Glory to Jesus Christ!  Glory forever!

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

What is characteristic of all those named here today in the reading from Hebrews is that, “having obtained a good testimony through faith, [nonetheless] did not receive the promise.”  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel, the Prophets and the many women who go unnamed here but not unknown to God – all of these share one thing in common – they all were heirs of a promise – the promise – and they lived by God’s  promise.  This made them wanderers and nomads in this world, sojourners in a strange and foreign land, a land – the world – which proved itself not to be worthy of their likes, says Sacred Scripture.  No doubt, the world looked upon such souls as odd and different, out-of-step with modernity, a tad eccentric, maybe even borderline extremists.  Yet, it is these souls of faith in the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of David the fallen yet beloved and repentant king of Israel, and all the others here commemorated, known and unknown – it is these souls who are the sane ones, the rational ones, indeed the blessed ones, because they were in the world yet not of it (Jn. 17:1-26).  And, because they stood aloof from the shenanigans of the world, their faith and obedience made them a spectacle, an amusement to the world.  Their lives of faith and obedience provided a proper commentary upon the unfoldings of the world in which they sojourned by putting things in right order and proper perspective.  They bear us witness today, these ancient ancestors of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, so that, together with them, says the Apostle, we all shall be made perfect.

They “did not receive the promise,” says St. Paul, though they lived in the hope of that divine promise and fashioned their lives accordingly.  “By faith,” says the Apostle, “[Abraham] sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles [tents] with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise.”  Ironically, the very land promised to Abraham and his kin by God was the land in which they lived and moved and had their being, yet it was not their own, not yet.  The promise given had not yet been fulfilled.  That wouldn’t happen until Joshua’s conquering of this land 40 years or so after Israel’s exodus from Egypt.  And remember, Israel dwelt in Egyptian bondage for over 400 years before Moses came along and God summoned him from the midst of the bush which burned but was not consumed to deliver the people of God from that land of sorrow and to bring them into a land flowing with milk and honey – the very land Abraham and Isaac and Jacob had trod upon but had not yet inherited (Ex. 3:1-4:17).  The promise of God was theirs by faith but not yet theirs in fact.  They breathed its air, they felt its warmth, they benefited from its fertility, they grazed their flocks, they drank its water, but they lived as people of the divine promise – a promise already theirs but yet to be fulfilled according to God’s own divine pleasure. 

Can you imagine each generation that succeeded Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, each purporting this promise and delivering it to their generations of grandchildren?  Can you imagine the world’s response?  Perhaps it was just like those foretold by the Apostle who will come in the Last Days scoffing at the promise of our Lord’s return when He will fulfill in wholeness the divine promise?  They reason among themselves, “’Where is the promise . . .?  For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’”  But, the Apostle tells us such foolish souls forget Who they are dealing with.  It is the Word of God that has made all things, sustains all things, and restores all things.  To the Lord, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as though it were one day.  From of old, the Word of God goes forth and does not return to Him void but shall accomplish that which He promises (Ps. 89 [90]:4; Is. 55:10-11; 2 Pe. 3:1-10).  God’s promise is eternal and makes little sense to a world that is temporal and incapable of lifting its eyes beyond the limited horizon of its own existence.  “[W]e do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” says the Apostle.  “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cr. 4:18).    

This, however, is a distinguishing characteristic of those who in faith live as men and women of the divine promise in this world – the divine promise of a land, the divine promise of a Saviour to be born, the divine promise of that Saviour’s coming again and the final rest of His Kingdom (Hb. 10:34; 13:14).  Abraham, as well as the others, “looked for a city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God,” the Giver of the promise.  It isn’t any old city for which faith awaits and looks for in hope, but a promised city designed and built by God – the very city from on high envisioned by the Apostle and Theologian, John, which is the heavenly New Jerusalem (Rv. 21:1-22:5).  The promise and the vision of that which is to come enflames and enthralls our hearts now, and that confounds the world, just as it has every generation of believers.  The world ridicules it as “pie in the sky” or denounces it as “the opiate of the people.” 

But, we know differently because we believe differently, that is to say, because we have faith in the God Whose Word of promise is trustworthy and true.  We live now as citizens of that new land though it is not yet within our grasp.  “For our citizenship is in Heaven,” declares St. Paul, “from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, . . . .” (Pp. 3:20).  Already, but not quite yet.  Israel did, in fact, inherit a land, but it was not that which was promised for us all.  The land Israel inherited pointed to a land greater than itself . . . . . beyond itself.  Indeed, to use the apostolic words here, it pointed to a “city which has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.”  We start with the Garden of Paradise, we move to the Promised Land, and we conclude with the New Jerusalem, the city of God, that fulfills in toto the divine promise for which we, and all those before us, await.  That we nor they should be made perfect apart from one another. 

In the meantime – and there always seems to be a meantime in regards to the promises of God – we find shelter in and tabernacle within the courts of the Lord’s house, which is the Church, that foreshadows the new and heavenly Jerusalem and gives to us a foretaste of that which is to come.  As St. Paul tells us a little later in this Epistle,

For you have not come to the mountain [i.e., Mt. Sinai] . . . But you have come to Mt. Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and Church of the firstborn who are registered in Heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Hb. 12:19-24).           

This is the promise that fulfills all the other promises because at the very heart of the promise is Jesus Christ, the Son of the true and living God of Israel, the God of our Fathers and our Mothers.  This is the home we live all of this life preparing for.  This old world will be shaken and sifted, says the Apostle, and it is passing away (1 Cr.7:31; 1 Jn. 2:17), but “we are receiving a Kingdom which cannot be shaken.”  And because we are heirs of this promise now made sure in Jesus Christ Whose Holy Nativity we await, “let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.  For our God is a consuming fire” (Hb. 12:25-29). 

I have been reminded most recently by the death of my mother-in-law that you and I are but sojourners in this place, travelers and wanderers.  This world is not permanent, it is not the Promised Land, so we do not treat it as such.  But, we look beyond, for a land, for a city, for a world – the world – to come, for the Kingdom of God.  For we have been begotten by our God “to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled . . . that does not fade away, reserved in Heaven for [us], who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pe. 1:4-5).  With all of those who have ever come before us, and with all those who will ever come after us, we, too, are children of the divine promise.  We live by the promise of God already seen in the Church but not yet wholly fulfilled.  The promise of this Kingdom transforms us now in this age as we taste of its wine and eat of its meat in the Holy Eucharist.  We do as our Lord has instructed us: we lay up treasures in Heaven because we are the people of God, the people of the divine promise (Mt. 6:20).    

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

Mt. 1:1-25