Isaiah 62: 1-5
|December 24, 2015, Christmas, Vigil Mass, Cycle C|
The longer form of tonight's Gospel starts this way:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king.
David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos, Amos the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile.
After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
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.
One commentator I read described this opening of Matthew's Gospel by saying, "seldom has such an important book begun in such a repellent way". So why would I read this, especially here on Christmas eve with some many families with young children present? Actually it is because of all these children that this genealogy is important for us to hear. Before I explain that, can I ask all the children here to stand in their places?
Merry Christmas to all of you. I want to thank you very much for bringing your families here tonight. Sometimes adults get overwhelmed with all they have to do, especially this time of year, and if it weren't for you I am guessing that many would not be here. I also want to thank you for raising your families so well. I didn't see any adults fidgeting or causing a distraction while I was reading that genealogy. I would now ask you, as you sit down, to give a big hug and a kiss to your parents or other family members who brought you here to show them you really appreciate how much they do for you every day. Thank you.
So how is this, some would say boring, genealogy connected to these children? It starts with a questions that I have asked thousands of people in the 23 years I have been a deacon: What is the Church's mission? You see most people think that the Church's mission is to help people get to heaven. It isn't. The Church's mission is what Jesus taught us to pray for in the Our Father: that heaven, the kingdom of God, come here to earth. I am going to go out on a limb and guess that there isn't one parent, or grandparent, or aunt or uncle, or godparent here who thinks this world, that we see in our own lives and in the news, is exactly what you want these children to grow up in. God has promised that when his kingdom comes here fully on earth, there will be no more war, or violence, or power over, or oppression , or bullying, or hunger, or illness, and when it comes in full, not even death. That is the world that I want for my children and my grandchildren, and I assume that is the one you want for yours.
The good news is that God has promised that this kingdom will come. The more challenging news is that God has made human beings the only instrument for bringing the kingdom into reality. God has given us everything we need to bring that about. But most of us think that we can't possibly do that because we are too ordinary, or for some of us, we have been too sinful. That family tree of Jesus proves otherwise. That list of 42 ancestors of Jesus includes murderers, adulterers, people who had much blood on the hands, people who lied and tricked family and friends, and the worst king of Israel ever. In other words, ordinary sinful human beings. And God was still able to grace them with enough good to be critical contributors to his plan to bring about his kingdom here on earth. In this extraordinary year of Mercy, we see that God's mercy is not just a passive forgiving of offenses but something that can lift people to heroic and amazing goodness, in spite of or even because of. And what God's mercy has done for so many individuals in that list we just heard, and beyond, it continues to do with us.
We are gathered here on this great feast to thank God for all he has given us, most especially his only Son who became one of us so that we might share in God's divinity. In God's plan, this liturgy will touch us and fill us with the realization that we each have much to contribute to the coming of that kingdom, no matter how ordinary we might think we are, or how sinful we might think we have been.
My wife Betsy is half Italian, half Irish but all Italian when it comes to food (And I thank God for that!). When our kids, who no longer live with us, come home, she can't feed them enough. One of the first things that they hear when they walk through the door is: Can I get you something to eat? Most of the time, with our kids, that is not a problem; they love to eat at our house. And if truth be told, Betsy is that way with everyone, whether they are our kids or not. But even if their appetite is not up to Betsy's idea of what it should be, that is not a problem either. She just packs up a doggy bag and makes them take some home. So that later, when they realize they need more nourishment, they have it. Or they can share it with others who need nourishment but weren't able to come to our house. Isn't God like that in his mercy? We come, and he lavishes us with grace and forgiveness and comfort. And God's mercy and grace is not limited to our appetite at the time, either. If we are wise, we take away a doggy bag of God's mercy to be used later, or better yet, to be shared with others who need it.
It is wonderful to be with all of you tonight. My prayer is that we all will be filled with God's mercy today, and that we share it. May you all have a blessed Christmas, and for the sake of the children, may the kingdom of God come sooner rather than later.