Tuesday December 17, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Advent
Reading (Genesis 49:2, 8-10) Gospel (St. Matthew 1:1-17)
In the Gospel reading as we hear about the genealogy of Jesus going all the way back to Abraham, it is necessary that this be there to be able to demonstrate the fulfillment of God’s promises. It is also a rather wonderful thing to see how God fulfills the promises – it is not in the way that one would naturally anticipate. But the fact is we hear that Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was the father of Jacob. Jacob, remember, is the one whose name was changed to “Israel”, and Israel had twelve sons. Normally the blessing went to the first-born son but in this case it went to the fourth-born son, which is why we then hear that Jacob became the father of Judah and his brothers (which is a little odd because Judah is the fourth-born son of Israel, or Jacob). But it is there that way specifically because of what the Church gave to us in the first reading.
From Genesis 49, we hear the blessing that Jacob is giving to his sons. When it came to the first three, he said various things about them, but then his fatherly blessing – which was a highly coveted thing in the ancient world – went to the fourth-born son, and that was Judah. So we hear that Judah is like a lion’s whelp and that his brothers are going to bow down before him, that they will praise him, that the scepter will never depart from Judah (in other words, kings are going to be brought from Judah, as we see with David and all of those who follow him for those generations of the Israelite kings), that a tribute will be brought to him and he will receive the people’s homage. But it is this point of growing like a lion’s whelp; this is, again, where we get that point from the Book of Revelation where we see Jesus as the lion of the tribe of Judah – it is precisely because of the blessing that Israel gave to his son.
All of these things contained in that one little reading and that one blessing took generations to fulfill. And so we see that God is faithful to His promises, not always in our time, but always faithful to His promises. And with Jesus, we see then that He is the fulfillment of all of these promises and of the blessings that were given generations earlier: that the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah and that kings would come from the tribe of Judah. But we also know there were promises made to David that one of his sons would sit upon his throne forever. We see that promise being fulfilled in Jesus as well. So all the promises that were made through this whole family line all come to fulfillment in one Person.
As we prepare, then, for the birth of our Savior, what the Church is doing is giving to us these readings to understand who He is and why this is so important. It is not just a matter that He is somebody who was born and we can look at Him as our Savior. If that is the case, we could look at Buddha, or we could look at Zoroaster, or we could look at Mohammed, or we could look at any of these characters that have come into the world, but none of them were prophesied, none of them were promised. As God said through the prophet Amos, He does nothing in the world without first telling His prophets. There is only one person who is prophesied to come into the world. You can search any of the books and you will not find any but one, and that is the one who has fulfilled all these promises. That is why the Church is giving us these readings: to be able to show that Jesus is the fulfillment of these promises, that He is the one – and the only one – who was prophesied, that God would send His own Son into the world but He would send Him into the world in a certain manner that would be very clear to anyone who would look.
As we know from Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who somehow figured all this out, the rabbis at the time of Jesus recognized that there were some 350 specific and explicit prophesies regarding the Messiah that would have to be fulfilled. And according to Archbishop Sheen, the odds of those being fulfilled in one person are equivalent to the number 1 over 84 followed by one hundred and twenty-six zeros. Those are the odds of all these things being fulfilled in one person. So it should be pretty obvious when that one person comes into the world – and it is. Search any book you want, you will not find anyone except Jesus Christ being prophesied. He was not always prophesied by name, but we have things like this: we know He is going to come from the tribe of Judah (that is what we have from this reading). So what the Church is doing is setting all these things up for us so we know that Jesus is not some impostor, that He is not just some holy man that we thought might be the Messiah. Remember, at the time of Jesus, we read in the book of the Acts of the Apostles that there were several others that many thought might have been the Messiah; but then when they died all their followers disbanded. And so there is but one. There is one who was promised and there is one who has fulfilled the promises. We see the genealogy coming straight down so we see how the promises are going to be fulfilled.
The most wonderful thing for us is that we have been brought into that promise. It is not that we are looking at it from an arm’s distance and saying, “See how God has worked,” but we need to look and say, “See how God continues to work.” He has fulfilled His promise in Jesus and now He incorporates us into Jesus so that we share in all of those promises and we share in the fulfillment of those promises; that we too share in the life of the Messiah, in the kingship, in the priesthood, in the prophecy, in all of the things that have been told; and that we are incorporated into Christ and share in the promises and the glory that are His.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.