Dec. 24, 2018

Christmas Vigil Mass, 2018

“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.