Thursday, December 26, 2013

Homily for the Nativity of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ

Quod est interpretatum Nobiscum Deus

Homily for the Most Solemn Feast of the
Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

25th of December, 2013

Rev. Michael Taylor
(St. Kateri Tekakwitha’s Parish, Schenectady NY
St. Joseph’s Parish, Troy NY)

He shall cast death down headlong for ever:
and the Lord God shall wipe away tears from every face,
and the reproach of His people He shall take away from off the whole earth:
for the Lord hath spoken it.
And they shall say in that day: “Lo! This is our God!
We have waited for Him, and He will save us:
 this is the Lord, we have patiently waited for Him,
 we shall rejoice and be joyful in His salvation.[1]

Gospel Readings:
·       Vigil Mass: Matthew 1.1-25
·       Midnight Mass: Luke 2.1-14
·       Mass During the Day: John 1.1-14

There is something about Christmas moves us. There is something within the very marrow of our bones that says there is something special about this time of year. Yet perhaps, sometimes we may forget just how epic is the story that is unfolding around us. We forget the history that has lead up to this point. When we look at Matthew’s gospel, we see him opening up with the words, this the book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the Son of Abraham.[2] What follows is a long list of names. One might wonder why open up with such a litany of names? It is because hidden within that list is the history of the people of Israel, their ups and their downs, their successes and their tragedies. So epic is this story that you cannot believe what this night would have meant for the people of Israel. Allow me to share in some small part the story we see fulfilled on this sacred night.

The Angel Stopping Abraham from Sacrificing Isaac
Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669

We start out with Abraham, known first as Abra’am. This the man of the Chaldeans, of the land of Ur.[3] He the one who was called by the God he did not know to make an act of faith,[4] to believe that a land had been prepared for him and his descendants.[5] Isaac, the fulfilled promise of God to Abraham, that he would indeed be a father of fathers.[6] Isaac, the foreshadowing of the sacrificial lamb.[7] There is Jacob, the second oldest son of Isaac, who whilst wrestling with a messenger from the Lord, is given a new name, Yis’ra’el, one who struggles with God.[8] How appropriately this name shall be for a new people. The people of Israel, this is the people who wrestle with God, struggling to find the meaning of their relationship with the Lord their God, and in that struggle, discovering their true identity. Ya’akov, Yis’ra’el, who becomes the father from whom are born twelve sons; Ruben, Simeon, Levi, Juda, Issachar, Zabulon, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan, Nephtali, Gad, and Aser.[9] These would become the twelve tribes of the house of Israel. Of those twelve, we find the son Juda from whom Judea would get it’s name and the people of Israel would come to be known as Jews. It is this Juda who is also the ancestor of the house of David.
Joseph Blessing His Sons- Artist unknown
As we move along the genealogy of Christ, we find names that sound even more foreign to our ears. We find Na’asson who in the book of numbers offered to the Lord in sacrifice, 130 shekels of silver.[10] Little could Na’asson have known that the savior of his people would be betrayed for less than one fourth the silver which he had offered.[11] We have the story of the faithfulness of the woman Ruth, who was so loyal to her family,[12] that she made the God of Israel her own God.[13] Despite having to leave the land of her fathers and go live with a people she did not know, God watched over her. In her fidelity to God and family, she finds a husband, who’s name is Bo’az, a man of God. From Ruth and Boaz comes the son Obed, who’s son is Iessai, Jesse.[14]
Landscape of Boaz and Ruth
-Joseph Anton Koch 1768-1839

Now it is the house of Jesse that the prophet Shamu’el is sent to pick out a new king of Israel, a new anointed one, who’s house the Lord will never forsake. Samuel goes to the house of Jesse, and tells him, I have come to pour God’s blessings on one of your sons. Call them forth so that I might find the one whom I am to anoint. Jesse starts with what seems like the obvious choice, his oldest son Eli’ab. Yet the Lord says that Eliab is not the one, for as it is written, I have rejected him, nor do I judge according to the look of man; for man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart.[15] So Jesse calls Abinadab, the second oldest. Abinadab is rejected. Same with Sham’ma, the third oldest. Finally, after the sixth son, there are none who appear to be left. Samuel asks Jesse, “have you no other sons?” Jesse says, I have the youngest who is still out in the fields watching the flocks. When the youngest one is called forth, it is to him that the Lord says, this is my anointed one. This is Dau’id, David who becomes the king after the Lord’s own heart.[16] These things were done so we might know the truth of the Apostle’s words: But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong.[17]
David pwning Goliath

