Homily: New Year’s Resolution – Sunday before the Nativity

Sunday before the Nativity
Hebrews 11:9-10,17-23,32-40
St. Matthew 1:1-25

On this first day of the year, we look backwards and forwards; taking stock of what has gone before and and deciding what to do in the year to come.  It is the same with today’s Epistle and Gospel readings.

Looking backwards
The first thing we notice when reading today’s scriptures is all those names.  We are looking backwards through time to remember and evaluate what has happened up to this point in history.  There are so many things that we can learn from this genealogical history – today I want to focus on what it says about charity.  Those of us who have studied the Hebrew Bible are familiar with the deeds of many of those described in today’s readings.  What stands out when we reflect on their lives is that the were very real people.  I don’t just mean that they had flesh and blood and walked the earth at such and such time, but that they sometimes did things that don’t look so good.  Some people use this as an excuse to dismiss the scriptures.  We know better.  We know that it is not their mistakes that are being held up for us to emulate, but their faith.  We find it immensely reassuring that God accomplished such wondrous things through His fallen people [more on this later].  

The references to the “ancestors of God” in today’s readings serve as a model how we categorize, value, and interact with all the people in our lives.  Charity sees the good in others, despite their shortcomings.  “The strong must bear the burdens of the weak” (Romans 15:1) is a good gateway verse as it engages and begins to train our pride (it is spiritual milk/ice cream); but the stronger approach is that we are in need of such charity ourselves, even more powerfully, that everyone is made in God’s image and has His breath animating their lives.  Everyone really is worthy of love no matter how they have tarnished the image of God within them.  The point of naming all these lives is to show how God works through His fallen people to accomplish truly great things.  Rather than dismissing the ancestors of God for their sins, we are called to recognize celebrate their faith and their role in salvation history; and in so doing, we are called to recognize and celebrate the way God is working through all His people (no matter how fallen).

… and seeing the present
The second part of today’s Gospel takes us right up to the birth of Christ.  All of history led up to this single point – a radical singularity of cosmic significance.  God became incarnate as a man in Bethlehem of Judea.  The one who is outside of time and matter joined Himself to it to redeem it; the one who is undefinable and incomprehensible translated Himself into something we could see and touch.  [hymnography of the Church captures this the best, riffing on these themes over and over again]  But this happened two thousand years ago – what is the point of celebrating it again and again?  Are we historians?  No.  We are realists.  The singularity is here – Christ is born within each of us.  Just as He condescended to leave the glory of His rightful abode to be born in Bethlehem of Judea, so now has condescended to incarnate Himself within your heart and within this church.  This is the living miracle of Christmas – that Christ has come into our hearts to bring us His peace, love, and salvation – and through us (His Church) brings His peace, love, and salvation to the world.  Which brings us to my final point: what do we do with this blessing?

A resolution to love God (and neighbor)
New Year Resolution – nurture your soul.  Allow the Christ “child” within you to grow; allow His power and grace to transform your life.  You have accepted Him as your savior; now renew your love for Him and nurture that love every day.  Resolve to live a life in Christ – not because you should, but because you love Him, desire to live in His peace and joy, and desire to share His love with His people.  When we say profess to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind; when we say that we love our neighbors as ourselves, we mean something very real.  We do love ideas or platonic concepts, but a living God and living persons.   And because they are real, our love for them requires real charitable and sacrificial action.  It would be strange if a man confessed love for his wife, but did nothing to help, nourish, and serve her; if he sacrificed nothing for her well being.  We would doubt the sincerity of his confession.  Similarly, it would be strange if we confessed our love for God and mankind and sacrificed nothing on their behalf.  Real love requires real action.

Let’s resolve in this new year to live lives more consistent with our confessions than ever before; to pray more consistently and sincerely, to be more steadfast in our worship, to be more sacrificial in our giving, to be more charitable in our evaluation of others, and to allow the grace of God to transform our hearts, our lives, and relations with others.  If we do this, then we are sure to enjoy a prosperous and peaceful new year, no matter what challenges it may bring.