Ancestry.com promises to trace one’s ancestral line with as little information as a name or two. Whether it can produce an accurate family tree or not, it is certainly more appealing, for the non-historian mind, than searching through parish and state records to find the information. There is a human tendency to want to find an ancestral line that might produce noble characters, a royal line, people noted for their positive contributions. Such an ancestral line would surely give some bragging rights. But, what if the ancestral line served up some unsavory characters, people noted for their negative contributions! Well, fear not. Most likely the ancestral lines of all of us show up the positive and the negative, and our bragging rights lay in the discovery that we are equal partners in sharing the lot of our frail humanity.
The neatly constructed family line that we find set out in the Gospel of Matthew is just like any of ours. While it is high on royalty, it is low on nobility. Infidelity, political dealings, murder, all kinds of abuse, and actions to save themselves at the expense of their people would seem to be the hallmark of this royal line. Even the iconic David was a mixture of strength and weakness, noble actions and self-serving greed. There is certainly not much available here for bragging rights. Yet, it is into this line that Jesus, the Christ, was born. Even the circumstances of his birth had some eyebrow raising features and gossip worthy material surrounding it.
Before we get carried away with any sentimental notions of Christmas, this is the scenario presented to us in the Gospel reading for the Vigil Mass on Christmas Eve. What a strange, no, what a perfect introduction to the event we celebrate at Christmas! Into all that does not fit with our sense of ‘respectability’, neatness and order comes the one who is called “God with us”, Immanuel.
We call him Jesus, this one who is part of our circumstances. His name means savior. He walks in broken shoes with us on our path and leads our weary feet in directions we might otherwise not choose. He knows us with the heart of compassion and mercy, because he knows of what we are made. He understands our inherited frailties and weaknesses, because his human background is fraught with the same. And when he tells us, “be perfect as God is perfect”, he does not mean the notion of ‘perfect’ as we have misconstrued it. He means be your complete self – with goodness, with flaws, with love, with fear, with God in your heart and your only bragging rights being the knowledge that we are all awash with the mercy of God. Then we are charged to pay it forward. That is our Christmas gift and giving.
Elizabeth Ferguson, OP