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Gospel Reading for the Sunday before Nativity
Good morning, kids. I’m so glad to see you this morning.
This is a great time of year. We have Christmas and New Years, and we get time off school and work, and we get presents. But do you know what I like best about this time of year? We get to see family members who we don’t see a lot. We get to see our cousins, and our aunts and uncles, and grandparents, and maybe even our great grandparents.
Tomorrow, we celebrate the birth of Jesus—the Nativity—and today, the Sunday before Nativity, we learn about Jesus’ ancestors—His family. That’s right. Jesus has a family, just like you have a family.
When you only see certain relatives once or twice a year, sometimes it’s hard to remember everyone’s names. The first part of today’s Gospel reading was a long list of names. Names of people we don’t hear about much the rest of the year. Some are really hard to pronounce, like el-ih-EE-zer, and uh-BAI-uhd. These are Jesus grandparents and great grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, and great-great-great-grandparents, 42 generations back, all the way back to Abraham in the book of Genesis.
So, why do we celebrate Jesus’ family? Some of them did really good things. Some of them did really bad things. Some of them, we don’t know much about what they did. We celebrate them because, the fact that Jesus has a family means that He’s a real human being, like we are. In fact, Jesus favorite name He called Himself was “the Son of Man”. But Jesus isn’t just the Son of Man, He’s also the Son of God. He was born the Son of Man for us, so that we can become Sons of God like Him.
That means we can be part of Jesus’ family too. In fact, we are part of Jesus’ family. Look around you. This is Jesus’ family. This is your family. Sometimes we do good things. Sometimes we do bad things. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing. But every day, with God’s help we get a chance to become a little more like Jesus Christ by participating in the mysteries of His Church, and we get our best opportunity to do that right now, so let’s all go up, as Jesus’ family, and receive communion together.
I’ve been given a blessing by my priest to present a short children’s homily each Sunday during the communion of the clergy. A children’s homily has to meet some rigorous criteria:
- It needs to be short. First, the communion of the clergy doesn’t take that long, and second, kids attention spans for non-interactive presentations are notoriously short.
- The language and concepts need to be age-appropriate. On any given day, we can have toddlers to high school seniors, and it needs to be accessible to all. Big, seminary words are out, as is hand-waving theologizing.
- It needs to be theologically sound. That means I have to actually understand what I’m saying. I can’t get away with parroting the Church Fathers, knowing I’ll be safe because one of them said it. Translating their words into language modern kids will understand has the potential pitfall of accidentally preaching heresy.
- It’s not just kids in the room. The children’s homily has to have something for the adults too. Getting up there and saying, “Jesus loves you,” every week is going to get old pretty quickly.
For this particular homily, I grasped onto the first half of the Gospel reading, the list of Christ’s ancestors, since they hear the story of His birth often, and the part about His conception might be a little over the heads of the younger ones.
I was a bit at a loss of how to proceed until I heard Fr. Stephen Freeman’s Glory to God podcast from 12/22/2018, entitled, “Saving My Neighbor”. It reminded me of one of the first big concepts I learned in the process of entering the Holy Orthodox Church: Human beings have a common nature.
Sure, it might seem obvious, but, as a product of post-enlightenment, western thought, I had never really thought of people as anything but discrete, unconnected units. Once the concept of our interconnected nature hit me upside the head, other things started falling into place, like how Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection transforms us (rather than just being a deflection of God’s wrath as I learned in my youth).
Moreover, I think this paradigm of humans as discrete units is at the heart of some of our society’s current failings. It’s this idea that leads us to objectify one another, to see others as only ally or enemy, squelching compassion and concern, and breeding ever-increasing levels of hatred. If I can instill in these children that we are all one at an existential level, maybe I’ll have done a little bit to shore up the bulwarks of civilization.
St. John Chrysostom “Homily 3 on Matthew” from New Advent
Hearing these things, arise, and surmise nothing low: but even because of this very thing most of all should you marvel, that being Son of the Unoriginate God, and His trueSon, He suffered Himself to be called also Son of David, that He might make you Son of God. He suffered a slave to be father to Him, that He might make the Lord Father to you a slave.St. John Chrysostom “Homily 2 on Matthew”.
Glory to God podcast by Fr. Stephen Freeman, “Saving My Neighbor” 2018-12-22
The Names of Jesus podcast by Fr. Thomas Hopko “Jesus – Son of Man”
Discussion on the Sunday’s before the Nativity of Christ