My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ, glory forever.
Today, as we stand at the very threshold of the most joyous and august feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, we have the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, this last Sunday before the Nativity, and this year, the very last day of our preparation, the very last day of our Nativity Fast.
(Of course in the west, the celebration of the Nativity continues, and today is the celebration of the most august feast of the Epiphany. It is truly a confluence – a flowing together – of grace and of lessons which we are to learn, east and west.
In genuine fact, there is so much to consider, such a great richness of the lessons of preparation and of expectation that the Church offers to her children on this day, that I can only personally echo what Saint Paul says in today’s epistle when he says, “And what shall I yet say? For the time would fail me to tell” of all of those things which could be said.
And, in truth, isn’t that always the way? At the first, the days seem to pass slowly, even ponderously, and yet there is a certain sweetness within them and within their new-ness. Then, as we progress, the days move much more quickly, one after the other, sometimes with greater or lesser challenges, but each in their course. Even in the midst of one’s daily duty, there is a comforting sameness, and that even as the days quickly follow one after the other.
And then, almost suddenly, we find ourselves at the very brink of our destination, as we do today. And when we arrive, no matter how firmly we may have sought – daily – to prepare ourselves, we can’t help but feel a certain shock at how suddenly the day has arrived. We can’t help but think that it seems like only yesterday that we began the journey, and now we are here. There is still so much more that we could do, still so much more to learn… and yet the time fails us.
But our Lord, Who is master of all time, does not fail us. His grace is sufficient. And though it be even but a few short hours, we still have the time to prepare ourselves to receive our Lord God and Saviour.
And that’s what Saint Paul is telling us today. In today’s Epistle he recounts the many ways in which the forbears of our Lord prepared the way of the Lord. And part and parcel of preparing the way of the Lord is preparing oneself to receive the Lord worthily. And so we hear in the Epistle today of the preparation that God’s people – and specifically God’s prophets and the patriarchs – underwent.
And, as time will fail us all if we spend a great amount of time right now in delving into the many good and grace-filled works of the patriarchs, let it suffice simply to look at one of them, and to let that be our lesson today. And that one is the very first one of which Saint Paul speaks today: the example of our Holy Father Abraham.
Saint Paul tell us, “By faith he that is called Abraham, obeyed to go out into a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.”
So it is for us, my dear friends. We do not know what the future will hold. We do not know what trials – or what triumphs – await us as we journey daily in faith with our Lord. And yet we go. We must. For our home is not to be found here in this fallen world, but in the world to come. This is the place which we are to receive for an inheritance, if we will only – by faith – obey to follow our Lord where He will lead us.
Saint Paul continues, “By faith he abode in the land, dwelling in cottages, with Isaac and Jacob, the co-heirs of the same promise. ”
By faith we are to dwell in this land of our exile, and we dwell with each other, all of those who are likewise following the call of the Lord in obedience. We dwell together in harmony as we make together the journey of faith.
“For he looked for a city that hath foundations; whose builder and maker is God.”
And so we all must look, my dear friends! We look for the city that hath foundations; whose builder and maker is God.
And we are to understand this in two ways, my friends. Firstly, that city that hath foundation, that city whose builder and maker is God is none other than the Church. For those who dwell in it are human, but the edifice, the institution is divine and infallible. There are many today who are seeking this Church, looking for it among the differing schools of thought, being swayed this way and that by human rhetoric and human invention.
The Church remains, my dear friends. It is here. Our Lord extends the invitation to you as He did to Abraham. Set out in faith in obedience to the call of the Lord and you, too, will discover the city that hath foundation, the city whose builder and maker is God – the Church rightly called One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic by the inspiration and direction of the Holy Spirit.
Secondarily, though, our own hearts are to be those cities with foundation, those cities whose builder and maker is God. For God truly desires to reign within us, He truly desires to build His Kingdom within us, and He can do that only if we have within ourselves a heart which is truly open unto Him, truly founded upon His truth, truly built up by His grace, and truly made new through the purifying action of His Most Precious Blood, shed unto the remission of sins and life everlasting.
Thus we have the dual lesson, that this city of God is both exterior – the Church, and interior – our hearts. Here we see both the preparation and the consummation of the life of faithful obedience, that life to which we are called, which has been exemplified by the penances and the ascetic labours of the Nativity Fast, which we in obedience to the will of God have undertaken, and at the end of which we now stand, ready to take the next step into the glorious celebration that awaits us in the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
We follow our Lord in faithful obedience each day, trusting in Him. He knows our hearts, and He knows our weaknesses. Through this walking in faithful obedience to our Lord, in imitation of the Holy Fathers, we see that even failings can be turned into something from which our Lord may bring victory and grace. We see that in today’s Holy Gospel.
For we see within the generations enumerated by Saint Matthew, we see in this book of the generation of our Lord, that the Evangelist points out in a few instances specific things to know or people to remember.
We will just take one for an example. Saint Matthew points out towards the very beginning: “And Judas begot Phares and Zara of Thamar.” Now remember that Thamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah, and was the wife of his son Er. When Er died childless, Judah married her to another of his sons, Onan. But when Onan was cut down on account of his wickedness, Judah did not marry her to any of his other sons.
But Thamar, desiring to have a child of the seed of Abraham, put off her widows garments, dressed as a harlot and came together with her father-in-law and with him conceived twin boys.
This is not an example for anyone to imitate. And yet from this lineage comes the royal line in which was born Christ the Lord, according to the flesh.
Because God – and God alone by his grace – can take that which is sin and refashion it, re-create it, and make it into a foundation upon which His city may be built. So each and every one of us, no matter what we have done, no matter where we come from, no matter what our roots are, we can give ourselves wholly and completely unto Him and be refashioned, and be created anew, for we hear and we see this in relation to the generation of our Lord and King Jesus Christ.
As I have said many times before, and now say again: Our Lord does not say: By their roots ye shall know them, but rather by the fruits.
So let us, as we enter into the celebration of the Nativity, let us as we prepare ourselves so that our hearts may be the gifts which we offer unto the Babe at Bethlehem. Let us prepare and let us offer, so that grafted onto Him, who is the True Vine, we may ourselves bring forth abundant good fruits.
And let us give thanks to almighty God. For every grace. For every movement of grace. For every call of His grace. For all of the gifts which He has offered to us. And let us rejoice – for God is with us.