When we first meet Abram, it is in Genesis 12, and he is invited by the Lord to leave his kindred and his father’s house and go from that country to a land that God will show him. Abram is mostly faithful to this – he probably brings to many of his possessions and his kindred along for the journey – but at least he sets out. He is promised that he will become a great nation, with a great name – a name that will become a blessing for the nations and for all families of the earth. Yet, when we meet Abram in our reading today from Genesis 15, it is not just 3 chapters and many adventures that have passed – it is also many years later, perhaps more than two decades. So when God appears again to him, and the word of the Lord is addressed to him (a phrase that is unique here to the Torah; normally it is only used in the Prophetic writings) we finally hear a reply from Abram (rather than only passive listening). And his question seems valid – where are my descendants that you have promised?
At this stage, God invites Abram to take it outside. Go outside and count the stars – if you can – for such will your desendants be. Now, as difficult as it is to count the stars on a very clear night – and having spent time in the southern Negev desert away from electrical lights and pollution I can attest that you can see many stars there on the typically clear nights – it is even more difficult during the day. It is only in verse 12 that we are told that the sun begins to set, and verse 17 that the sun fully sets. So when Abram goes outside to see and count the stars, he can only see one star – the sun. The other stars are still there, but hidden from his eyes. It is a beautiful image of faith. Sometimes we cannot see the promises of God being fulfilled, yet that doesn’t mean that the stars are not still there beyond our ability to see them. And it is for this reason, that Abram is able to trust in God even when he doesn’t see the answer that he is hoping for, that God takes on a priestly role to declare that he is justified, and his faith is reckoned to him as righteousness.
It is often in being faithful to God in these small details in our lives that we can encounter God in the great things. Joseph and Mary demonstrate this in the Gospel today. They just go about the ordinary details of the law of the Lord, naming and circumcising Jesus, and then presenting him at the temple as part of the purification ritual that was required of women after they had given birth. Rituals help to remind us that God is part of our ordinary lives. There is no great division between the secular and sacred aspects of our lives. In praying in thanksgiving our morning offering, or in offering thanks for the food that we are about to receive, we remind ourselves that God is part of our everyday lives.