16 - The Genealogies of Christ. The Sunday Before Christmas, Dec 22,2013

Hebrews 11:9-10, 17-23, 32-40

Matthew 1:1-25

I note with wonder the attention Holy Scripture gives to genealogies. [St Gregory Palamas explains that it is because "the whole of divinely inspired Scripture was written because of the Virgin Mother of God. It relates in detail the entire line of her ancestry," from Genesis to the Gospels, because from her the LORD receives our human nature to become flesh.  I.e., without her there is no Incarnation, and therefore, no salvation. Homily 57.8] I have observed that knowing one’s ancestry grounds a person; it gives him a sense of identity, providing a stabilizing and calming influence on the psyche in the midst of soul-destroying influences of pop culture. Something “from above” that is good for us to set our minds on, as St Paul exhorts us to do (Col 3:1), would be this wonderful lesson of Christmas: the genealogies of Christ, given in St Matthew and St Luke, are our genealogies, we who have been united to Christ in the Church’s sacramental mysteries.

Of the OT saints we read of in this morning’s epistle, St Paul says: “And all these…did not receive the promise…that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” I take from this that these saints of the OT are our grandpas and grandmas, our uncles and aunts in Christ; they were not granted the promise until we could all receive it together as one holy family. The promise, of course, is Christ and all that His coming in the flesh means: viz., that those who receive Him are lifted up to become members in body and soul of this holy Family of God that stretches from end to end of the universe and from the beginning to the end of the world. The ancestors of God have become our ancestors, the saints have become our brothers and sisters, for we have all become one Family through our having been united to Christ in the sacramental mysteries of the Church.

How grounded would we be, what would be our sense of identity, what influence would it have on our souls if we knew that this genealogy of Christ is ours through our baptism, that having been born “from above”, we are now members of this holy Family of God?

The LORD once gave a parable of a treasure hiding in the field. The treasure, of course, is Christ. The field is all the genealogies of the world. The genealogy of Christ is the treasure chest that holds the treasure that is Christ. Christ’s worldly genealogy is the treasure chest because of His “genealogy”, if we can dare to speak thus, on His Father’s side (cf. Homily 57, St Gregory Palamas). That “genealogy” is quite short, and it goes straight up to heaven. You can’t trace it in time through worldly generations. In fact, Holy Scripture doesn’t speak of a genealogy on the side of Christ’s Father. “Who can declare His generation?” says the prophet, Isaiah (Isa 53:8). St Paul likens Him to Melchizedek in the epistle to the Hebrews, who was without genealogy (agenealogetos). (Heb 7:3) Genealogies are traced back through surnames, but there is no surname for the God of Israel (like there are for the gods of other nations and religions), as the LORD gives Jacob to understand. (Gn 32:29) Moreover, the Son has no Father that was before Him, for He is begotten eternally of His Father before all ages, before all times. (Hom 57, St GregPal) There never was a “time” when the Son of God was not, or when God was not the Father of the Son. Nor does the Son differ in any respect from the Father, except that He is the only-begotten Son of the Father. And so, Christ’s “genealogy” on His Father’s side ends right where it begins: in God the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, who made heaven and earth through His only-begotten Son, our LORD Jesus Christ.

All this is what makes the genealogy of Christ on His mother’s side so precious, this genealogy that goes back into time – St Luke traces it all the way to Adam, and from Adam to God (Lk 3:38, showing, so St Gregory Palamas opines, that, though created, Adam was a son of God in the Spirit, since he received the Spirit of God at the same time he received the quickening soul – Hom 57). It means that in the field of all the families that exist and have ever existed in the world throughout its many ages, there is one family in that field that contains within its loins a very special seed. What, who is that seed, though? For, we cannot say that it is the Seed of God. That seed is Christ, and He is in the bosom of God the Father. (Jn 1:18) He is not in the loins of Abraham or King David. What, who would be this seed that was in the loins of Abraham and King David, and all the rest?

St Paul writes in Galatians: “”Know that the sons of Abraham are those who are [born] of faith,” (Gal 3:7), which leads me to believe that there is an earthy “seed of God” found in the loins of Abraham. It is the seed of faith that receives Christ, the divine Seed of God. Does not Our Lord Himself liken faith to a mustard seed? (Mat 17:20, Lk 17:6) But, of course, the faithful “know” (using St Paul’s word) that the earthy seed of God who embodies the mystery of faith perfectly is the Panagia, the Most Holy Virgin. For, born of righteous parents in faith, she would receive through the righteousness of her faith the divine Seed of God, Christ, into her womb, to become Theotokos, the Mother of God the Son who, like Melchizedek, was without a mother. (Heb 7:3)

