WHEN EVERYTHING IS NEW
Readings: 1st- Is. 62:1-5; 2nd- Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Gospel- Matt. 1:1-25
There is a certain newness which goes with this season. The readings of today give us the reason; Christ, Emmanuel, God-is-with-us. The prophet Isaiah kicks it off with a romantic picture of God’s presence. God’s love for Zion, his compassion for Jerusalem, is so strong. Using the imagery of the bridegroom’s love for his bride, he declares, “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet.” The prophet speaks about the transformation of God’s people, “Nations shall behold your vindication, and all the kings your glory; you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord” (Is. 62:2). God’s chosen ones shall be called by a new name. They shall be renewed in heart and soul. Isaiah captures this newness thus, “You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall people call you “Forsaken,” or your land “Desolate,” but you shall be called “My Delight,” and your land “Espoused.” What a powerful message! Like Zion and Jerusalem, this message brings hope to all of us at Christmas. The long-awaited savior is here. He is our Emmanuel, God is with us. His presence causes unmitigated newness among believers.
Paul traces this newness to the enthronement of David as king of Israel. King David replaced Saul on the throne for this reason; God was preparing a kingdom for his Son in fulfillment of his salvation plan for humanity. God declared, “I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart.” David’s kingdom established the newness which incorporated humanity into the divine plan, the platform for the messianic era. Saint Paul writes, “From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.”
Matthew’s genealogy recounts the family tree of Christ. In the genealogy, Matthew portrays images of both relationship and continuity. We hear about Old Testament figures who formed part of this great history. Again, David is prominent as the foundational structure for the human origin of Christ and as God promised him, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). Matthew recalls, “Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations” (Matt. 1:17). David’s kingdom, therefore, formed the bridge between the Old and the New. In his kingdom, God founded a dynasty that would last forever, a dynasty that would bring God’s promise of salvation to fulfillment.
Newness in dignity. The coming of Christ restores human dignity and freedom. Five different women are included in the long history of the ancestry of Jesus. While these women existed in far different contexts, each of them gave birth quite in an extraordinary fashion. They also demonstrated the inclusion of the Gentiles in the plan of salvation. Tamar, for instance, was a Canaanite woman, who slept with her father-in-law Judah and gave birth to twins. Rahab was the prostitute from Jericho who saved the spies sent by Joshua by letting them escape through the window. These women brought forth descendants of Abraham and David, thereby prepared the way for the coming of the messiah and the inclusion of the Gentiles. They were women of courage. We also see Mary who introduced unique femininity in the history of Christ. Scripture speaks of her this way, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Mary changed the genealogy format. She became the realization of the meaning of freedom and dignity in Christ, “Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” Mary’s story is tied to that of Jesus. In her Son, the Savior is born. He is the Messiah. He is the Word made flesh. He is Emmanuel. Jesus, therefore, gives meaning to our own genealogies, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16).
At Christmas, everything is new. Kids look forward to new toys- play-doh, tea party, pediatric doctor barbie, unicorn purse. Youths and teenagers look forward to new dresses. Girls look forward to new make-ups and hairstyles. Guys look forward to new suits and shoes. We experience an outburst of newness; exchanges of gifts fill the atmosphere of Christmas. Families get together in a new fashion, eat new food, exchange new fellowships. Strangers travel to visit their loved ones at home and to share the newness of sight and conversations. Homes wear a new look- Christmas trees are set up, new flowers adorn the environment. The lights are lit up. The birds chant gleefully. The weather smells fresh. Everything is aglow with the presence of a new reality. The newborn king is here, Emmanuel is born. The Choirs of heaven sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night, all is calm, all is bright…
The newness which Christ brings is beyond mere decorations. It is beyond fixing flowers and setting up Christmas trees which will all be dismantled at some point. It is about the newness of love, joy, goodness, holiness, and peace. Such newness should be rooted in the hearts of every human person. In this newness, life is guaranteed; love is evident; forgiveness is available; trust and safety are present. In this newness, the unborn is cherished, the pregnant mother is respected. In this newness, the needy and the oppressed experience freedom, the homeless feel warmth. In this newness, the naked and the lonely are adorned with warmth and compassion. In this newness, the hungry are fed with the flower of human love and affection. This newness identifies with the sick and the suffering. It provides inspiration for the weak. It is the newness that upholds the welfare of everyone in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch” (Is. 62:1).
Let’s all start anew. Let’s celebrate this newness at Christmas. Someone, you need to forgive? Someone that deserves your care and love? Someone hurting because of you or someone hurting you? God is speaking newness into you through the birth of Christ. Take it to your home! Have those around you feel it. That’s the meaning of Emmanuel, God is with us!
