This morning I finished the following homily for the Christmas Eve Masses. I may or may not use it tomorrow; the reason being will come to light in a subsequent post.
At the Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the Lord give you peace!
Tonight, at the conclusion of the joyful season of Advent, we find ourselves still waiting. Our time of eager expectation is not yet ended as we await the birth of our Savior, of him who “will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
“Today you will know that the Lord is coming to save us, and in the morning you will see his glory” (Introit; cf. Exodus 16:6-7). Soon our vindication will shine forth like the sawn and our victory will be like a burning torch (cf. Isaiah 62:1).
Today we have heard proclaimed the genealogy of Jesus Christ, a passage of the Gospel that many find tedious with its repetitive and poetic structure. Because they do not the histories of the persons involved they find the ancestry of our Lord dull and do not so much as glimpse the common thread woven throughout the genealogy.
This common thread is the Lord’s promise given to David, King of Israel: “Forever will I confirm your posterity and establish your throne for all generations” (Psalm 89:5).
Throughout the varied history of the genealogy we see that the Lord’s covenant to David “stands firm” (Psalm 89:29) and that the posterity of David “shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD” (Isaiah 62:3).
We have not time tonight to explore the history of each person in the genealogy of our Savior; we shall simply say that Saint Matthew’s genealogy shows us that the history of Jesus is “woven into a human history with its ups and downs” (Pope Benedict XVI, The Blessing of Christmas, 39). Within his ancestry we find those who were faithful to the Lord and brought blessings to Israel and those who were not and brought about destruction.
If we reflect on the genealogy of Jesus Christ, we come to see that
He was the fruit of a lengthy path; and ultimate goal of this path was to forth
the Christ. Since it is also the genealogy of Abraham, it teaches us something
of God’s faithfulness: through all the detours of human history, God keeps his
promise. He does not forget the assurances he has given. God is not silent. He
remains true to himself, and he knows how to open up a path for his fidelity,
despite all the wrong turns taken by men. This is also the genealogy of David:
the letters of the alphabet with which the number fourteen is written in Hebrew
are the same letters we find in David’s name. Thus, the genealogy is a Gospel
about Christ the King, a royal fanfare: this hidden man, this crucified man, is
the real king, and the entire structure of history finds its goal in him (Ibid., 39-40).
The same remains true today; not only do we find our origin in the Child of Bethlehem whose birth we await, but we also found or goal, our purpose and destination, in him.
So it is that we have come here this evening to await the birth of the one who delights in us (cf. Isaiah 62:4). We look to Bethlehem, to see the light that gently shines from that manger. Yet we need not look so far away to see the Child of Bethlehem; we need only look to the altar of the Lord to see him present in every tabernacle of the world.
Bethlehem, the city of David in which Jesus was born, means “house of bread.” Jesus, the Bread of Life, was placed in a manger, a feeding trough for the animals. Through the Holy Mass he gives himself to us continually as our food, to be nourished and strengthened by him who gave himself for us.
By partaking of his Holy Eucharist, we are united with him, and with him, with one another. This bond, begun in Baptism and strengthened with the Eucharist, unites us in a most intimate way.
Even as we here await with joy and hope the birth of the Savior, our brothers and sisters halfway around the world, in Iraq, are awaiting the birth of the Savior with some trepidation. They live this day in fear and under threat of violence and persecution; they await days of peace and comfort.
Hence, they are quietly celebrating Christmas, with no external decoration, and many churches have cancelled Christmas Masses after sixty-eight Catholics – including two priests, one who was celebrating Mass and one who was hearing confessions, and a three year old boy - were recently killed in Baghdad’s cathedral.
For them, this Christmas seems to have little joy as they mourn the loss of their loved ones and fear for their safety. They need to hear again the promise the Lord has given through his prophet Isaiah: “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken,’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘Espoused’” (Isaiah 62:4).
Let us, then, keep our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout in the world in our prayers as we celebrate the birth of the Savior in a manner they cannot: with great joy and feasting and exchanging of gifts. As the Lord fills our hearts with the joy of his presence, let us beg him to do the same for them that they may know the joyful shout and walk in the light of his face (cf. Psalm 49:16).
May their faith, and ours, be strengthened with the certainty that “tomorrow the wickedness of the earth will be destroyed: the Savior of the world will reign over us” (Alleluia verse).
As we await the blessed coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, may he grant you gift of his lasting joy and peace! A blessed and merry Christmas to you all!