The Sunday before the Nativity of Christ
By Faith, we are all heirs; by Faith, we are all brothers and sisters.
In Saint Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews, we learn of the indispensability of Faith. Saint Paul knows this directly from Christ, for he was granted to experience the Risen and Triumphant Christ. Despite Paul being a zealous persecutor of Christ's fledgling Church, Christ chose Paul for a Divine Purpose. Although a self-proclaimed "Hebrew of Hebrews," Christ chose Paul, of all people, to be the "Apostle to the Nations." In Saint Paul's letter today, we learn why.
No one had a greater pedigree than Paul to speak about his people, his faith, and his lineage. Yet, by God's Grace, and Divine Enlightenment, Paul finally understood the true purpose of his beloved Israel. The chosen people were to be kept intact, distinct, and together through the centuries, unto the appointed time of the expected Messiah for the salvation of the world.
Yes, the Jews were an ethnicity according to flesh and blood marked to fulfill their purpose. However, in them, we are also granted to see the New Israel, the Church. To explain this, Saint Paul does not go back just to Moses. Saint Paul goes back to Abraham. This is crucial, for Moses brought the Law, but before the Great Prophet Moses, there was Faith through Father Abraham. Man was anterior to the Law, and, therefore, superior to the Law, for God gave the Law to serve man. Man was not to the serve the Law.
From Moses on, the People of God were under the Law, but Abraham was before Moses, and Abraham was under the Promise of God to make his descendents more numerous than the stars in the Heavens and the grains of sand by the seas. What was before has seniority and priority. Abraham was under the Promise before Moses was under the Law, so the Promise was anterior and superior.
At the time of Moses, the Law was necessary, but it was not sufficient. Remember, Moses saw, but did not enter, the promised land. Joshua the Son of Nun, as the prefigurement of Jesus the Son of God, was the one who led his people into the promised land. As Moses whose name in Egyptian was incomplete (“Son of…”), so was the Law incomplete. Yet, just as Moses was necessary for salvation history, so was the Law.
Abraham was called by God to lead his people to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. Through Faith, and in obedience, Abraham responded to God's call to leave all he had to go to where he would have the true inheritance. In Faith, Abraham got up and travelled. Abraham and his people were sojourners, pilgrims in time, passing through the land to the promised land. In Faith, Abraham knew God would protect, deliver, and save his people, not just for now or for a place, but for eternity and for Heaven.
In Faith, Abraham knew that God could, and would, deliver or resurrect his son, Isaac, from death if necessary, and indeed, when in Faith, Abraham offered his only son, divinely conceived from his barren wife, in sacrifice to God, God delivered Isaac and substituted a ram caught in the wood of the bush.
Thus, through Faith, through Abraham, Faith personified, we are delivered and resurrected through the only divinely conceived Son of a Virgin Who was caught up on the Wood of the Cross as the Sacrifice in substitute for us. It was by Abraham's Faith that Isaac was delivered from death, and it is by our Faith, as spiritual heirs of Abraham, that we are delivered from death.
Through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we have the revered Patriarchs, the Holy Ancestors of Christ, as to the human lineage, created and assumed, by Christ. As Orthodox Christians, we have a beautiful Icon of the Three Patriarchs, and the last Patriarch, Jacob, who wrestled with God, holds in his hand, an Icon of Christ. This mystery is profound and powerful.
Christ, before time and space, created the Patriarchs, and yet, in time and space, Christ descended from them. He was before, and yet, He chose to come after. He is the Progenitor, and yet, He chose to become a descendent. This is an incredible mystery, an Ineffable Wonder. This is the Infinite Love of God, that He chose to empty Himself of all His Glory to become One with us in order to save us, to become Man by His Love, so we can become Gods by His Grace.
Yes, Love overcomes all, but Love must be received. It is Sacrificial, but we can reject It or accept It. God gives us free will. The choice is ours. We can respond to God's call and follow. Or we can ignore it or reject it. Abraham was a great man. He could have rejected God's call. He was comfortable. He did not need to take risk and trust. However, Abraham loved God and responded in Faith. He knew--that no matter what--God would provide; just as God did after he told his beloved, miraculously conceived son, Isaac, before he was about to sacrifice him.
Due to Abraham's Faith, before the Law, God provided for him, Isaac, and Jacob. He protected them throughout their sojourn from land to land from their enemies and all manners of trials and tribulations. We must remember that Abraham's descendants were not from flesh and blood. Sarah was barren, well beyond the years of childbearing. Nonetheless, she miraculously conceived Isaac.
Abraham's bondservant, Hagar, conceived Ishmael, but Abraham's chosen lineage was through Isaac not Ishmael. Ishmael represented flesh and blood. Isaac represented spirit and grace. Ishmael represented an earthly promised land. Isaac represented a Heavenly Promised Land.
It would be from the son of the barren one that the Old Israel would descend, and it would be from the Son of the Virgin, that the New Israel would descend--the former, represented the earthly and ephemeral, while the latter signified the Heavenly and eternal. Thus, it is not by blood, but by spirit, that we are saved. Law and Judgment came through Moses, but Grace and Mercy came through Jesus Christ.
Saint Paul reminds all peoples that we are all heirs of the promise through Father Abraham by Faith. In spirit and Faith, our pedigree goes much farther back than Moses. Abraham gave up what was before and near him for what was after and beyond him. Abraham left all to receive all. Abraham gave up what could be seen for what could not be seen. He gladly chose to dwell in tents, so that one day his descendents could dwell in the Heavens.
He chose to sojourn for now, to dwell for eternity in place. Willingly accepting the tents put up by human hands for the present, Abraham had his eye on the Heavenly City whose foundations were not built by human hands. By Faith, Abraham knew he was just passing through this world. Thus, he sought the true homeland where lies the eternal and infinite abode built by God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we cannot take credit for our human lineage, our pedigree, or our genes. They are of flesh and blood. Therefore, it will all inexorably and inevitably come to an end. Is that all you want? Is that your destiny? No, your destiny is for eternity not by flesh and blood but by spirit and grace. By spirit and grace, you are an heir for eternity, not for a time. By spirit and grace, you are an heir for infinity, not a locality. Your true homeland is above. Like Abraham, you are just passing through. Do you logically think otherwise?
In Faith, Abraham left everything behind, looking forward to the eternity that lies ahead. The less you have, the easier it is to travel through this world until we make it to the Heavenly Promised Land. The more you have, the harder it is. Thus, Abraham tented, knowing that this life was only temporary.
Thus, our Orthodox Churches remind us with its interior vaulting. As the New Israel, we are only tenting here for a time, to make it above for eternity, and we know this comes by Faith in, and by the Grace of, Jesus Christ, the Son of God the Father Whom we entreat in our prayer to the Holy Spirit to “tent amongst us.” May we be a spiritual heir to Father Abraham through Faith and Promise and an inheritor of the Heavenly Kingdom through Truth and Grace.
Yours in Christ, our Incarnate Lord, God, and Saviour,
“Christ is Born; Glorify Him!”