December 24, 2020 Vigil Mass
Is 62:1-5; Act 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt 1:1-12 (or 18-25)
Amrit Rai, S. J.
The first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew contains two distinct parts. Verses 1-17 list the genealogy of Jesus from Abraham to his foster father Joseph. The second part, beginning at verse 18, provides an account of the birth of Jesus Christ. Verses 18–25 fulfill Isaiah 7:14, the promise of a virgin mother. It is a rich place to begin Matthew’s gospel and it is a glorious reminder that the God who lives in a high and holy place also comes to dwell in the company of the lowly and contrite. We are celebrating the fulfillment of the prophecies about our merciful God who sent His own Son to save a sinful world.
While Paul presents Jesus as a descendent of David in the second reading, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy from Abraham. This genealogy not only shows Jesus’ human ancestry, but also indicates that salvation history has reached its climax with the birth of the Son of God through the working of the Holy Spirit. Though we often skip over these lists of names, the Gospel writers took great pains to compile the genealogies and to make several theological points in the process. Our Lord Jesus Christ was born of a line of ancestors whom Matthew arranges into three groups, of 14 patriarchs, 14 kings and 14 princes. The three groups are based on the three stages of Jewish history: i) the rise of Israel to a great kingdom by the time of David, ii) the fall of the nation by the time of Babylonian exile and iii) the resurrection of the nation after the exile. Strangely enough, the list includes a number of disreputable characters, including three women. Perhaps the Lord God included these characters in His Son’s human genealogy to emphasize God’s grace, to give us all hope, and to show us that Jesus is sent to save sinners. Thus, God’s powerful work of salvation comes to us under the appearance of weakness. From the beginning, Matthew’s account challenges our human expectations as to how God will fulfill our hopes for endless peace, justice, and righteousness.
There is the story of a father putting his four-year-old son to bed. Having finished prayers and stories he kissed his son and turned the light off. Almost immediately his son started crying, “Don’t leave me. I’m scared and don’t want to stay here alone.” The father tried to encourage the little boy by reminding him that they had just said the prayers and God’s presence was with him. To this the little boy said, “I want somebody with skin on.” This story sums up what Christmas is. This is the great message of the Incarnation; God coming in the flesh.
The shepherds found Jesus in the manger as told by the angles. The message of Christmas is we need to look for Jesus in unlikely places and persons. We need to look for Him in people that we might otherwise ignore – the homeless, the sick, the addicts, the unpleasant people, the rebels, or the people of different culture and lifestyle from us. We will learn to discover Him in the most unlikely places, in the most distasteful people, in those who live in suffering or in distress, in poverty or in fear. During the Christmas season we, like the Magi, must give our most precious gift, our lives, to Jesus. We can truly find Jesus if we look in the right places, in the streets, in the slums, in the prisons, in the orphanages, in the nursing homes, in the refugee camps starting in our own homes, workplaces, village and town.
True Christmas is about celebrating the coming of God among the poor, the homeless and the disadvantaged, with a message of hope and liberation for these sufferers in our world. It is about our responsibility to be part of that liberating process. It is about working to remove from our world the shameful blot of poverty, discrimination and exploitation that is the lot of too many in our environment of prosperity. God challenges us to be like the shepherds who overcame their fear in order to seek out Jesus, or like the Wise Men who traveled a long distance to find Him. Then we will have the true experience of Christmas and the joy of the Savior.
We need to allow the Savior to be reborn in our lives. Let us remember the famous lines of Alexander Pope: “What do I profit if Jesus is born in thousands of cribs all over the world during this Christmas, but is not born in my heart?” Let us allow Him to be reborn in our lives during Christmas 2020 and every day of the New Year 2021. How should we prepare for Christ’s rebirth in our daily lives? As a first step, John the Baptist urges us to repent daily of our sins and to renew our lives by leveling the hills of pride and selfishness, by filling up the valleys of impurity, and by straightening the crooked paths of hatred. Our second step in preparing for Christ’s rebirth in our daily lives is to cultivate the spirit of sacrifice and humility. It was by sacrifice that the shepherds of Bethlehem and the Magi were able to find the Savior. They were humble enough to see God in the Child in the manger. We, too, can experience Jesus by sharing Him with others, just as God shared His Son with us. Let us remember that the angels wished peace on earth only to those able to receive that peace, those who possessed the good will and largeness of heart to share Jesus our Savior with others in love, kindness, mercy, forgiveness and humble service.