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Nativity (Vigil)
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Readings for the Nativity of the Lord (Liturgy of the Vigil)

1. Isaiah 62, 1-5

  • I hear the prophet foretelling and announcing better times for Israel, and encouraging the people to start the rebuilding work.  Nations shall behold your vindication, and all the kings your glory.  And the connection to our Nativity celebration tonight and tomorrow: where is it?
  • Let me try again.  It is evening when I will read this.  Her vindication shines forth like the dawn.  The church, our tradition, in its wisdom places the Lord’s Nativity at the time of the celebration of the new light (in northern climes).  That makes it a very important sentence.
  • We also inherit the idea (too often twisted into ideologies such as anti-Semitism) that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel, the glorious son of Israel, the chosen one, the new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord.  I’ll let the homilist deal with this historical baggage or pass by in silence. 
  • Let me deal with what the passage is saying.  The living God cares about Israel like no other people.  They are the Lord’s pride and joy.  A glorious crown in the hand of the Lord.
  • The words are passionate, too.  As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride: a wedding ceremony and the intense bliss that it liberates in everyone.  I remember our own wedding and those of so many other couples, and I can say these words with some of that intensity.
  • Climax: Listen, people!  The Lord delights in you.  It explains all the uplifting words I have read to this point, and all the tenderness that follows.
  • Message for our assembly: Yes, we who believe we have inherited the promises of Israel, we are blessed and should give thanks to God for such blessings.
  • I will challenge myself: To reflect in my voice that pride that God has in Israel, and become a witness to that pride in the church that keeps alive that faith.

 

2. Acts 13, 16-17 and 22-25

  • I can picture the scene where Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia and entered the synagogue.  We are not just worshipping, we are called like Paul to spread the good news.  Fellow Israelites and you others who are God-fearing, listen.
  • I hear a re-interpretation of the Law and the Prophets in this passage.  This is what we Christians have done from the beginning.  According to Paul the Exodus and the reign of David both foreshadow the coming of the savior, Jesus. 
  • It is the same God who chose our ancestors and exalted the people, who raised up David.  God, according to his promise: now the final step is taken.
  • The passage repeats one more time the testimony of John that we have already heard during Advent.  John heralded his coming: One is coming after me.  I will give these words the same attention that I have given them in these other liturgies.
  • Climax: God has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus. 
  • The message for our assembly: We receive the testimony of the early Christians and we continue it by adding our own testimony to Christ. 
  • I will challenge myself: To break away from a mere historical study by imbuing the words with immediacy.  God has acted in our day, and we believe the Lord is here among us.  How will I welcome the Lord today?

 

Gospel. Matthew 1, 1-25

  • Why would I read all these strange old and unfamiliar names at the beginning of Matthew?  Hezron, Ram, Aminadab and on and on.  I remember a mass at which the presider found no point in giving a homily on the reading!  Our church gives the option of leaving out the first 17 verses with the genealogy.
  •  There is a reason for all these names, and why I take pride in declaring them again this evening.  We have our family trees inscribed in our family bibles.  We have received our faith from our parents and handed it down to our children as best we know how in these times of contradiction.  Jesus was also heir to such a living faith, because scripture is literally the family story of Israel and all its children.
  •  The names do not quite make up a hall of fame, but a mixed bag of sinners and the just, as with all our families!  Some of them stand out for me.  The patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah.  The daughter Tamar who gave her father an heir.  The prostitute Rahab who opened Jericho to the Hebrew children.  The Moabite Ruth who stood by her mother-in-law.  The wife of Uriah, Bathsheba, with whom David the king committed adultery.  Strong and zealous men like Hezekiah and Josiah; frightened men and apostates like Ahaz and Manasseh.  Others don’t ring a bell, but they all take their place.
  • Through the kingdom, through the Babylonian exile and beyond, through the greatest heroism and the greatest perfidy, the family tree of Jesus endures and God stands by them all.
  • Then I begin reading the birth of Jesus Christ.  It is a story we think we have heard often.  Appearances: Before they lived together she was found with child.  Human intentions: Joseph decided to divorce her quietly. 
  • Interspersed in the narrative is the divine purpose that undergirds our faith.  Matthew meant it this way, and interprets the event immediately and decisively.  With child through the Holy Spirit.  When God chooses the name, the babe will carry out God’s designs for the people.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. 
  • Climax: It is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived.  Jesus is the climax of his family tree, and the beginning of another!
  • Message for our assembly: Let us look beyond the human origins of things and pay attention to the Holy Spirit at work in Mary and in all her children.
  • I will challenge myself: To read the names of the genealogy of Jesus Christ with conviction and devotion, as I would my own family tree or that of our Christian forebears.

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