And yet as great as King David was, he still sinned mightily against God. Sometimes his sins brought great suffering to the people of Israel. Yet David always returned to the ways of God, repenting of his sins with a humble and contrite heart.[18] Because of his humility before the Lord, God is able to make right what started out wrong.  From David is born Solomon, who is held to be the wisest of all the kings of Israel. It was Solomon who built the first temple of Israel, so that the Ark of the Covenant could be housed. It was Solomon who people far and wide came to see and hear his wisdom. Yet Solomon was not perfect, and allowed his faith to falter, and his heart to stray. Because of this, his son Roboam had none of the wisdom of his father. Roboam, when he was made king, had a choice on what kind of king he would be; kind and beneficent or harsh and cruel. He asked the elders of Israel; What counsel do you give me, that I may answer this people?” They said to him: “If thou wilt yield to this people, and be humble to them, and grant their petition, and wilt speak gentle words to them, they will be thy servants always.[19] Yet Roboam did not listen to the advice of his elders, and instead listened to his friends, who advised him to put a heavy burden upon the people of Israel. So cruel was Roboam, that the kingdom of Israel, which had unified the twelve tribes of Israel, was torn asunder in bitter civil war. The Ten Tribes of Israel went off under the leadership of Jeroboam. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin formed the Kingdom of Judah, centered on Jerusalem.
As we continue along the genealogy of Christ, we find saints and sinners alike. We find the name of Ochozias, who along with the King of Israel, Achab, did great evil in the land. These were the kings that Elijah and Elisha spoke out against. We find the name of Achaz who allowed the Assyrians, the Edomites and the Philistines to plunder the cities of Judah.[20] It is Achaz that the prophet Isaiah was sent by the Lord, saying; And the Lord spoke again to Achaz, saying: Ask thee a sigh of the Lord thy God either unto the depth of hell, or unto the height above. And Achaz: I will not ask, and I will not tempt the Lord. And Isaiah said, "Hear ye therefore, O House of David: Is it a small thing for you to be grievous to men, that you are grievous to my God also? Therefore, the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be Emmanuel.” [21] We find King Mannasses, of whom it is said that the only evil he did not do was the evil he could not think of to do.[22] Yet we fight saints too, such as Asa and Josiah. Josiah is the one who restored the temple of the Lord and found the lost book of Deuteronomy, having it read to all the people of Israel so that they might return to the ways of the Lord.[23]
Josiah cleaning the Temple
-Artist unknown

Time came and time passed. Generations came and generations went away. Eventually, because of their sins, the Lord allowed the Assyrians to conquer the northern Kingdom of Israel. Ten tribes were lost, lost still to this very day. It is said that the only Jews that the Assyrians allowed to stay behind were the uneducated ones who had been in the outskirts. They were to become known as the Samaritans.
We find that the people of Judea would not be left alone either. The Assyrians conquer Judea around 740 BC as the prophet Hosea had warned. The Babylonians would then conquer the area and take the people of Judea into exile. This is the time of the prophet Daniel and the later Psalms. This is the time of which it is written, by the waters of Babylon we wept, there we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion…if I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither! Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy! [24] Then, Cyrus the Great allowed the people to return. This was the time of the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Ezra. This was when Zorobabel was allowed to become king of Judah, reestablishing the house of David.[25] His name too is found in the genealogy of Jesus.[26]
Eventually new conquers would come. Alexander the Great would wash over the Babylonians, Persians and Egyptians. His son Antiochus IV would control what is now Palestine. He outlawed the Jewish faith. So many people lost their faith, preferring the ways of the Greeks to the ways of their fathers. Yet a savior rose up to save the people of Israel. Around the year 166 BC, Judas Maccabaeus cleansed the temple of Jerusalem. His family would rule Israel wisely, free from interference. For four generations, Israel would have peace. But then, under the reign of Aristobulus II, a man named Herod, with the help of Pompey the Roman, would overthrow the House of Israel, allowing the Romans to control the Land of Israel.

To help you hate him like the Jewish people would have,
here is Herod the Great portrayed as a man with a perm…BOOO!
And time passed on. From Achim came Eliud, from Eliud came Ele’azar, from Ele’azar came Mathan, from Mathan came Ya’akob, and from Ya’akob came Ioseph, of the town of Nazareth. Roman, Greek and Persian idolatry come to sweep through the land. As is written, the idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths but they cannot see, they have ears but they cannot hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths.[27] Time passed along, and the people of Israel felt as though God had forsaken them. A new temple had been built by Herod, but it had not the presence of God, for the Ark of the Covenant had been lost generations earlier. So the Sadducees would say, the temple is rebuilt! We are able to offer right worship! Yet others would say, no, this is a temple that was built by the one who sold us into slavery to the Romans. The Pharisees said that we will follow the law and the prophets. Yet others felt that their past sins of idolatry had so tarnished their collective souls, that God was no longer was with them. Others like the Essenes felt that they, as the people of Israel, had so stained themselves that there was no almost no hope of redemptive cleansing. Who of us cannot relate to that feeling? We, who have sinned so grievously against God, that when we look up from the pit of muck and mire with which have dug for ourselves, we can scarcely see any light. Yet at this darkest of times, at the darkest and loneliest time for the people of Israel and their history, we read the following words. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David). To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.[28]

