24 December: Christmas, Year A, B, C (Vigil)
Readings: Isaiah 62:1-5; Acts 13:16-17,22-25; Mt 1:1-25
A people devastated by sin; a nation far away from God are finally about to be saved. Tonight we keep a vigil on the eve of God’s intervention. We wait with eager longing. “Today you will know that the Lord is coming to save us; in the morning you will see his glory.” These words taken from Exodus 16 introduce us to what we celebrate at this Christmas Vigil. In a few hours millions of Christians around the world join us in commemorating the birth of the Child Jesus in Bethlehem, born to save us from our sins. The readings remind us about the Lord’s promise to save his people from destruction by sin, and the fulfilment of that promise through Jesus Christ who descends from David. In the first reading from Isaiah, the Lord promises never to abandon his people again. We hear in Isaiah’s prophecy that God would establish a loving relationship with his people. The fulfilment of that promise is affirmed in the second reading that speaks of David. “Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as He promised” (Acts 13:23).
The Gospel reading has two parts. The first part is an account of the genealogy of Jesus starting from Abraham, mainly to show that Jesus is the promised Messiah. In the second part of the Gospel, Matthew gives an account of how Jesus came to be born by Mary who was betrothed to Joseph son of David. In connecting Jesus to the line of David, Matthew wants to underline the fact that Jesus is fully human and is also the fulfilment of God’s promises to David. Jesus is also “Son of God”, a point explained by Paul in the letter to the Romans (Rm 1:1-7). For Paul, Jesus becomes Son of God through the resurrection that fully manifests his divinity. The Gospel also gives us a model to follow in Mary and Joseph. Both faced a tremendous challenge to their faith when God asked them to open their hearts to welcome Jesus into their lives so that salvation may come to all humanity. By coming to us as a baby, Jesus invites us to open our hearts to him. The human heart is where salvation begins by driving out our hatred, bitterness and sin, and replacing it with his love. Tonight our focus is on the beginning of this baby Jesus, Emmanuel, “God-with-us”, who comes to bring God’s grace and love into our hearts; into our world. Because God is so close to us, we give thanks. In his letter of November 2007, Pope Benedict affirmed this closeness of God through the mystery of the baby Jesus. The Pope says: “Through him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote ‘first cause” of the world, because his only-begotten Son has become man and of him everyone can say: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’”(Gal 2:20) [Spe Salvi, 26]. The message we take home is twofold: 1) the readings inspire us to open our hearts so that Christ may be born in our lives as he was born on that first Christmas in Mary. 2) On this Christmas eve, because God is so close to us, this celebration leads us to open our hearts like Mary, so that Christ may truly be Emmanuel “God with us” and find a place in us.
©2008 John M. Mbinda