Sunday Before Nativity - Holy Fathers
On this Sunday before the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hear the Gospel account of the parental lineage of Jesus Christ – those generations of fathers from the great patriarch Abraham all the way through to the long awaited time of the incarnation of God Himself, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
We have before us in the reading of the names of these men a rich and amazing history of the expectation of mankind and of the long-suffering patience and trustworthiness of God. Today’s Gospel reading is complemented perfectly by the Epistle appointed for this Sunday of the Holy Fathers in which we recount how by faith Abraham was tested by God in offering up his only son, Isaac. How by faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. And Jacob, by faith gave his last testament prophesying of the departure of the children of Israel. And of the faith of Moses the God-seer and of David the King and Psalmist and of Samuel and all the prophets.
On this Sunday before Nativity, the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, we have laid out before us the generations of men who lived in anticipation of the revelation of God and of His promised Messiah. In today’s Epistle reading we hear of these great and holy men who sacrificed everything, including their earthly lives, for the sake of the kingdom of God. These heroes of the faith, these men and women of God, these people of whom the world was not worthy – these holy ones of God were not privileged to see the fulfillment of God’s promise – the coming to the world of He Who was foretold and promised for so many generations, our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ.
It is remarkable to realize that you and I are able to stand here this morning – recipients of the fulfillment of the promise of God. You and I have been blessed to live in these ‘New Testament times’ to know the outcome of this long awaited promise from God – the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not only that, but as Orthodox Christians we are invited to partake of that great and holy Mystical Supper which brings us into such intimate contact with God that even the holy prophets could scarcely imagine.
And what should be our response to this great blessing and mercy? Are we heroes of the faith? Are we those of whom the world is not worthy? Do we treasure and hold our faith as something more dear to us than life itself? This is most certainly our calling…
We are gathered here today on the cusp of a new year. We are gathered here today a week away from the blessed celebration of the Nativity of Christ. These both signify new beginnings and contain the opportunity for a fresh start. What do we hope for in the new year?
Earlier this week we celebrated our holy father Herman of Alaska. We spoke about his words to his compatriots, urging them to reflect upon what is most important in life. He asked these men whether they loved God. All answered that surely, they did… how can one not love God?
Father Herman protested to them, ‘And I a sinner have been trying for more than forty years to love God, I cannot say that I love Him completely.’ He then began to demonstrate to them the way in which we should love God. ‘If we love someone,’ he said, ‘we always remember them; we try to please them. Day and night our heart is concerned with the subject. Is that the way you gentlemen love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and fulfill His holy commandments?’ They had to admit that they had not! ‘For our own good, and for our own fortune,’ concluded the Elder, ‘let us at least promise ourselves that from this day, from this hour, from this very minute we will try to love God more than anything and to fulfill His Holy Will!’
Brothers and sisters in Christ, what indeed could be more important than this love of God above all other things? What greater resolution can we make as we face the new year?
As we look ahead to this new year and as we stand watch this week for the great and glorious feast of the Nativity of Christ, let us reflect on and appreciate the generations of holy and righteous ones who so resolutely loved God… giving everything they had to Him, including their very lives, for that pearl beyond price – the Truth of God.
We, as Orthodox Christians, have received an inheritance beyond measure. As we sing at the end of each Divine Liturgy ‘We have seen the True Light, we have received the Heavenly Spirit, we have found the True Faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity, for He hath saved us.’
May God preserve us from all slothful indifference, from blind and preoccupied worldliness, and from our spiritual insensitivity which indeed make us unworthy heirs of the inheritance of Christ. And may we awaken to understand and treasure and begin struggling to live up to our great and rich inheritance – established by God, prophesied and anticipated by the Holy Fathers of the Old Testament, suffered for and preserved by the Holy Fathers of the New Testament, and received and entrusted to you and me. May we make our new year’s resolution to love God above all and to strive to do His holy will from this day, from this hour, from this minute! May God bless you!