Sunday, December 14/27: Holy Forefathers of Christ
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Beloved in the Lord, brothers and sisters in Christ, Today is Family Day. It is the day we recognize and remember the Holy Ancestors of God. What a wonderful expression— Ancestors of God. It may sound scandalous to some who believe only in a God outside of time who stands aloof and unconcerned with the affairs of humankind. But we Christians confess Emmanuel— the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, whose earthly ancestors form today a spiritual choir inviting us mere mortals to a heavenly feast of faith.
This morning’s Gospel makes clear what kind of people our Lord Emmanuel invites for his guests. The first round of guests make excuses of various kinds: tending to real estate, recent purchases of technology updates, and finally scoring a trophy wife to make all his friends jealous on Facebook. Then the Lord sends his servants for an unexpected group in the second round: the poor, the maimed, the blind, and the lame. When even these do not fill the master’s hall, he sends his servants to the highways and hedges, the furthest reaches of the Kingdom, “…that my house may be filled.”
Let us for a moment consider what kind of people finally did fill and continue to fill the Lord’s house— Who are these ancestors of God who accepted the master’s banquet invitation? Clearly, they did not always walk the path of righteousness. Quite to the contrary, they all exhibited some form of spiritual or physical deformity which the Lord transformed into strength. Let us consider just a few from this morning’s icon titled the Root of Jesse. On the bottom left and right of the tree sit King David and King Solomon, son and grandson of Patriarch Jesse who lays horizontal at the bottom of the tree. Though both David and Solomon became Kings of Israel, the genealogy from Saint Matthew’s Gospel which we read next Sunday does not shy away from mentioning Solomon’s illegitimate birth, “of her that had been the wife of Uriah.” Similarly, my own saint the Prophet Aaron in the upper right and his brother the Prophet Moses just below him faltered often in their faith: Aaron in refashioning pagan idols and Moses in striking the wilderness rock more than once. Yet all of these repented and out of weakness were made strong and became children of God.
The second icon I brought this morning is titled Christ the True Vine. In it, we see not the ancestors but the progeny of the Lord: many of the 12 disciples including the four evangelists and Saints Peter and Paul flanking the top. This icon is drawn remarkably similar to the Root of Jesse and emphasizes that our life is centered in Christ. The connection between these two sacred images reveals the timeless nature of God’s Kingdom. These ancestors and progeny/children of God were men and women of faith of whom the world was not worthy. They are not mere historical figures, frozen in time. The Church is not ancient, contemporary, or futuristic. She is timeless. And her saints are as intimate with us as our own family members. G. K. Chesterton writes about this timelessness:
“Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with anymore. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast.” (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Chapter 9)
If you wish to know Jesus Christ better today, then start by being introduced to the family. Get to know his ancestors, the forefathers, the fathers, and apostles, martyrs, and every righteous person made perfect in faith. They will teach you how to come and adore Him for what He is: Christ the Lord.