Mi 5:1-4a; Ps 13:6; Mt 1:1-16,18-23
Rejoice! There’s a word seldom used. When was the last time you rejoiced? Or, better yet, when was the last time you rejoiced with delight? What does it take to spark delight in our hearts? Why would we bother to rejoice? Birthdays give us a good reason to delight, or rejoice, or at the very least to sing. Today the Church from East to West delights in the birth of the Virgin Mary. Today we rejoice that the LORD has given us such a good reason to rejoice! Many have begun to trust in his mercy. When we trust our hearts can more readily rejoice in the LORD who comes to save us. In Christ is our salvation. Indeed, we sing with the Blessed Virgin, the Theotokos, as she sings—“He has been good to me.” Indeed, the LORD has been good to us, and his greatest blessing is the Incarnation, of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy mentioned in today’s gospel from Saint Matthew. “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” Indeed, this good news delights the soul of anyone who reads Micah’s prophecy, “He shall be peace.” We who long for true peace on earth celebrate the birth of the woman who brings our God and our Peace into our world. If that’s not something to delight in and to rejoice in, what is?
Did you ever wonder if they celebrated birthdays back in the day? It’s not hard to imagine that the whole nation or empire celebrated the anniversaries of the emperor and his family. It probably did not matter if they wanted to or not; it happened. Now, for someone like Mary of Nazareth, the celebration of the anniversary of her birth probably did not take place. She was “no one” born in a nowhere village. Her birth was exciting for the immediate family, but it’s doubtful that anyone else celebrated it. Even her son, Jesus, was born in a nowhere village, in Bethlehem, too small to be among the clans of Judah. However, he was the One that the prophet, Micah proclaimed in today’s reading. He was born to be ruler in Israel. Indeed, his origin is from of old, from ancient times. He has been born to lead us all back to our true identity as children of the LORD, the New Israel of God. This son of Mary is to stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the LORD, in the majestic name of the LORD, his God. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus the Christ, gathers us in from the ends of the earth, we shall remain with him and the Lord Jesus will be our peace.
The gospel for the Nativity of the Theotokos, the Mother of God, seems strange because there is no mention of the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This genealogy from Saint Matthew picks up a powerful rhythm from its beginning, “Abraham became the father of Isaac.” This rhythm runs through the generations from father to son, and it is interrupted quite deliberately by the mention of four mothers: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Beersheba. These four mothers seem to interrupt the rhythm of the genealogy. “Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar”, and Tamar is the one who offered herself as a harlot to continue the messiah’s bloodline. Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah; Beersheba by name, the woman David took for himself to fulfill his lust. Boaz, whose mother was Rahab; she is another repentant harlot who saved her whole family because of the kindness she showed to Joshua when he was spying in the city of Jericho. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth; she was a foreigner who demonstrated faithfulness to Naomi and her people and her God. Not only are four mothers mentioned in the genealogy; these mothers are less than holy models of motherhood. Not until the mention of Mary, the wife of Joseph, does the plan of God reveal the true model of holiness and discipleship. The Blessed Virgin Mary is revealed in this gospel as the legitimate wife of Joseph, who is with child through the Holy Spirit. Indeed the Holy Spirit has been preparing the human family of Abraham and his descendants for the wondrous birth of the Savior of all families of every nation. Indeed the working of the Holy Spirit from the conception of Mary within the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, has revealed the holiness of God. This unique mother of all mothers is full of grace and therefore free to respond, “let it be done to me according to your word” to the Archangel Gabriel. The holy and blessed parents, Saint Anne and Saint Joachim, according to early church tradition, raised this holy and blessed Virgin. We who celebrate her birth rejoice and delight in the grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This same Holy Spirit moves in the hearts of Eastern and Western believers. Indeed, we join as one to respond to an exhortation from the Byzantine Liturgy: “Today the barren Anna claps her hands for joy, the earth radiates with light, kings sing their happiness, priests enjoy every blessing, the entire universe rejoices, for she who is queen and the Father’s immaculate bride buds forth from the stem of Jesse!”