Monday, December 24, 2012

Homily Christmas Vigil Mass 2012

To those this with us this evening who are new to St. James, friends and family of parishioners, on behalf of our pastor, Fr. Chuck Walker, and our entire staff I welcome you to St. James and wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas! I hope that you will find our Church and our parishioners to be warm and inviting and feel welcome to pray with us any time. We are available to you and want to help you maintain and grow in your faith. We also want to help you get reacquainted with your faith if you haven’t been to Mass in a while. Let us try our hand at helping you answer a question or solve a problem that has been an obstacle to you. We have a large and active parish with prayerful and resourceful people with many helpful gifts and talents all at your service… starting with this very Mass, the greatest help of all.

It may not seem at first that tonight’s Gospel is of much help. What use are all of those hard-to-pronounce names in Jesus’ genealogy? I can remember when I was a kid I just couldn’t wait for the list to end! “When is Father gonna stop with the names!?” But if we can take into account what our Catholic tradition has revealed about this seemingly boring list, we can discover that this is more than just a list of names. It sets the stage for the Holy Family. And each member of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, has an inspiring message for each.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ genealogy, like a Christmas tree, climbs from the beginnings – from the root – to the present, to the top of the “tree.” It starts with Abraham and takes us all the way back to the earliest of Old Testament times. Abraham is a wonderer, walking forward into the uncertain future, towards the promised land, filled with trust in God’s promises to him. He promised Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. The Letter to the Hebrews describes Abraham as a man who “looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” He shows us that God is trustworthy. (BXVI, Infancy Narratives, p. 5)

The genealogy then rises from Abraham to King David. God made a promise to King David too; that he would have an everlasting kingdom – “Your throne shall be established for ever.” King David shows us that God wishes to lead his people in a consistent and reassuring way, to enlighten our path, to guard, to rule, to guide us.

The genealogy then descends from Solomon to the Babylonian captivity and rises again to Jesus. So, the first inspiring message from Matthew’s genealogy and the Holy Family is of course, Jesus’: He is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to mankind, from the Old Testament times to today. His kingdom is the one promised to Abraham. He is the king who will never be deposed, who will lead his people forever. This list of names is its own little gospel that gives the good news that Christ is King. He shows us that we have a Father who keeps his promises. He shows us that his kingdom, budding forth in the Church on earth, is the firm foundation that will not let us down. When the empty promises of the world, promises that you and I have each bought into along the way – when these disappoint us, we can look to Jesus Christ and know that he will lead us in a way that will not disappoint.

The second inspiring message from the Holy Family that this list of names gives us is from Mary, our Blessed Mother. Throughout the generations the genealogy uses the formula, “So and so was the father of So and so.” But at the end of the list it is different. In Jesus’ case there is no reference to fatherhood, instead it says, “Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.” In the account of Jesus’ birth that follows immediately afterward, Matthew tells us that Joseph is not Jesus’ true father. An angel told him in a dream, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”

So Mary marks a new beginning. Her child does not originate from any man, but is a new creation, conceived through the Holy Spirit (p. 7) It is our own human history that Mary marked with a new beginning. She shows us that each one of us, by our common humanity and our brotherhood with Christ, is capable of a new beginning too. For those who are steadfast in faith, a new beginning could mean a deeper level of friendship with Christ; a deeper insight into his love and mercy; or a further step on the road of holiness. For those who have had difficulty with faith; who have encountered suffering along the way; or who feel they have been driven away from the Church, a new beginning means a renewed search for truth and peace.

Finally, the genealogy gives us to each of us tonight, the inspiring message of St. Joseph. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and called him, “son of David.” He is Jesus’ true and legitimate link to the promises made to Abraham and David. Despite this royal lineage, when Joseph discovered that Mary had conceived a child, he decided to divorce her quietly. But, he wanted to do this not because he was suspicious of her – he no doubt knew her character was beyond reproach – but precisely because he is what Matthew calls him, “a righteous man.” St. Bernard explains it this way: “Joseph considered himself to be an unworthy sinner, unworthy to live with the woman who had astounded him with the greatness of her dignity. Fearful, he saw the unmistakable sign of the divine presence in her, and because he could not understand the mystery, he decided to draw away quietly from her… He marveled at the greatness of the miracle and the depth of the mystery.” (Navarre, Lk 1:18-25)

St. Joseph, introduced to us by the genealogy, shows us that God has beautiful and marvelous gifts in store for us. God shares these gifts with us through the sacraments and the ongoing life of the Church. But sometimes we feel unworthy of them. We feel too ashamed of what we’ve done to go to confession. We feel too humiliated to receive Communion.

We feel too embarrassed to ask to be anointed. We feel too nervous to explain our faith to our family or coworkers. I have felt these things before. It is true, none of us are worthy of the gifts God wants to give us. Neither was Joseph. But he shows us that we are called to receive them nonetheless out of God’s great love for us and it is our very reception of God’s great gifts that increases us in worthiness until we are brought into the perfection of everlasting life.

These inspiring messages of Good News are given to us subtly by the genealogy if we are willing to accept the challenge to go a little deeper. That is what our faith is all about. The link from Abraham to David to Jesus; the ending in Mary; and the hinge on Joseph are the keys that unlocked the genealogy’s inspiring words. Who knew that the Holy Family was speaking to us in such a meaningful way!? Who knew that Jesus’ message of being a firm foundation and a faithful king; that Mary’s message of hope for a new beginning; and that Joseph’s message of humble acceptance of God’s gifts were enshrined in such a beautiful list of “begats”?

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