Thursday, December 24, 2009

Behold, The Virgin Shall Conceive And Bear A Son; He Shall Be Called Emmanuel!

December 24, 2009
The Nativity of the Lord
The Vigil Mass

Reading 1             Isaiah 62:1-5

For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.
Nations shall behold your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
you shall be called by a new name
pronounced by the mouth of the LORD.
You shall be a glorious crown in the hand of the LORD,
a royal diadem held by your God.
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,”
or your land “Desolate,”
but you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the LORD delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you;
and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.


God has made many promises about the wonderful future for Jerusalem and its inhabitants. But their captivity in Babylon has gone on for half a century and more, but the wonderful future has yet to be fulfilled. Still, the prophet continues to encourage the people, and at the same time, to urge the Lord to fulfill his promise.

The day will come when the nations of the world will see the vindication of Jerusalem, and their kings will observe her glory. She will be called by a new name, which the Lord has chosen for her. In the Hebrew Scriptures, a “name” refers to a person’s character. The new names given to the city “Hephzibah” (My delight is in you), and to the nation “Beulah” (Espoused) reveal that the Lord has formed a new and intimate relationship with his people. The relationship of the Lord with the nation of Israel will be that of a bride with her bridegroom. And God will rejoice in her!

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Responsorial      Psalm 89

R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
I have made a covenant with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant:
Forever will I confirm your posterity
and establish your throne for all generations.
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
Blessed the people who know the joyful shout;
in the light of your countenance, O LORD, they walk.
At your name they rejoice all the day,
and through your justice they are exalted.
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.
He shall say of me, “You are my father,
my God, the rock, my savior.”
Forever I will maintain my kindness toward him,
and my covenant with him stands firm.
R. For ever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

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Reading II          Acts 13:16-17, 22-25

When Paul reached Antioch in Pisidia and entered the synagogue,
he stood up, motioned with his hand, and said,
“Fellow Israelites and you others who are God-fearing, listen.
The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors
and exalted the people during their sojourn in the land of Egypt.
With uplifted arm he led them out of it.
Then he removed Saul and raised up David as king;
of him he testified,
‘I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart;
he will carry out my every wish.'
From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise,
has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance
to all the people of Israel;
and as John was completing his course, he would say,
‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he.
Behold, one is coming after me; I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals of his feet.’”


At the time that these events were recorded by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, those who wanted to speak in a public assembly waved their hand first. The same custom is followed today.

Paul greeted both the Jews and the “God-fearing” Gentiles who were assembled in the synagogue of Antioch. He reminded them that God had chosen them and protected them. He led them out of Egypt. He gave them Judges to guide them. He spoke to them through the prophet Samuel to warn them that it would not be good for them to have a king (1 Samuel 8). And when they insisted, he allowed them to have their own way, and chose Saul for them.

But Saul did not obey God, and God rejected him (1 Samuel 15), and chose David instead. David became Israel’s most renowned king. Although David had done some sinful things, he was truly repentant, and the Lord forgave him, and God himself attested, “I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.”

It is from the descendants of David, Paul reminds the people of Antioch, that God will bring a redeemer to Israel. John would prepare the people for the coming of the savior by preaching repentance and by baptizing those who repented as a sign of the forgiveness of their sins.

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Gospel               Matthew 1: 18-25

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.


Joseph and Mary were betrothed. The word is often considered a synonym of “engaged”, but in Israel at the time of these events, the betrothal was considered the first stage of a marriage ritual that would be completed when the couple stood before the congregation at the synagogue in Nazareth, and received the blessing of the Lord through the words and gestures of the rabbi. The betrothal was considered to form the marriage bond, and the only way to break the bond was by a formal divorce.

When Joseph learned that Mary was “with child”, his first thought was that she had not been faithful to him. There were four ways of dealing with the situation, according to the law: The man could acknowledge paternity of the child, and the rite of marriage would be performed as previously scheduled. He could accuse her of infidelity, and the life of the woman would be ended by stoning at the town gates. He could divorce her quietly, without accepting paternity or accusing her of infidelity. He could accept her into his home as his wife, without acknowledging paternity of the child.

Joseph was a just man, and a kind man. He could not acknowledge paternity, since he was not the child’s father. He was unwilling to accuse her of infidelity, because of the kindness of his heart. He was about to choose the third option, divorcing her quietly, when Gabriel, the messenger Angel, appeared to him in a dream and told him “the rest of the story”: The conception took place by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary will bear a son, who will be named “Jesus” (the Greek and Latin forms of Joshua, an Old Testament name that means “The Lord Saves”) . All this happened to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet Isaiah (7:14). Isaiah’s words came true the first time, when the boy who became King Hezekiah was born to a young woman who was not alive yet at the time the prophecy was made. But it was fulfilled in an even more wonderful way by the birth of Jesus. The entire gospel describes how Jesus is “God with us”. All that he said and did showed both the power of God and the love of God for his people. Joseph believed the Lord’s messenger, and acted according to the instructions in the message.

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