill of the Ever-existing Father” that He takes to Himself “our entire human composition” (Pre-Communion Prayer #4).
This is all the more telling because God does not demand nor does He seek out the “perfect family” or “perfect lineage” for His only-begotten Son such as we may daydream about or Hollywood might concoct. God sets His beloved Son in the midst of a family whose lineage is noble and honorable while at the same time sporting some rather questionable characters in the mix: Tamar who seduced her father-in-law, Judah, because he failed to do her justice and Rahab, a harlot of Jericho, whose mercy and kindness once saved Israel. There is Solomon, known for his wisdom and building of the Temple, but whose notorious and ill-advised harem of wives led him astray to follow after foreign gods. There is his son, Rehoboam, whose bullheadedness divided the united Kingdom of Israel, pitting the two against each other. There is Manasseh whose evil was indeed great, but who was turned around through profound repentance, leaving to us his great prayer we use at Great Compline and other penitential services. And then there is David, beloved king of Israel and psalmist par excellence, but who committed adultery with the wife of his most loyal soldier, Uriah, whose murder David plotted in order to cover up his adulterous affair and the baby it produced. But his repentance, like Manasseh’s, has been made ours in the psalm prayed at every Orthodox service: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; and according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgressions. . . . .” (Ps. 50 ).
This is the messy stuff of human existence and its sublime excellence! Salvation is a messy business though most glorious! Saints and sinners, reprobates and pentitents alike (Hb. 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40), are to be found in the ancestral line our Lord has willingly and gladly inherited. Indeed, “for the joy that was set before Him” does our Lord not only endure the Cross (Hb. 12:2), but He embraces all of human flesh in its frailties, except without sin (Hb. 4:15; 1 Pe. 2:22). He does not despise nor spurn the family line’s imperfections and ancestral idiosyncrasies, but rather embraces warts and all! And, He does so, precisely to save all souls from their sins and to heal our brokenness. As one of the Church Fathers notes, we do not question nor look askance at a doctor who enters into the realm of sickness because it’s exactly where we would expect to find them! So, why would we our Saviour? “’Those who are well have no need of a physician,’” Jesus says, “’but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance’” (Lk. 5:31-32). So, God sent forth His only-begotten Son into the world to save the world, not to condemn it (Jn. 3:15-17).
Blessed be the Name of the Lord God, Emmanuel! The Messiah, the Christ, promised of old to Abraham and to David, is come to save us sinners, come to heal and redeem us, come to sanctify and deify fallen humanity, come to restore us to the glorious image and likeness of God Who has created us (Ml. 4:2)! Jesus calls us, scoundrels and stinkers that we are, “’His people’”! He owns us as His very own and lays claim to us. “For He Who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason,” says the Apostle, “He is not ashamed to call them brethren, . . . .” (Hb. 2:11-13).
In Jesus Christ and through Him, we are family, warts and all. Our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ is our Master and He is our Brother, conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, His Mother and ours, and He is adopted by Joseph of the line of David and Abraham. God’s everlasting mercy is made manifest – enfleshed – in this Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary. He is without doubt God’s Good News “for us men and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed). He is the Gospel embodied, of old long foretold, “the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.” Indeed, Jesus Christ is Emmanuel – God with us . . . God for us!
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!
Hb. 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40