Tonight, we hold vigil in preparation for that most incredible event: the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child. We hold vigil, because he is not yet born. The entire universe awaits that glorious moment, when God speaks his Word to all of us: that Word which burst forth from God and creates all things; that Word which God cannot keep quiet; that Word which vindicates; that Word that shines forth, like a burning torch; that Word, foretold by all the prophets and heralded by the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist. The entire universe awaits, with pangs of labor, for God to speak his Word. The entire universe awaits, as the Virgin Mary prepares to give birth to her son and our Savior.
As we wait for this joyous event, we do what every family does when we wait: we tell our stories. We speak of those who have gone before us. We remember our past, how we got here, and where the future might lead. Tonight, we heard a long list of names, but each of these names has a story. It is the family tree of Jesus, the human lineage of God himself. His family history is that of the entire human race. To really understand it, we have to go further back, though. We must go to the beginning, to the dawn of history.
In the beginning, God created the universe and everything in it out of love. The crowning moment of God’s creation was his creation of humanity and our first parents, Adam and Eve. These progenitors of humanity spoke for all of us, as parents speak for their children even now. They initially accepted God’s great gift, but soon began to doubt. They experienced that all too human of emotions: fear that God might not mean what he says. Satan, the vile tempter and the enemy of all humanity, saw his opening in those seeds of doubt and convinced Adam and Eve to do something seemingly innocuous and small: to disobey God. To say “no” to the One who created all out of love. The “small” decision, though, shattered the entire universe. Humanity was separated from God and his love, no longer able to see with eyes of faith. Adam and Eve were bound to toil and labor for their nourishment, bearing children became painful, and human vision was clouded through the fog of sin. We must now search and strive and suffer. We are all born, wounded by this original sin. After Adam and Eve, humanity has experienced millennia of pain and suffering as a result of that tragic, small choice.
That is not where our story ends, though. That is just the beginning. Because even as our story took a turn for the worse, as the universe was shattered and the human soul wounded for all time, God also give us a promise of redemption. He is never willing to accept defeat, and he will always fight for us. Despite the tragic sin perpetrated against our all-loving God, he condemns the vile serpent. In Genesis 3:15, God vows to “put enmity between you,” that is, Satan, “and the woman, and between your offspring,” that is, all Satan’s perfidious minions, “and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.” This woman: Mary. This offspring: Jesus. But humanity was not ready yet. You see, we expected a savior. The Jews had figured out that a Messiah was coming, but what we got was so much than we ever expected. What we got was something we never expected. Nobody expected that God himself would become man. God knew this, and he had to prepare the world—us—so we might recognize him when he comes.
The beginning of this preparation was with Abraham, our father in faith, the first in the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Abram was faithful to God, he followed God wherever he was led. God rewarded him with a covenant: he would be the God of Abraham, and Abraham and his descendants would be God’s chosen people. The descendants of Abraham were called to be a light to all the nations. Isaac, Jacob, and those following generations took up this mantle, finding their climax in David the king. There are a few blemishes in the record, and you can find all their stories in Genesis, but King David represented the height of Israel. From that height, Israel shined throughout the world as a beacon. Sadly, it did not remain such a beacon. Solomon, the son of David, begins the next set of names. These names tell the opposite story: one of decline into darkness. Where David repented and turned toward God, Solomon persisted in his sin and turned to false gods. There are a few bright spots in the record, but most of these names belong to kings who led Israel further away from God and into the darkness. Their stories are in the books of Kings. The Babylonian exile ends this list at the darkest moment in Jewish history.
The nation of Israel suffered many times under foreign rulers, but nothing quite compares to the Babylonian exile in Jewish consciousness. I am not exaggerating when I say that in Jewish consciousness, the two worst moments in their history—the two moments in history every Jew remembers with pain—were the Babylonian exile and the Holocaust. That’s the kind of darkness and tragedy that we’re talking about here.
The next set of names, beginning with the Babylonian exile and ending with Jesus is largely silent in Jewish history. From the darkness of exile, generations of silence emerged. At the end of that silence, after generations of darkness, there came a light: a burning torch, which cut through the night. That torch was Jesus, the Christ, the Word, spoken by the Father, through whom all was created. Jesus, both fully God and fully human, came to save his people from their sins. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy under King Ahaz—one of those names we just heard—that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel. Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecy to David that his son, a member of his line, shall sit on the throne forever. Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that from his descendants a light shall shine forth to all the nations.
Tonight, we hold vigil in preparation for that most incredible event. The entire universe awaits, with pangs of labor, for God to speak his Word. The entire universe awaits, as the Virgin Mary prepares to give birth to her son and our Savior. As we wait, let us ponder our history. Let us recognize God’s desire and love for us. The angel that appeared to Joseph told him not to be afraid to take Mary into his home. As Joseph was called not to fear, so are we. Let us not be afraid to allow Jesus into our hearts. It can be frightening to allow God into our hearts, because when we do we might recognize that we have to change. We might recognize that God is calling us to more. That is not a small ask. God is calling us to greatness and perfection. That request can be frightening.
But do not be afraid. Jesus is coming. He will save us from our sins, and he will be with us for all ages. Emmanuel, God is with us, is more than just a name. It’s a promise. The question we must ask ourselves this Christmas is this: How can I let God be with me?
December 24, 2019 (published December 27, 2019 at 11:06 am)
Christmas – Vigil Mass
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25