May we forever sing the goodness of the Lord.
“From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus”
Readings: 1st- Is. 62:1-5; 2nd- Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Gospel- Matt. 1:1-25
Let’s take our reflection from Saint Paul’s statement above, that “God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus”. Paul is inviting the people to recognize God’s love from of old. God commits to saving Israel through various leaders. God gives them kings and judges to guide them. Unfortunately, some of them derail. Yet God does not abandon them. In David, we see a remarkable figure in this history, from whose lineage a savior would emerge. In the New Testament, John the Baptist becomes the herald of the coming of Christ. John’s invitation centers on repentance and conversion bringing to the fore human brokenness. John affirms, “I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet” (Acts 13:25).
The prophet Isaiah announces God’s love for his people in the first reading, “For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not keep quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch” (Is. 62:1-2). In that reading, we notice the image of marital love: “a glorious crown,” “a royal diadem,” “My Delight,” “Espoused,” “spouse,” “Virgin,” “bridegroom” and “bride.” These are all images used to capture the covenantal relationship between God and Israel. God’s love is strong as that of the bridegroom for his bride. And he commits to it. This prophecy speaks of Jerusalem’s renewal since Jerusalem, as we know, is the reflection of God’s tenderness and love. The old Jerusalem taken into captive by Babylon will be restored by God who strongly loves her. Hence, God declares, “You shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord.” The nuptial image foreshadows newness that will be fulfilled in Christ; God’s people will no longer be covered in shame once they enter into the covenantal relationship with Christ the Emmanuel.
As I reflect on the long genealogy of Christ presented to us in Matthew’s gospel, the question I ask is, what exactly does the church intend by presenting this long historical data that looks like a telephone directory? Do we have to memorize these strange ancient names like pupils in middle school? What do we do with such seemingly boring list that culminates with the brith of Christ?
First, it is about the historical reality of Christ’s coming. The church teaches that Christ is human and divine at the same time. He existed as a historical figure. He is born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem. The Letter to the Hebrews records, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (4:15). The genealogy of Christ presents a vivid and verifiable historical record of the lineage of Christ from the Old Testament. From Abraham through David, then to Joseph who becomes the foster father of Jesus Christ, Scripture fulfills history made meaningful in the Incarnation. John captures it this way, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).
Second, the genealogy of Christ helps us to appreciate the value of our own family tree. For instance, in the story of Abraham as the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, etc, we are reminded of our own family roots. One great feature of the Christmas season is the value of family, sharing our time and presence with loved ones. That is why the Christmas edition of the Family Apostolate Magazine explores the importance of family bonding and family connections especially at Christmas. In the magazine, we reiterated the importance of being family for one another- sharing in adversity, extending healing through forgiveness, importance of family meals, etc. Like Jesus, most of our family roots go a long way to our ancestors from across many generations. We must take our family bonding seriously in our direct biological relationships.
Importantly, the genealogy of Christ connects us in a different way as members of the large spiritual family that orchestrates God’s love. Saint Paul describes this family as “one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). The genealogy of Jesus becomes therefore our genealogy. We must reach out to all spiritual family members in Christ during this Christmas; the poor, the needy, the homeless, etc., “and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us” (Matt. 1:23).
In the genealogy of Jesus, we see images of human imperfections. We might imagine that Jesus wouldn’t identify with human filth but he comes from a lineage that depicts aspects of human depravity. Five women are named in Jesus’ family ancestry: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Four of these women mentioned present Jesus lineage as having some flaws, and their men too. For instance, Tamar, who is a Canaanite woman conceives her son by Judah who is her father in law; Rahab is the madam of a brothel in Jericho; Ruth is also a foreigner from Moab whereas Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, is a Hittite who conceives her first son through adultery with David who is the husband’s boss. This exposes the history of human unworthiness which Christ’s birth comes to erase. In the midst of such history, Christ transforms human brokenness as the prophet says, “you shall be called by a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord” (Is. 62:2).
Finally, Joseph’s reaction to Mary and his acceptance of God’s will teach us to be open to God’s plan in our lives. Seeing that Mary is already pregnant, Joseph decides to divorce her quietly. Joseph intends to preserve his own righteousness. Scripture remarks, “Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” Joseph’s plan is completely thwarted. Everything changes in his life. He adapts to God’s plan. Joseph does what the angel commands. Hence, Joseph’s history marks a turning point in the genealogy of Christ leading humanity into God’s plan. The prophecy is fulfilled, that a shoot shall spring from the stock of Jesse.
