Sunday After Nativity – The Righteous Kinsmen of the Lord
On this Sunday after the feast of the Nativity, the Holy Church commemorates the righteous kinsmen of the Lord – David the King, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the brother of the Lord. This is surely one of the great mysteries and miracles of the Nativity of Christ – that the Creator of all that is, should stoop to entwine Himself into the lives of His creatures so intimately, that He would make them His family.
Each of these great men that we commemorate today - David the King, Joseph the Betrothed, and James the brother of the Lord – demonstrate virtues which we would do well to recognize and imitate... We see in David the virtue of repentance and prayer, in Joseph the virtue of obedience and guardianship, and in James the virtue of acceptance of the will of God.
David the King is that remarkable ancestor of the Lord who we know from the Old Testament and whose voice we hear echoing in all of our prayers and church services as we read from his beautiful Psalms. David was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse. God had ordered the Prophet Samuel to go to Bethlehem to visit Jesse and anoint one of his sons as the new king. Each of the seven older brothers were presented before Samuel, but none were identified as the Chosen One. Samuel finally asked if there might be yet another son and David was called in from the fields where he was tending the sheep. Samuel was told by God that it was David who should be anointed. Even though the older brothers were taller, stronger, and more mature, we read the following: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)
Think about that statement for a moment… “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We see this spiritual truth over and over again in the dealings of God. He seeks out the lowly and meek of heart, the obscure and unlikely, and in their weakness He raises them up to great and wonderful things.
What room is there for God to manifest His holy will in our lives if all of our energy and attention is preoccupied with our own will, with our illusions of our own power and accomplishments? We work frantically to fill the bucket of our life with our accomplishments and controlling things according to our will. What room does this leave for the workings and will of God? It is only when the bucket is emptied that it has any capacity to be filled with something far better – the Grace of our Lord. This emptying capacity is the unifying thread we see among the three men we honor today… they had the courage and the wisdom to hear the promptings of God in their hearts… hearts that were humble and open to attending to God.
Our second kinsman of the Lord is Joseph the Betrothed. Joseph was of the lineage of King David and, as we know, was the protector and guardian of the Holy Virgin Mary and our Lord Jesus Christ. Joseph was an elderly man and a relative of the young Virgin Mary who had dedicated herself to God – being raised within the temple. Joseph was a widower with children from an earlier marriage which included James, Jude, Simon, and others. These were the ‘brothers and sisters of the Lord’ whom we hear about.
Today’s Gospel reading illustrates for us the attentiveness and obedience of our holy father Joseph. Joseph was visited by and listened to the angel of the Lord who reassured him that Mary, though pregnant, was pure and remain a virgin. He was warned by an angel to take the Young Child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, staying there until he heard word that it was safe to return. Joseph immediately obeys and escorts the Virgin Mary and our Lord on their journey into that foreign land. Joseph obeyed God and remained in exile until an angel of the Lord appeared calling him back. He followed the promptings of God and brought our Lord to the city of Nazareth where He lived and grew until the time of His ministry.
Joseph’s obedience and humility are a tremendous lesson for us. Joseph was attuned to God such that he was granted the divine visitations of God’s angels and he was humble enough to respond to the promptings and will of the Lord. His attentiveness and sense of guardianship toward the young virgin Mary and the Christ Child are also a lesson for us… for haven’t we been taught that we bear the image of Christ within us, and indeed, if we are partakers of the Body and Blood of Christ, we carry our Lord within our bodies. It is incumbent upon us to be like St Joseph… conscious of the responsibility we have to guard this Precious Treasure and keeping our spiritual senses open to listen at all times to the promptings of God.
James the brother of the Lord, whose memory we also celebrate today, became the first bishop of Jerusalem and was an important figure in the life of the early church. We see many references in the writings of Apostle Paul regarding how disputes were brought before the council of Apostles and Fathers of the Church and how James, as bishop, mediated and pronounced judgment – showing the good order and hierarchy of the church even in these earliest of times. James inspires us with a vision of the good order of the earliest days of the Orthodox Church when, already, bishops were placed to lead their flocks and, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they came together in council to resolve issues and discern the truth and will of the Holy Spirit.
James, who exhibited great humility and who did not seek a place of honor, is given the place of honor as bishop of Jerusalem. Again, we see the workings and the wisdom of the Lord… in our weakness we are made strong. It is only the ground that is broken that can take the seed of faith and bring forth fruit.
Let us look to these wondrous kinsmen of the Lord: David the King, who was the least of his brethren and was made first, who gives us the voice of prayer and repentance in his beautiful psalms; Joseph the Betrothed, who took upon himself the guardianship of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child and attended to the voice of God with obedience and love; and James the Brother of the Lord, a humble Apostle and follower of his Divine Cousin, who accepted the will of God and took on the yoke of leadership in the Church as bishop of Jerusalem.
The Church presents to us the virtues we see in the kinsmen of the Lord: of prayer and repentance as exhibited by King David, of guardianship and obedience as shown by Joseph the Betrothed, and humility and acceptance of the will of God as exemplified by James the Brother of the Lord.
We have hope, my brothers and sisters in Christ… we have hope as we look upon the key ingredient that God uses to bring forth spiritual fruit. He is not looking for the strong and mighty tree upon which he will graft these spiritual fruits. He is looking for the broken and fertile ground in which He may plant the seeds of virtue.
May God grant it for each and every one of us!