St. Silouan the Athonite Mission Parish

Sermons

Sunday 20 December 2009
by Fr Roberto Ubertino

The genesis of Jesus Christ son of David son of Abraham who was the father of Isaac, who was the father of Jacob, who was the father of Judah, who was the father of Perez, who was the father of Zerah…

The Gospel of the Sunday that immediately precedes the feast of Christmas is known for its lengthy list of unpronounceable names. I am sure many are the faithful, who at some point in their lives, have wondered why do we have to stand and listen for 10 minutes to just a list of names? How is that going to make me a better Orthodox Christian and why does the Gospel of Matthew begin with this?

By the time the Gospels where written there was already in some circles of Christians a danger of making the person of Jesus into a myth, a kind of super hero. This would have, in the end, denied the Incarnation and turned Christ into yet another mythological figure of human history. The Gospel of Matthew was addressed to the Jews who had converted to Christianity. The Gospel needed to affirm to them, as it does to our generations, that Christ is God made flesh, that he is fully human not just because he has two legs and two arms but because he has a history. He is human, because he shares a past with previous generations. We tend to think of ourselves in individualistic terms but in the Scriptures to be human means to exist with / for others, to have a family, to have a personal history that you are part of, (that is often the real poverty of the people at this Mission and why we must be an ORTHODOX MISSION with them).

There is in the Gospel that we heard today this detail that some Fathers describe as the noose on which God hanged the devil, the rhythmic beat of the list of names suddenly changes grammatical tempo and so we hear and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ. There is a clear intention to set apart this conception and birth that, yes, while this birth is in total solidarity with the past it is clearly something new and different, that this birth is not simply yet another birth. In fact it’s what all the previous generations have led up to. It should be noted that included in this list of names are people who were clearly big sinners. Why?

Last week I told you how the Church wants us to understand that in becoming human God completely and perfectly assumes our human nature with all its implications. Everything that is human is assumed by God in Christ. Nothing that is human is not assumed by God. This is for the sole purpose of healing that human nature and this includes the past. But we continue to experience each day the weight of generational sins, the sins of our ancestors that are passed on and where each generation simply adds its own pain. When we look at the world as it is today and have the honesty to look at what is going on, it’s hard not to feel discouraged. The world, for the most part, looks a lot like the world would look if Christ never came.

So how can we claim that there is healing in this world and that this healing can also heal the past? I believe that in our world there are two realities happening at the same time. The one we hear in the news, or read in our history books, the CEO’s, the Harrods, the banks, the generals, the politicians all unceasingly quoted and the other reality - more hidden at times, almost imperceptible - the reality of healing and the possibility of forgiveness that embraces all mankind. Faith consists in choosing to believe in the power of the latter over the first. Now do we really believe?

Frankly, I don’t believe our faith is required in great miracles so rare in our time any way. We are not asked to believe in the miracles of tortillas with St. Nicholas on them, or Christmas tree cuttings with icons in them, or other such supernatural distractions that today plague even pious Orthodox publications and websites. Rather, the test is in the choice between faith or despair and this done in the apparently insignificant moments of our daily life.

For example:

  • when you work with Mother Silouana and try to learn what it is to forgive including people in your past…
  • or, when a daughter reaches out to a mother from whom she has been estranged for decades…
  • or, when you became aware of certain habits or attitudes that you have inherited and that are now hurting your children and so you begin to really seek ways to change this destructive behaviour…
  • at the bakery we have a baker who screams a lot and we try to remember that this is due to his violent abusive upbringing and try to work with this man rather than just fire him…

All these apparently small insignificant realities of our life, when opened up by faith, became pregnant with the grace of the Holy Spirit but like a tiny seed they can easily be swept aside.

These seeds of the word, the logikoi spermatikoi, as the Fathers’ call them, are, since the Incarnation, seeds also of hope and they are found everywhere and do not always come in Orthodox glitter wrappings. In fact wherever human beings attempt to forgive each other, or heal the past there we see the presence of the Kingdom of God. For these humble attempts would not even be imaginable without Christ. We think of Rwanda the many stories of sacrifice people did for their so-called enemy / South America / South Africa / among the natives of this country, the people in Palestine and Israel all these unsung simple people who on both sides of conflicts work in their lives for healing and reconciliation. None of these attempts would be possible with out the Incarnation. Our martyria, our witness, as Orthodox Christians is to show to all people that, wherever people truly try to forgive and heal the past mistakes, Grace has preceded them. To name who the author is of their efforts and of course to live it ourselves IS FAR HARDER.

When we enter into other cultures, we can see how Christianity has opened for humanity the possibility of redemption, of reconciliation and healing among peoples – a different way of understanding the past, a freedom from the necessities of history. Today we listened once again to the genealogy of Christ, standing for ten minutes hearing names that are hard to pronounce. Today, this multitude of generations is brought into the sphere of God’s mercy. This should give us hope and a vision that sees in the simple hidden realities of daily life, like the cry of a little baby, the power and wisdom of God.

 

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