December 18, 2022
Revised Common Lectionary
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Psalm 24:1-2, 3-4, 5-6 (7c, 10b)
“Where are you from?”
“No, where are you really from?”
Asian Americans and other descendants of non-white immigrants are all too familiar with this line of questioning, as in North America whiteness is frequently equated with “belonging here.” Many children of immigrants have experienced inner conflicts over identity as they navigate the often-unspoken assumptions of a white-dominated society and the cultural background of their families. The question is of course getting at something more than “Where are you from?” At a deeper level the question is, “So just who are you?”
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas in just one week, today’s Scripture readings point us toward the birth of Jesus, including the question of where he is from—where he is really from—and who he really is.
In the reading we hear today from the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is clearly identified as coming from the human family, and specifically from the Jewish nation. He is fully human and a Jew in the line of David the king. While Mary bore him in her womb and gave him birth, we learn in the genealogy immediately preceding today’s passage that Jesus received his lineage as a descendant of David not from Mary, but from Joseph. Matthew goes on in today’s reading to recount how Joseph claimed him as his own, giving him the name commanded by God through the angel. Today’s Gospel story situates Jesus within the context of his human family—Mary and Joseph—and of the Jewish people.
In addition to his birth from a human mother and Joseph’s willingness to be known as his father, Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth reveals that he had been conceived “from the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:18). His birth was not by human design but came about through God’s Spirit. Later generations of Christians would use the language of Matthew and other New Testament writers to express a shared belief that while Jesus is truly human, he is at the same time truly divine, “conceived by the Holy Spirit.”
Christians continue to struggle with this mystery of God becoming human. It’s easy to conclude that if Jesus is truly God, he didn’t have to share in our struggles or experience the limitations of being human. That, however, would make Jesus little more than an impostor. The mystery of the incarnation is that while he is fully divine, Jesus is also fully human. The Letter to the Hebrews affirms the humanity of Jesus in this way: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
As we prepare to celebrate the mystery of God-among-us at Christmas, we are called to reflect on the identity of this child. He was born of poor parents in an occupied nation and embraced fully our human life with its joys and sorrows and struggles. At the same time, he is Emmanuel, God-with us, revealing to us the depths of God’s love for the world.
To proclaim the mystery of the incarnation–that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine—is no mere intellectual exercise. What stronger affirmation of the world and of humanity could there be than for God to become one of us and in so doing become one with us? Irenaeus of Lyons (130 – 202 AD) put it this way: “How could the human race go to God if God had not come to us?”
As we prepare to look on the child in the manger, we recall today that in Jesus the love of God is born into the world. Fully one of us, enmeshed in all the complexities of life in this world, he is likewise the presence of God in our midst.
A Hymn for Today: “Savior of the Nations, Come”
Originally written in Latin by Ambrose of Milan (340-397), this hymn was translated into German by Martin Luther. It appeared with the tune NUN KOMM, DER HEIDEN HEILAND (the first line of the German text) in 1524. The hymn is particularly apt for this last Sunday of Advent as it celebrates the wonder of the incarnation, the coming among us of “the Word of God made flesh.” Click here to hear this hymn sung by the congregation of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
Savior of the nations, come;
virgin’s son, make here your home.
Marvel now, O heav’n and earth:
God has chosen such a birth.
Not by human flesh and blood,
but the mystic Breath of God,
was the Word of God made flesh,
fruit of woman, blossom fresh.
Wondrous birth—oh, wondrous child—
from his throne, a virgin mild!
Very God, and Mary’s son,
eager now his race to run!
From God’s heart the Savior speeds,
back to God his pathway leads;
out to vanquish death’s command,
back to reign at God’s right hand.
Now your manger, shining bright,
hallows night with newborn light.
Night cannot this light subdue;
let our faith shine ever new.
Praise we sing to Christ the Lord,
virgin’s son, incarnate Word!
To the holy Trinity
praise we sing eternally!
Text: Ambrose of Milan, 340-397; Martin Luther, 1483-1546; hymnal version © 2006 Augsburg Fortress. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: NUN KOMM, DER HEIDEN HEILAND
Image Credit: Joseph is betrothed to Mary, oak woodcarving in the choirstall area of the Cathedral of Amiens, 1508-1519
“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.
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