Therefore, Christmas invites us to consider God’s plan in our lives. Christ comes to change hearts. We should consider ourselves in relation to others, no selfish interests. Our family members must not be perfect for us to appreciate them. Our friends must not be perfect for us to share our love with them. It is not mostly about what we want as much as it is about what God wants for us. God invites us to share in his love. Emmanuel, God is with us means that He is to save us from our negative desires. Christ comes because we need him. Let’s build a family bond that encourages support, compassion, mercy, acceptance, forgiveness, joy, and peace. That is the new family tree, the genealogy of Christ. That’s the family tree with the new name: Emmanuel, God is with us. That is, LOVE.
May the joy of the newborn Christ be with us. Amen.
THE PEOPLE THAT WALKED IN DARKNESS HAVE SEEN A GREAT LIGHT
The prophet Isaiah gives an interesting image of the coming messiah. We hear him speak with authority about the light that has come into the world thus, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in darkness a light has shone. You have made their gladness greater, you have made their joy increase; they rejoice in your presence as men rejoice at the harvest time, as men are happy when dividing the spoils". The prophet continues, "For unto us a child born, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end". This passage captures vividly the sentiments and atmosphere of Christmas.
The gospel narrates the events that lead to the birth of Christ. It is a time when decree ruled the world. The great Caesar Augustus is in charge. The first census is taken. Joseph goes to be enrolled in the census with Mary because he belongs to the family of David. He is registering in the Kingdom of Christ. He becomes part of the census that transform the world of darkness into light, the census of salvation. Joseph and Mary enroll the world into the census of divine salvation. The story of the census turns into the history of incarnation, the birth of Christ. Humanity is no longer ruled by decree but by the law of love of God in Christ our savior. The prophecy of Isaiah is thus fulfilled, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a savior is given". The gospel says, "While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son"(Lk.2:6).
Mary gives birth to Christ in "a manger" because there is no room for them in the inn. Greatness comes in the form of littleness. Richness assumes the form of poverty. Christ dwells in a manger, in a simple and lowly place. Bethlehem, the small city receives the great King. Bethlehem becomes the gateway to salvation. Like Bethlehem, our hearts have to be open, meek and humble to receive the newborn King.
The shepherds watch their flock during the night. It is in this darkness that the message of the birth of Christ is brought to them: “the people that lived in darkness have seen the great light”. They are terrified especially by the threats of darkness. The light appears. The glory of the Lord shines on them. They become bearers of the great message of hope and deliverance. Poor shepherds become the first recipients of this great news as well as its messengers. Their excitement knows no bound. The angel says, "I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord". Immediately, the throng of heaven declares a party. There is singing and exultation: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace to men who enjoy God's favor". This is the joy of Christmas.
We celebrate the birth of the savior in the hymn, "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Round yon Virgin Mother and Child. Holy Infant so tender and mild! Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace!" Truly, God's grace has been revealed. Saint Paul describes it is an outpouring of God’s grace to liberate us from misleading worldly ambitions.
The message is that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Christ who is born for us is the light of the world. St. John puts it this way, "What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it" (Jn.1:4-5). He continues, "The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone..." (Jn.1:9).
We need to recognize this Light that is Christ. Unfortunately, many forces lead people in directions today away from the light. People prefer darkness. That is why such a special season as Christmas has become regrettably a time to keep watch from the forces of darkness. The forces of terrorism, destruction of life and greed want to take over. That is why ISIS is issuing threats and warnings to bomb churches and worship places during this time. Christmas gives us reason not to be afraid because our savior is born, he has come to give light to those in darkness.
We need to celebrate Christ at Christmas. We need to let him into the inn of our hearts. We have to let Christ permeate into the hearts and homes. If we walk in the light of Christ, then we take this light to others. Without Christ, the Christmas tree has no meaning. Without him, the crib has no meaning. Without Christ, there would be no story of Santa Claus. Christ is the reason for the trees, the flowers, the gifts. Families gather because of Christ. Friends celebrate because of Christ. He is the beauty of the season, the reason for joy all over the world.
In the Christmas edition of our Family Apostolate Newsletter, we gave three tips of how to celebrate Christmas, what we called “Doing the next good thing: discovering the next sick person, the next poor person, the next homeless, the next lonely, the next depressed, the next sick, the next bereaved, the next jobless, the next needy person.
- Think like the poor. The poor think not of gains or losses; they think of the moment.
- Behave like a child. A child is unselfish. Imagine the pains the child feels on seeing another cry. She joins in the cry.
- Act like the sheep. The sheep follows without questioning. She jumps when others jump, gives way when the competition is high.
That’s the best way to bring the light of Christmas to others. Let’s go a step higher from what the prophet Isaiah said- “The people that received the light of Christ have to become agents of light to others. Just do the next good thing.