DECEMBER 17, 2005, ADVENT HOMILY: GEN 49:2, 8-10; MATTHEW 1: 1-17
A FAMILY RECORD OF JESUS CHRIST, SON OF DAVID, SON OF ABRAHAM. St. Matthew opens his Gospel account with a formal, stylized listing of Jesusí ancestors. His purpose is to make it clear that our Lord is truly and fully a member of the Jewish race, a true descendant of Abraham according to the flesh. Consequently, he is a man like all the rest of us in his humanity while being in his person fully divine. That this account is constructed at the same time in view of making certain theological points is evident from the explicitly formal arrangement into three groups of fourteen ancestors each. In places he skips over some ancestors so as to maintain his structure of 14 generations in each of the three periods of time. He introduces the names of four women contrary to Jewish practice, each of whom have in common the fact that they conceived and gave birth by virtue of a special divine intervention. His intent here is to prepare for the still more marvelous divine conception of Jesus by Mary through the Holy Spirit. The genealogy precedes the account of the uniquely divine conception of the Lord, in the narrative, however it presumes it as a fact.
The most striking point is the fact that he lists the genealogy of Joseph rather than that of Mary, while concluding with the observation that it is of Mary that Jesus took flesh. He will then continue his narrative by showing in detail that Joseph was not the father of Jesus according to the flesh for he was conceived by the Holy Spirit in a unique and divine manner. Joseph is commissioned, however, by God through the dream, to adopt Jesus as his legal son. This is indicated by the directive he is given to name the child Jesus, for in Jewish practice, the imposing of the childís name by the father was the public expression of recognition of the child as his own. Accordingly, Jesus is presented by Matthew as the son of Davidís descendent, Joseph, by adoption, and the son of Abraham according to the flesh through his mother, Mary.
In this manner of Jesusí conception and birth, therefore, Matthew shows how God himself in the person of Jesus, enters human history. In Jesus God is truly with us becoming one of us. Jesus then is the Emmanuel foretold by the prophet Isaiah; his birth is the fulfillment of that ancient prophecy assuring that God himself would come to save his people (Isaiah 7:14) as Joseph is told in his dream.
The implications of this truth were such that it required many years, even centuries, of reflection and prayer, to find explicit expression. The mystery of the Trinity had gradually to be formulated in such a way as to preserve the unity of God while maintaining the equal divinity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. The belief existed already in apostolic times as is evident from various Scriptural passages, but the way in which to understand this truth proved elusive and divisive. Various false interpretations led to schisms and heresies from early times; the Jews rejected the claim outright as blasphemous. The orthodox teaching in fact does not claim to represent a full explanation of this belief but rather states with assurance what are the main contents that define its meaning.
The fact that God became man in Jesus is the fundamental Christian truth. The true value of Jesusí life and teaching, its divine function and purpose, grows out of the fact that he is truly God, the eternal Son of God the Father has become a member of our race. He suffered and died that we might live with him in the presence of the Father for all eternity. Even now, the pledge that we are destined for unending life within the circle of Godís intimates in glory is the fact that our Savior is himself one of the Trinity. In him our humanity is even now, in an unimaginable manner, living within the very bosom of the One God. We can have but a feeble realization of just what such a destiny entails. It is our task to prepare for its fulfillment during these days of Advent as far as we can by our prayer and our way of living, united with the will of God as revealed in our Savior May we profit from the grace of this Eucharist as we strive today and in the coming days to undertake this labor of faith and love and thus increasingly approach that purity of heart that one day will see God in his glory.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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