On the two Sundays before the Feast of the Nativity of Christ, the Church commemorates the saints of the Old Testament, both those in the ancestry of Christ and those who prepared Israel for the coming of the Messiah. Today, the Church remembers the Forefathers of Christ – the men and women of the Old Testament who are in the direct ancestry of Jesus Christ. It always seems unusual to me that on this the 2nd Sunday before Christ’s nativity we commemorate those in the direct ancestry of Christ while on the Sunday before the Nativity the commemoration is of all the righteous of the Old Testament. It seems to me it should be commemorated in just the opposite order especially since on the Sunday before the Nativity the Gospel reading is the list of Christ’s blood ancestors from Matthew 1.
There are a number of people in the Old Testament considered to be righteous. Holiness and righteousness do not describe just one type of person. Those listed in Christ’s genealogy (at least for the ones we know anything about) reveal a diversity of personalities. There are many paths to righteousness and holiness as there are many things God wishes us, His people, to do and different types of personalities are needed to fulfill God’s will. From the desert fathers we learn of a few people who accomplished God’s will and the differing qualities they exhibited to be faithful servants of God.
A brother asked one of the elders: What good thing shall I do, and have life thereby? The old man replied: God alone knows what is good. However, I have heard it said that someone inquired of Father Abbott Nesteros the great, the friend of Abbott Anthony, asking: What good work shall I do? and that he replied: Not all works are alike. For Scripture says that Abraham was hospitable and God was with him. Elias loved solitary prayer, and God was with him. And David was humble, and God was with him. Therefore, whatever you see your soul to desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe. (Thomas Merton, THE WISDOM OF THE DESERT, pp 25-26)
When we read the Scriptures, we may find that only certain of the biblical saints have personalities similar to our own. We may find it difficult to glean any similarity in our lives with that of certain other saints. This is all OK. There are a variety of gifts which God gives to His saints – each saint doesn’t have all of the spiritual gifts which God gives, but may have only a couple or even one. There are a variety of personalities which God needs to accomplish His plan for our salvation. None of us has to do it all, rather every Christian belongs to the Body of Christ and fulfills his or her own unique role with whatever spiritual gifts God bestows on each of us. We can search the Scriptures to see which of the saints really speaks to us personally and then use them to help model our own behavior.
God’s promise to Abraham is: “I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore …” (Genesis 22:17). Despite the multitude of people God promises will be Abraham’s spiritual descendants, each of us is uniquely loved and gifted by God. Each of us has a role to play in God’s plan for the cosmos and God has gifted each of us to fulfill this unique role.