CHRISTMAS VIGIL EMMANUEL, GOD-WITH-US

“The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and he will be called Emmanuel which means: God-with us” (Luke 1: 23).

 

We gather this evening to celebrate and reflect on the mystery of the Incarnation, God made flesh (John 1: 14), through which our damned humanity was redeemed. This is Christmas, that God became man to save man. So Christmas is not simply the story of a born in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes with the animals and the shepherds as guests. Christmas is the story of God’s continuous presence and fulfilment of His promises and covenants with His people. All the covenants in the Old Testament, beginning with Noah to the covenant with David culminated were leading to and culminated in the event of the Incarnation as the Last Covenant of confirmation of His presence with the birth of Emmanuel, God-with-us. For truly God is ever present with us.

I know when one considers the events in our world today, it may be not out of place to wonder if God is really present with us today. When we think of thousands of lives that have been lost in earthquakes in Indonesia, the flooding in Japan, the volcanic eruption in Guatemala, the deadly wildfires in California; when we consider the number of people who have been killed in the name of religion in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and many others; when we try to recall the number of people who have died through incurable and curable diseases; when we think of the conflicts, the wars, the hatred, the animosity and human injustice to man; when we think about all that we and some of our families are going through, we definitely would want to know where God is.

My dear friends, the answers to these and to our questions can be found in the history of the genealogy of Jesus Christ we just listened to from the Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 1: 1-25). Within this pedigree we find great of faith and men who were notoriously lacking in faith; we see kings who rose to great heights and fell in weakness; we see names that are unknown and unmentioned anywhere in the Old Testament. In the ancestral line of Jesus, it is striking to see Matthew including women, who were generally discriminated against, especially at the time and among the Jewish people. But even more striking is who these women were: Rahab was a harlot in Jericho (Joshua 2: 1-7); Ruth was a Moabite, not even a Jew (Ruth 1: 4); Tamar was a deliberate seducer and an adulteress (Genesis 38); and Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon whom David seduced from Uriah, with a despicable cruelty (2 Samuel 11, 12). In this ancestral line, we encounter the fall of man, promises of God, the enslavement and exiles of God’s chosen people. This lineage of Jesus reveals the presence of God in the midst of His people through thick and thin, the triumphs and tragedies, virtues and vice, reward and punishment. This is a history of that faithful God of the good times, the bad times and the ugly times. It is the history of God, Who writes straight on crooked lines and uses the egg to crack the kernel. This is the history of that God, Who never forsakes His own.  God, the Father has always been Emmanuel before He sent His Son in human form as the Emmanuel, God with us.  This is revealed in the birth of the child Jesus, Who comes to break the barriers that separated the Jews from the Gentiles, men from women, and saints from sinners.

Just as God was present in the history of the Jewish people as revealed in the genealogy of Jesus, He is present in the same way in our history today. And just as He faithfully led His chosen people through the challenges of they suffered to the fulfilment of all His promises and covenants, so too He is faithfully present with us through these difficult moments. Let us not forget that the Child born at Christmas made us a promise before He left us: “I am with you always to the end of the world” (Matthew 28: 20).

The genealogy of Christ invites us to the consciousness of the fact that God is present in our (personal) history as well, no matter how it seems. Therefore, no matter what our past has been, we should be proud of our roots, where we come from, our journey so far because God has been present all through. Above all, He has plans for us that can only be fulfilled within the context of our relationship to our historical milieu – “I know the plans I have for you, plans for peace and not for war (plans for good and not for evil, plans to prosper you and not to harm you); so that you may have a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29: 11).

Let this Christmas assure us of God continuous presence in our midst and with us. He is in fact Emmanuel, God-with-us.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL!