Pre-Feast of the Nativity
December 17, 2010
Brothers and Sisters,
As we sing at the close of Lent each year, we have completed the course of the Fast. The Christmas fast is certainly not an easy fast – not much less difficult than the Lenten fast. And now, at the pre-feast of Christmas, we are waiting through the last days for the Birth of our Lord.
As we wait in expectation for the Feast, we can keep in mind the waiting of the children of Israel for the coming of their Lord, which had been promised to them. How long, how many centuries they waited! We can play historian: since Isaiah prophesied the advent of the Messiah in the eighth century, B.C., Israel waited 800 years for the coming of Christ. Or since Abraham, who lived perhaps around 1800 BC, was promised that in his seed all nations would be blessed, his children waited two millennia for the Christ. Through our fast of just six weeks, we enter into their waiting.
Or we can listen to Matthew’s Gospel, which we heard just the other day. Matthew counts 14 generations from Abraham to King David; 14 generations from David to the deportation to Babylon; and 14 generations from the deportation to Babylon, to the Christ. Why the number 14, three times? This is very puzzling! Well, consider that 14 is twice seven, and the number 7 to the Hebrew mind represented perfection or completion. Three groups of 14 make six groups of 7. So the advent of the Christ marks the inauguration of the seventh group of seven – as complete and perfect as you can get. Matthew is telling us that with the coming of Christ, the entire history of Israel has been completed and fulfilled.
And more than just the history of Israel: God fashioned Creation in six days. The creation of man and woman on the sixth day completed and fulfilled the Creation, after which God rested in the joy of his work. Matthew tells us that God fashioned the New Creation in six “days” of seven generations each. Think of all the history of Israel – the wars, disasters, murders, prophets trying to lead the people – the concrete history that was the work of God, preparing for the new Creation! The Christ completes and fulfils that New Creation.
When I spoke to you a few weeks ago I made the point that although the New Testament scriptures may all seem quite different from one another, they all witness to one and the same Christ. And so they are – they must be -- fundamentally in agreement. Now, could two scriptures could be more different in style, subject matter, and so on, than Matthew’s gospel and the Letter to the Hebrews? But how does the letter to the Hebrews begin? “God, who at sundry times and in diverse manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these latter days spoken unto us by his Son.” “Latter days?” What does this mean? The other day? A few weeks ago? “Latter days,” unfortunately, is a mistranslation. The Greek original is eschaton. Whole books have been written on this term; I am not going to touch this except to say that eschaton means the end, the completion, the fulfillment. The Letter to the Hebrews is telling us that at the completion of all time, the end of time, the fulfillment of time, God spoke to us through his Son. In other words, it is proclaiming exactly the same message as Matthew’s Gospel.
Brothers and Sisters, I said that through our fasting we have entered into the waiting of the children of Israel for the Lord. That is the work of our liturgical celebration: it allows us to enter into the saving events of the past. But we must also keep in mind that for us the waiting is over. The Lord has come; the New Creation is fulfilled; we – you and I – have received the promise for which Israel waited through 42 generations. Let us prepare for the Feast with all this in mind.
© Deacon Theodore Feldman 2010