Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord
Gospel of the Christmas Vigil Mass Evening, December 24, 2011
The Impact of the Incarnation
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king.
David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos, Amos the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile.
After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "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. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us."
The Gospel reading for the vigil Mass of Christmas is taken from St. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus starting with Abraham and tracing Jesus’ human ancestry through David and up to St. Joseph. By contrast, the Gospel reading of midnight Mass is taken from St. Luke’s account of the immediate events surrounding Jesus’ birth. The Gospel reading of the Mass during Christmas Day is taken from the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, which begins with the famous line, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” A casual observer might wonder why the Church presents us with a narrative that sounds so philosophical, when most people might take greater comfort in the familiar narrative depicting the historical events of the Holy Family and the Magi and the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem – readings that might more easily accompany heartwarming images of the Christ Child lying in the manger.
One reason for the selection of John 1:1-5 and 9-14 is this: The Church does not want believers to lose sight of the impact of the Incarnation, that is – God becoming man in the person of Jesus Christ. While it is true that most people identify more closely with the Christ Child in the arms of the Blessed Virgin Mary at this time of the year, the Church feels compelled to proclaim through this Gospel selection the awesomeness of a fact that we take for granted: that God chose to become man. No other religion makes such an audacious claim – that God would humble Himself and take upon Himself the inferior nature of man in order to same him. Judaism and Islam cannot comprehend this possibility because for the Jews and Muslims God is so “other” and so foreign that He couldn’t possible stoop to our lowly level. The fathers of the Church, the first generations of bishops who succeeded the Apostles, referred to this radically new approach to understanding God’s presence among us as the “scandal of the Incarnation.”
What St. John is reminding us in the prologue of his Gospel is the profound impact of the Incarnation: that God, who is essentially a spiritual being, communicates Himself to us in the world through words that contain meaning. In Greek, the word for “word” is “logos,” from which we drive words such as “logic.” Therefore, Jesus is the word of the Father – He is the inner logic of God the Father’s mind; He is the inner logic of the universe; He is the key to human existence. John remarks, “All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.” This approach to understanding God is far from the domesticated approach to the Incarnation that many persons take at this time of year, as the focus is on the familiar scene of the crèche in Bethlehem. What St. John is stating in his prologue is that Jesus is the sacrament of the Father, a phrase Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde often uses to help his hearers understand the impact of the Incarnation. Jesus is the logos or word of the Father and it is through Jesus – the word become flesh – that we now understand the Father and have unprecedented access to Him. This is the real impact of the Incarnation – and it is awesome for us to behold. Come, let us adore him!
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