Glory to Jesus Christ!
Today, my friends, as we stand at the threshold of joyous feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have the Sunday of the Holy Fathers, this last Sunday before the Nativity.
Of course last Sunday we celebrated the Sunday of the Forefathers, and now this Sunday we have the Sunday of the Fathers. And a common – and very understandable question – is: what is the difference? It’s a good question.
In one sense, there’s very little difference. Both Sundays concern themselves with the family lineage of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh. Today’s Gospel, in fact, is simply Saint Matthew’s recitation of the genealogy of the Lord, starting from Abraham, and going through the generations to our Lord Himself. The over-arching commemoration of these two weeks is the importance of family, to our Lord and to all of us.
In another sense, there is a distinction made during these two weeks between the fore-fathers, that is the ancient patriarchs and all those forebears of the Lord up to the time Abraham, and then, the fathers, beginning with the line of Abraham, the father of all Israel. We hear, after all, the genealogy of our Lord today, commencing from our Father Abraham.
So we have this distinction between the fore-fathers, the more ancient ancestors, and the fathers, or the more recent – after a manner of speaking – more recent ancestors. It’s a distinction of time, of proximity – of closeness – rather than of any inherent quality of the person.
The same can be said for the over-riding lesson that the Church wants us, her children, to learn and to make our own during this week. The lesson for this week concerns time, proximity, closeness. For the great feast of the Nativity has grown very close. And though we’ve been preparing for it during the Nativity fast, now for nearly the past six weeks, it will be upon us before we know it.
Time is short for preparation, and there is such a richness of the lessons of preparation and of expectation that we can really understand Saint Paul’s delcaration in the Epistle reading when he says, “[W]hat shall I yet say? For the time would fail me to tell.”
There is still so much more that we could do, still so much more to learn before the Nativity… 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 we have only a few short days, 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.
“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.
Our Lord extends to us the invitation just as He did to Abraham. If we set out in faith in obedience to the call of the Lord, we, too, will discover the place left for our inheritance: that place which has foundation, the city whose builder and maker is God – the Church rightly called One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.
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.
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 can give ourselves wholly and completely unto Him and be refashioned, and be created anew.
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.