• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

The Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (At the Vigil Mass)

“Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus.”

Long Form of the Gospel

Entrance Antiphon: Ex 16:6-7 — “Today you will know that the Lord will come, and He will save us, and in the morning you will see His glory.”

First Reading: Is 62:1-5 — “The Lord delights in you.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29 — “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”

Second Reading: Acts 13:16-17, 22-25 — “Paul bears witness to Christ, the Son of David.”

Alleluia: Alleluia, alleluia. “Tomorrow the wickedness of the earth will be destroyed: the Savior of the world will reign over us.” Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel: Mt 1:1-25 — (Long Form)“The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David;”Mt 1:18-25 — (Short Form) “Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus.”

Communion Antiphon: Is 40:5 — “The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all flesh will see the salvation of our God.”

Good evening! Welcome to this celebration of Christmas here in Franklinville, New Jersey … in the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel ... Nativity Church. On behalf of myself ... as well as the staff of the Parish and our School, I would like to welcome all of you this evening. Welcome to all parishioners, their families, and their friends. Welcome to all who might be visiting from other parishes. Welcome to all the young people and college students who are home for their semester break. For those of you who may not know me, my name is Fr. Larry Polansky and this is my fourth Christmas here in Franklinville and Clayton. This year has been extraordinary in so many different ways in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and at the outset let me say thank you for beginning your Christmas by being here this evening.

I remember seeing a TV commercial about a dozen years ago that showed a father bringing in a large, luxurious, live-cut Christmas tree into their home on Christmas Eve. Maybe some of you remember it. His small son’s eyes grew larger and larger and he became more and more excited. The tree was placed in the stand, then the father took a pruner and began cutting away – cutting, cutting, cutting … until all of the branches save a very few top ones were gone. When the little boy looked at the tree, he got very, very sad. Then the commercial changed scenes ... it was then Christmas morning. Presents were piled so high under the tree that the bare trunk of the night before was completely hidden with gifts. The few branches at the top stand out majestically as the crown of abundance. I think ... I hope ... that at first sight, that commercial might have caused a wrenching in some of you ... the true meaning of Christmas is not found in piled-up gifts. And yet, God’s Gift to us is exactly the meaning of Christmas, and the Gift is of incalculable abundance and worth.

The Gift of the divine Son is the fulfillment of God’s desire for us from the very beginning of creation.

In the First Reading from Isaiah, the prophet bursts out, “I will not be silent … I will not be quiet” (Is 62:1). Zion’s vindication is on its way, like the light of dawn or of a burning torch. This vindication will be seen by the whole world. Various metaphors are used for the approaching union of God with His people. “Zion will have a ‘new name’ spoken by the Lord” (Is 62:2). Zion will be a crown or a diadem for the Lord. She will be the Lord’s bride. What does all of this have to do with Christmas? In the Liturgy of the Hours, the antiphon for Evening Prayer I of Christmas gives us the answer. “When the sun rises in the sky, you will see the King of kings coming forth from the Father like a radiant bridegroom from the bridal chamber.” For Christians, Jesus is the bridegroom, who “makes your land His spouse” in taking on human flesh (Is 62:4). God delights in us and desires to be in such intimate union with us that only spousal imagery … the imagery of husband and wife can begin to capture the divine desire. God’s Gift is one of presence – a whole new unprecedented presence in which God is not only present TO us, but by taking on human flesh, becomes present WITHIN us. Isaiah gives us an intimate description of what happens when salvation dawns upon us in God’s presence. We enjoy a whole new relationship with God. Christmas is a festival of new relationship.

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul preaches in the synagogue at Antioch. Standing before his fellow Jews, he demonstrates that Jesus is the Messiah whom they await. The passage gives many great illustrations, as Paul places Jesus in the context of the history of the chosen people, from their exile in Egypt, to the anointing of David as king, to the preaching of John the forerunner.

In the Gospel, two names are revealed for the Infant born of Mary: Jesus, which means “save His people,” and Emmanuel, “God is with us.” The second name helps us understand the first. Our salvation is accomplished by God’s very presence. We are saved because we are one with the divine One who chooses to be present to us.

It is NOT joyful that this most wonderful time of the year – when the radio is filled with the sounds of once-a-year music, when the TV is abounding in images of abundance, and our neighborhoods are bristling with color and animation – is also a season of sheer contradictions. For many, the trees are piled high with presents and the tables are loaded with delectable delights. For others, this is a time of acute awareness of not having the necessities of life. For some, this is a time of family togetherness and peace. For others, it brings into sharp focus separations and strained relationships. The one Gift that we all share is God’s love … His care … His presence. One challenge of Christmas is to BE that presence for others. We must LIVE the gift and bring the joy and glory of God’s presence to those who are most alienated, most hurting, most in need. Christmas brings demands along with the Gift. We are given the Gift so that we might share with others. This is how God desires to make salvation known.

The Gospel is also the beginning of the text according to Matthew, the genealogy of the Lord. Why such a long genealogy? It was to prove to all the believers of all times that Jesus was truly the Messiah. It was to prove that through Jesus, salvation came to the world. The genealogy is important especially for the liturgy of Christmas. From the time of Abraham, God prepared the way for His Gift, for His Son, Jesus. It proves that the promises God made to Abraham had finally been fulfilled.

Did you ever hear the saying, “God writes straight with crooked lines?” I read somewhere that it is said to be a Portugese proverb, but it apparently it has been difficult to nail down the exact source of this much-used maxim.

As we see in the genealogy, through holy and righteous people like Boaz and Ruth, sinful people like Rahab, David, Solomon, and the “wife of Uriah,” God prepares the way for His coming in human flesh. It shows us His movements through history. They are OUR ancestors … God works through each one of us. It also demonstrates the awesomeness of God. He can accomplish His goal through His chosen instruments … whether they are saints or sinners. The Gospel of Matthew is the only Gospel that explains the redemptive name of Jesus. The genealogy gives us perspective on how God works with us, His creation, to finally present the Gift of His Son to the world.

The Gospel continues with the account of Joseph’s dream. Joseph, who is the “son of David” is close to God. Jesus is tied into our history. God is faithful to His promises. When the angel speaks the astonishing news, Joseph accepts it without questioning. On awakening, he does not speak, but he acts, taking Mary into his home without further ado. Mary and Joseph demonstrate the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Their example is also a gift for all of us. And as Matthew reminds us, “All this took place to fulfill the words of Isaiah. Jesus is the ‘Emmanuel’ of the prophet.” God will indeed be with us.

As the Season of Advent comes to its close, the weeks of waiting and praying are replaced with great joy and peace. People of all ages and nations raise their voices to sing praises and glories to the Lord. We once again receive the world’s greatest gift. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us never forget why Jesus came into the world. It was out of love. It was to save His people from their sins. It was to save you ... it was to save me ... it was to save all of us. Merry Christmas!

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