Hebrews 11:9-10; 32-40 • Matthew 1:1-25
We live in a time where atheists act the part of evangelicals, but instead of spreading the Good News, they delight in their disbelief. Recently, a group atheists placed their message in an advertisement on the side of London Buses. One need not travel to London to find atheists desperately trying to convince the world to unbelief — just surf the internet. This past week I saw You Tube promoting a video rant by a fellow named “The Amazing Atheist” who railed against the miracles of Jesus, arguing that in comparison to all the grandiose miracles performed by God in the Old Testament, the miracles of Jesus are comparatively small and insignificant.
Today’s readings answer this challenge. In both we are given lists of names of men and women from the Old Testament, and the things that they were able to do through faith:
[They] conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. — Hebrews 11:33-43
To this list we can add all the women who conceived in old age or in barrenness. This list ignores all those wonders seen by the people of God such as the parting of the Red Sea or the heavenly fire called out of the sky by Elijah or any other grandiose miracle of God recorded in the Old Testament.
Yet, despite being able to do all these amazing things, and seeing all wondrous miracles, St. Paul tells us:
And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised — Hebrews 11:40
Such great men as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David and Samuel did not receive what was promised. We did:
since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. — Hebrews 11:40
Christ born in cave, laying in a feeding trough lined with hay, growing up in the backwater town of Nazareth so that could one day be tortured and led to Golgotha to be crucified for the express purpose of raising our humanity from the dead and ascending with it to sit at the right hand of the Father is a greater miracle than anything in the Old Testament. The wonders seen by Abraham, Moses, and Elijah pale in comparison. The Miracle of a God willing to identify Himself so intimately to His creation and then sacrifice Himself so that we might be with Him in His eternity is the single greatest miracle in all of history.
St. Paul tells us today that of the men and women in the Old Testament that
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, 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.
Their reaction to all of this was to give glory to God — to worship. For example:
Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously’ — Exodus 15:21
Then Moses recited the words of this song, to the very end, in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel: ‘I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God!’ — Deuteronomy 31:30; 32:3
They sang a song that day, Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam, saying: ‘Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes; to the Lord I will sing, I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.’ — Judges 5:1,3
Gideon built an altar there to Yahweh and called it the Lord is Peace — Judges 6:24
Samson called on Yahweh and cried out, ‘Lord Yahweh, I beg you, remember me; give me strength again this once, O God’ — Judges 16:28
Hannah then prayed as follows: ‘My heart exults in Yahweh, in my God is my strength lifted up, my mouth derides my foes, for I rejoice in your deliverance.’ — 1 Samuel 2:1
Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying: ‘I called to the Lord out of my distress, and He answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.’ — Jonah 2:1-2
And they walked in the heart of the flames, praising God and blessing the Lord. Azariah stood in the heart of the fire, praying aloud thus: ‘May You be blessed and revered, O Lord, God of our ancestors, may your name be held glorious for ever.’ — Daniel 3:24-26
So much more so should we be praising, blessing, glorifying and worshipping God for all that He has done for us: the incarnation, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven and the enthronement at the right hand of the Father. Our entire lives as Christians begins with worship. It is in worship that we encounter the Living God, where He reveals Himself to us. This revelation demands a reaction, for us to carry the Light of Christ out into the world through our actions. These, in turn, bring us closer to God, allow us to make the Divine Liturgy the center of our lives — the place where we seek to partake of the very Body and Blood of Christ so as to experience the coming of the Kingdom.
This is our answer to the atheists — worship. When we allow worship to inform everything that we do — when we make our life a prayer — we shine forth with the light of Christ. Through us, the atheists of the world will encounter the Living God. Through us, God willing, they will be moved to act, just as we have, and give glory to God: Christ is Born! Glorify Him!