Updated: Jan 21
The Vigil Mass Readings can be found: [HERE].
A very blessed and Merry Christmas to all! It’s not common knowledge, but there are actually four Christmas Mass settings. This is the Christmas Vigil Mass. There’s a Christmas Night Mass here at 10 p.m., a Christmas Dawn Mass tomorrow at 8:30 a.m., and a Christmas Day Mass at 11 a.m. And each Mass is different, having its own set of prayers and readings.
In our gospel passage this evening, we hear the genealogy of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Luke’s account. Now, imagine hearing this genealogy as a faithful Jew, as if listening to one’s own heritage. Name after name summons memories of one’s own ancestors; a family tree passed down from one generation to the next. You may recognize some of these names yourselves, and recall their stories from the bible; stories both good and bad alike.
Abraham, once known as Abram, believed God’s’ promises. He left Chaldea at the word of the Lord and journeyed towards the Promised Land. He was willing to sacrifice the one most precious to him to the Lord out of obedience, which was accounted to him as righteousness. But he was also a coward at times and hid his identity.
His grandson, Jacob, is the one after whom all of Israel is named. Jacob was given that name, Israel, after he wrestled with God for a night and prevailed. From him was born the Twelve Tribes of Israel, named after each of his sons. But Jacob was also a deceiver. He had tricked his elderly father into giving him the birthright that should have gone to his elder brother, Esau. He too was a coward and ran from his brother until they reconciled many years later.
We see Tamar listed in this genealogy; the first woman recorded here. She was a widow who had cunningly deceived her father-in-law, in order to conceive Perez.
We find also Ruth in this list of names. She was a foreigner from Moab: neither a daughter of Israel nor Judah. And yet, she became the great-grandmother of Israel and Judah's greatest monarch until Christ: David the King. There’s an entire book of the Bible dedicated to Ruth.
David himself was greatly blessed and beloved by God; the great king and champion of Israel who slayed Goliath and an army of Philistines. But he was also a murderer who conspired to kill his own servant with the sword of the Ammonites, to take his wife, Bathsheba, as his own. Bathsheba’s not even named in this genealogy—she’s only listed here as the wife of Uriah.
The son of David and Bathsheba, Solomon, by God’s own admission was the wisest man to ever have lived upon the earth. He ruled in a time of peace. That’s what his name means, which shares the same root as, shalom—peace—a word you may already know. He also had the name, Jedidiah, which means, “beloved by the Lord.” He ruled over Israel and Judah in the kingdom’s Golden Age. But in his later years, he began to worship other gods and idols from his many wives.
The list goes on: name after name, memory after memory, story after story, glory and shame go hand in hand.
Unlike other kingdoms and empires that were contemporaries of Israel and Judah, the holy people never whitewashed their history. They recorded their shame, preserved in the bible, with the hope for redemption.
As each passing generation is named, the listener of this genealogy aches with longing, and begs the Lord, “How long, O Lord? How long must we wait until the deliverance of Israel comes to us? How long until you send us the Savior—the Christ?”
It’s at the end of this list that we hear something quite extraordinary, and utterly marvelous.
From Abraham to David, and from David until the last of his line is named, the glory of Israel and Judah is ground down into almost total obscurity, and tragically almost disappears from all of history like dust in the wind… until we arrive at Jacob, the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her, was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
It’s here that everything begins again. It’s here where the dawn of redemption breaks forth like the burst of a sunrise. That line of sinners comes to an end, and switches over to Jesus, through Mary.
Joseph was the descendant of the David. Jesus was not biologically linked to David—Jesus has no earthly biological father. Nevertheless, Jesus is the legal son of Joseph—according to their own laws—and he is heir to David’s throne, because of Joseph’s relationship to Mary. Of her, was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
Our passage this evening reminds us that God does not abandon us, not even in our sins. We're reminded that we can never be so far gone as to be beyond deliverance.
As a brief aside, when I was still a deacon, my mother had said to me: “It’s good that you’ll become a priest. We need a priest in our family to pray for us, because we have so many sinners in our family history.” At the time, I had thought to myself: “This is how God manifests his mercy. He has not forgotten us. He sends us a priest, not from without, but from within, by calling a son of the family into the priesthood.
Like Joseph, your family history and mine may be stained by many sins—we ourselves may be no strangers to sin. But this celebration reminds us that the dawn of our redemption breaks upon us when our heritage switches over to Jesus, and the Lord becomes the heir to our throne, inheriting everything that we have and are, both the good and bad alike.
As God designed it with Joseph, the same remains true for us: Jesus was heir to David’s throne through Joseph's relationship to Mary. Likewise, the Blessed Virgin Mary is essential to our spiritual life. Sometimes, we as Catholics can get criticized for having so great a devotion to Mary. We should not be ashamed.
Mary is also a symbol of the Church. The Church is essential to connecting us to Jesus. That’s true even in this celebration. Jesus will descend upon this altar at this Mass—at Christ’s Mass, the namesake for Christmas.
This Christmas marks the birth of our redemption. Through the grace of the Mass, may we entrust ourselves, our families, and our histories to Jesus Christ, our Savior, through Mary.
Federico Barocci, "Nativity" (1597) [Wikimedia commons]