The Scandal of a Kingdom Not of This World: Homily for the Sunday Before the Nativity of Christ (The Genealogy) in the Orthodox Church

Hebrews 11:9-10, 32-40; Matthew 1:1-25

As we enter into our last days of preparation for celebrating our Lord’s Nativity this week, we need to disregard our usual distractions in order to welcome the long-awaited Savior.  In order to do that, we must allow our hopes for whatever we want in this life to be called into question by the God-Man, Who was not born to acquire or give earthly power or success in any conventional sense, but to fulfill a kingdom not of this world that stands in prophetic judgment over even our best attempts to set things right according to our own agendas and desires.

Christ is born to fulfill the ancient promises to Abraham, who “looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”  The many generations of preparation for the Savior’s birth did not occur through the unbroken progress of any earthly city, kingdom, or culture, but through a history characterized by slavery, exile, corruption, and idolatry.  The prophet Samuel was the last of the judges of Israel over a thousand years before Christ was born.  When his sons ruled unjustly, the people asked for a king so that they could be like the other nations.  God told Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”  (1 Sam. 8:7) We do not have to know much about the Old Testament to know that wanting to be like the others nations is the exact opposite of what God intended for His people.  Their kings abused their authority like the rich and powerful of any period with David, the greatest of them, infamously taking Bathsheeba, the wife of his soldier Uriah, and then having him killed.  Far from shying away from recalling these horrific events, Matthew highlights them, for he writes in the genealogy that “David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” When he wanted to build a Temple for the Lord, God told David, “You shall not build a house for My name, because you have been a man of war and have shed blood.” (1 Chron. 28:3) Doing so surely went with the territory of being a powerful ruler, but wallowing in the blood of those who bear God’s image is a paradigmatic sign of the slavery to the fear of death that sin has brought to the world.  It inevitably threatens grave damage to the soul.  Even David’s son the wise Solomon, who did build the Temple, later fell into the worship of false gods.  Because of Israel’s ongoing unfaithfulness, the kingdom divided into two, with both eventually going into exile after being defeated at the hands of their enemies. That is simply a version of what happens to all the kingdoms of this world in one way or another.

These events were so important that Matthew describes the Lord’s genealogy accordingly: “So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ were fourteen generations.”  The prophet Daniel and the three holy youths Ananias, Azarias and Misael all went into captivity in Babylon, where they refused to worship other gods and were miraculously delivered from death, respectively, in the lions’ den and the fiery furnace.  Christ, before His Incarnation, was with the youths in the flames.  Being unconsumed by the fire, they also provided an image of the Theotokos, who contained the Son of God within her womb without being consumed by the divine glory.

It was not by seeking earthly power that these and other prophets foreshadowed and foretold the coming of Christ.  Far from it, for they refused to abandon their hope in God and to worship idols, even when it seemed certain to lead to their deaths.  Consequently, they are among those who “suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”  They did so because they lived in expectation of the fulfillment of a promise that would not come in their lifetimes, “since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.”

Though no one forces us to choose today between idolatry and faithfulness, we often freely worship idols when we ground the meaning and purpose of our lives in some vision of success in the world, regardless of how noble it may seem.    Even without being forced into exile, we easily become accustomed to hoping for nothing more than a better life in Babylon, however we may define that.  We face the same temptations that our Lord’s ancestors did, and we regularly fall into some version of the sins they committed. On the one hand, it should be reassuring that the Savior’s genealogy included people whose lives were far from perfect.  In addition to recalling David’s grave sins, Matthew lists Judah, who fathered children with his daughter-in-law Tamar. He also mentions Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, and Ruth, a Gentile.  The presence of these particular women in the genealogy foreshadows the scandalous, but also perfectly innocent, conception of the Lord by the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary.  By including their names among the ancestors of Christ, Matthew reminds us that He is born to bring healing to all the broken people of the world.

The checkered past of His family tree should also remind us of how easy it is to entrust ourselves to false hopes that extend no further than the grave, including looking to kingdoms, nations, and political leaders for the salvation of the world.  When the Son of God became a human person, He did not do so with all the trappings of the false hopes we typically embrace.  He was not born into a family of great wealth, power, or fame.  There was certainly no sin involved in the virginal conception of our Lord, but the circumstances were hardly conventional.  Joseph, the older man to whom the Theotokos was betrothed as her guardian, would have divorced her quietly, had not an angel told him the truth about the situation in a dream.  Living under the military occupation of the Roman Empire, they had to go to Bethlehem for a census at the time of His birth, where He came into the world in the lowly circumstance of being born in a cave used for a barn with an animals’ feeding trough as His crib.

Despite the temptation throughout Christ’s ministry to overthrow the Romans by force and set up an earthly reign as a new King David, He refused to be distracted from His vocation to conquer death itself, which required that He submit to execution on a Roman cross and wear a crown of thorns, being mocked as the king of the Jews.  Though the false hopes of His disciples had been crushed and He appeared to fail by all conventional standards, the Savior rose in victory on the third day.  His disciples then learned to hope anew for the fulfillment of God’s promises in ways that required a complete change of mind and heart, for they took up their crosses as they learned to serve a kingdom not of this world.  Along with countless generations of martyrs and confessors, they repudiated the idolatry of serving themselves or any earthly agenda as they came to hope only in the Lord.

Our responsibility is even greater than that of those who came before us, for we have received the fullness of the promise.  Time and again, however, we live as though the promise had not been fulfilled, as though a Savior had not been born.  Sometimes we even distort Christ into an inspiration for conquering our enemies by the conventional means of this world, as though King David had fulfilled, rather than dimly foreshadowed, the fullness of the promise.  We must remember that our Savior rejected the temptation to use religion as a means to the end of gaining worldly power, praise, or success.  We must focus on welcoming Him into our lives in humble obedience as did the Theotokos, not on trying to dominate others, for doing so will fuel our passions and distract us from entrusting ourselves only to our Lord and His kingdom.

In the remaining days before Christmas, let us embrace the scandalous calling to hope in nothing and no one other than the God-Man Who is born to heal and fulfill all who bear the divine image and likeness.  His human lineage shows that He came for people as conflicted, confused, and compromised as we are.  They wanted to be like the other nations and endured exile in foreign lands as a result. We wander as aliens from the everlasting joy of His Kingdom whenever we put serving ourselves or any worldly kingdom or goal before obedience to Him.  Like Daniel and the three holy youths, it is time for us to refuse to worship false gods and to trust that our Savior will not abandon us to destruction in the lions’ dens and fiery furnaces of life in a world enslaved to the fear of death.  Through prayer, fasting, generosity, and repentance, let us complete our preparation this week to receive the God-Man born for our salvation at Christmas, for He alone is our hope and the hope of the entire world.










  1. Thank you for this beautiful homily, Fr Philip.
    It was a blessing to read. O that we might be delivered from earthly hopes and expectations that have nothing to do with our eternal Home. May we learn to always say, “Glory to God in all things.”

    God bless you, Rhoda

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