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem
The silver star on the floor marks the spot where the manger was held to be.
How glorious this day is to us! After generations of wondering and exile, unto us is born a son, born of a virgin. His name shall be Emmanuel, God-is-with-us. No longer do we have to wonder if God is with us, if God understands us, if God is listening. He has become one of us, so that we might live with him. In Hebrew, Jesus’ name is Yeshua , Joshua. Just as Ye’shua bar Nun, Joshua son of Nun, led the people through the river Jordan into the promised land, so now does Ye’shua bar Miriam, bar Dau’id, bar Avro’him, bar a’dam, bar Elohim Adonai, Jesus the son of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, the Son of Man and the Son of the Lord our God bring us through the waters of baptism into the promised land of eternal life. How our hearts swell upon hearing that the day of our salvation has now arisen? Can you imagine what it was like what it was like for the shepherds?
And yet Glories of Glories! God has gone far beyond what the prophets foretold! Not only has a savior been born, to restore the house of David, but God has actually become one of us, so that we might once again walk with God as our parents did before the fall! Indeed, he has come as the most humble and fragile of all humanity, a baby born into poverty! He humbles himself so that we might not fear to approach him as our judge, but rush to him as our savior, meek and mild. Yet still does not our Lord hesitate to pour forth even more blessings upon us, for as we read in John’s Gospel, But as many as received [Jesus], he gave the power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name.[29] How far beyond our conception, must less what we deserve, is such a gift made! How else can our heart’s cry out but “Glory to God in the Highest”? How much must we rejoice, hearing that the light has come into the world, and that no matter how dark the times might seem, no matter how great the evil threatens to overwhelm us, that the darkness has not, cannot nor will it ever conquer the light! [30] Glory to God in the highest indeed…for unto us this day is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David…and peace on earth to men of good will.[31]

Baby Jesus Picture With Mary Wrapped Swaddling Cloths
May you and yours have a merry and blessed Christmas

[1] Isaiah 25.8-9
[2] Matthew 1.1
[3] cf. Genesis 11.28-31
[4] cf. Romans 4.2-3: For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned him as righteousness.”
[5] Genesis 12.1: And the Lord said to Abraham: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land which I will shew thee.
[6] Genesis 13.15-16: [And the Lord said to Abram] “All the land which thou seest, I will give thtee, and to thy seed forever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: if any man be able to number the dust of the earth, he shall be able to number thy seed also.
[7] Cf. Genesis 22.8: And Abraham said: “God will provide himself a victim for an holocaust, my son.” So they went on together.
[8] Genesis 32.27-28: And he [the angel] said: “What is thy name?” He answered: “Jacob.” But he said; “Thy name shall not be called Jacob, but Israel: for if thou hast been strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men?”
[9] Genesis 35.23-26
[10] Numbers 7.11
[11] cf. Zechariah 11.12-13: And I said to them: “If it be in your eyes, bring hither my wages: and if not, be quiet.” And they weighed my wages thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said to me: “Cast it to the statuary, a handsome price, that I was prized at by them.” And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and I cast them into the house of the Lord to the statuary.

Cf. Matthew 27.3-5: When Judas, the betrayer of Christ, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed: and he went and hanged himself.
[12] Ruth 1.14
[13] Ruth 1.16: She [Ruth] answered [Noami]: “Be not againt me, to desire that I should leave thee and depart: for withersoever thou shalt go, I will go: and where thou shalt dwell, I also will dwell. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
[14] Ruth 4.21-22
[15] I Samuel 16.7
[16] cf. Acts 13.22
[17] I Corinthians 1.27
[18] cf Ps 50(51).19: A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
[19] II Kings 12.6b-7
[20] II Kings 16; II Chronicles 28
[21] Isaiah 7.10-14
[22] cf. II Kings 21.15; II Chronicles 33
[23] II Kings 23.25: There was no king before him like unto him [Josiah], that returned to the Lord with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his strength, according to the law of Moses: neither after him did there arise any like him.
[24] Psalm 136(137).1, 5-6
[25] cf. Ezra 4.2-3; Haggai 1.14, Haggai 2.5
[26] cf. Matthew 1.13; Luke 3.27
[27] Psalm 135.15-16
[28] Luke 2.1-4
[29] John 1.12
[30] cf. John 1.5
[31] cf. Luke 2.11, 14

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