Note how St Matthew ends his genealogy to make clear that Joseph is not the father whose seed sired the LORD Jesus Christ. In all the other generations, St Matthew says, “so and so begat so and so.” But, when he comes to the generation of Joseph, he says: “Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary (more technically, for our cultural understanding, the betrothed, or the engaged of Mary, since in Hebrew culture, those who were engaged were already referred to as husband and wife), and from her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” (Mt 1:16) St Matthew (1:23) refers us to the prophecy of Isaiah, “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and she will bear a Son, and you will call His Name (i.e. His Being) Immanuel,” which means God is with us. (Isa 7:14) And further on, he says: “And Joseph, even up to the point she gave birth, did not know her,” not at all meaning that Joseph knew the Blessed Virgin after she gave birth, but to make absolutely clear by means of this Greek idiom that Joseph had nothing to do with the conception of Christ in the Virgin’s womb in any way. For, the Panagia was ever-Virgin. She is the “unwedded bride” of God. The brothers and sisters of Christ we read of in the Gospel were his stepbrothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Joseph from a previous marriage; or, they were his cousins, since in Jewish culture even cousins were called brothers and sisters.

The Virgin birth of Christ, of course, is unbelievable, even foolish to unbelievers; but it reveals the soul-restoring, life-creating and healing beauty of the Gospel to those who believe. Through His Mother, the Son of God through whom all things were made, who is without genealogy, who is without a mother, who is Himself the very radiance of the Glory of God (Heb 1:3), the heavenly font of divine Grace and Truth (Jn 1:18) – through His Mother, this Son of God becomes flesh as we are and becomes one with us (Heb 2:14), the Son of Man, the God-Man.

What does this say about us, but that it is natural for us to receive God so that He dwells in us, and we in Him. It tells us that we are meant to be temples of God, covered with the Glory of God. It tells us how much God loved us, that He would share in our flesh and blood because He was grieved to see us lost and perishing, and so He did not cease to do everything until He had restored us to heaven, which meant that He had to endure the agony of the Cross in order to destroy death by His death (Heb 2:14), so that as He united Himself to us in our death, becoming sin for us, we could be united to Him in His Holy Resurrection and live in Him and become partakers of His own divine nature (II Pt 1:4), as we were meant to do in the beginning. (cf. Gn 2:16 & Jn 6:53)

The first story of the bible ends with the tragedy of the LORD God driving Adam and Eve out of the Garden. He placed the cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every way, it says, to guard the way to the Tree of Life. (Gn 3:23-24) For, Adam and Eve were no longer holy. The smell of death hung on them, for they were now cursed to return to the dust of the ground whence they were taken because of their disobedience. But, the last story of the Bible that begins with the Gospel of Christmas lifts the  the veil and reveals the love of God that was hiding already in the tragedy of that first story.

For, did the prophets know that in the curse, “To the dust you shall return,” was hidden a prophecy of the Resurrection of the very Word of God who uttered it? It was therefore a prophecy of Christmas, for how could there be Resurrection from the dead unless the Word of God became flesh, and how could it be the Word of God who became flesh if He was not born of a Virgin? The LORD cursed the serpent and spoke the first Gospel of Christmas: “I will put enmity between thee and the serpent, between thy seed and her seed (Christmas). It shall bruise your head (the Resurrection) and you shall bruise His heel (Christ’s death on the Cross).”  (Gen 3:13 & 19). Moreover, the woman was called Eve, the Mother of all Living, a prophecy of the Blessed Virgin who would truly become the Mother of all the living when she became Theotokos, the Mother of God the Son, Christ the LORD.

The Gospel of Christmas is the revelation of the love of God that has fulfilled that “promise” for which the OT saints and all the saints hoped, in a way that caught all the hosts of heaven by surprise: the LORD Himself becomes flesh, and lo, “The middle wall of the ancient enmity is now destroyed by Thy coming in the flesh, O Christ,” the Church sings on Christmas Eve, and look! “The flaming sword now gives way before all who approach,” do we not draw near the Chalice of Christ’s life-giving body and blood in the fear of God, with faith and love? “And I partake in faith of the life-giving tree in Eden, becoming once again a gardener of immortal plants.”

St Matthew traces Christ’s maternal back to Abraham, St Luke back to Adam. Between the two, the genealogies of Christ are traced back to the “earthy” seed of Abraham, the seed of faith, the seed of the Theotokos; and, to the dust of the ground in Adam – i.e., to the mystery of death that in Christ, the New Adam, has become the font of our resurrection, the womb, if you will, of our being born of the Spirit from heaven above as children of God, children of the New Eve, the Mother of God, the Mother of all the Living, members of this holy Family of God the Father through our sacramental and life-creating union with Christ our LORD and Savior.

Beloved faithful, in this joy of Christmas, the Church calls out to us who love Christ and His holy, gracious appearing from the Panagia, the All Holy and Most Blessed Virgin Theotokos: “Raising our minds on high, let us go in spirit to Bethlehem, and with the eyes of our soul let us look upon the Virgin as she hastens to the cave to give birth to our God, the LORD of all…For, Eden is opened once again!” (Festal Menaion, p. 201) God is With Us! Beloved faithful, let us understand, and let us submit ourselves to this joy, this beauty, this glory of the Gospel of Christmas: “God is With Us!”

Amen. Most Holy Theotokos, save us! Glory to Jesus Christ! Christ is born! Glorify Him!