Saturday, 17 December 2016

17 December

Readings: Genesis 49:2, 8-10; Psalm 72; Matthew 1:1-17

The past year or so has seen the arrival of three new members of our family, grand-nieces to me, daughters to their parents, grand-daughters to their grand-parents, nieces to their aunts, cousins to each other. The birth of these little girls has, obviously, brought great joy across the family, the fact that they are the first members of a new generation making that joy more profound, the excitement more intense.
The first child to be born was for a short time the 'only child' of her generation and so a very powerful little person. She created, single-handedly, a whole new set of relationships which would not exist without her. She was the first in the third generation of my parents' offspring. She made her father to be a father and her mother to be a mother. She made her grandparents to be grandparents. She created uncles and aunts who were not uncles and aunts before. She created grand-uncles and grand-aunts who were not that before. In time and in space, we can say, the arrival of this little girl transformed many things.

So is it with the arrival of any child: there is now a new world. Babies come, the English poet William Wordsworth says, 'trailing clouds of glory', coming as they do 'from God, who is our home' and so 'Heaven lies about us in our infancy'. That's Wordsworth, a bit Platonist in the way he expresses things. But there is no doubt that the joy surrounding the arrival of the newborn child has about it such a purity and perfection, such an uncomplicated brightness, that speaking of the child coming from God is understandable. We do, after all, speak of the child as 'a gift of God' and he or she makes strongly present for us something of the divine goodness and power.

There is now another branch in our family tree and it is growing strongly. The genealogy is one level deeper than it was before. These children, newly arrived, take their place in that genealogy, begin a new generation, and at that we are all grateful and amazed. The extended family network is also made much more complex by their arrival. And for that too we are all grateful and amazed.

What about the child whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, and the Son of God? Like any human child he establishes new things in the family and among the people to which he belongs. A new level is established in the genealogy of his family and a new network of relationships is set up. In the case of Jesus we believe that what is established by his birth has significance for all of us. He comes trailing clouds of glory in a unique way because he is the uncreated Son of God existing from all eternity. He really does come from the bosom of the Father and is therefore the Child who can reveal the Father to us. Heaven lies about him not just in his infancy but all through his life, even - wonder of wonders - in his death because in his case the Father raised him from death into the new life of the eternal kingdom, an even more remarkable birth, the one we celebrate at Easter.

So Jesus adds another branch to the family tree of Israel and another level to the genealogy of God's people, whether we trace it back to Abraham, as Matthew does, or to Adam, as Luke does. And a new network of relationships is established by the birth of Jesus. On an ordinary level he makes Mary to be a mother and Joseph a father. But on the level of grace his birth establishes the network of relationships that we call 'the Church'. Because he is the Son of the Eternal Father, the Father of all, and is born as our brother, human beings can now see they are all brothers and sisters of this common Father. Because he is the Son in the 'family' of the Blessed Trinity, human beings can now realise that thy have been grafted onto a new family tree. It is not just the tree of Israel, the tree of Jacob and of Jesse, onto which the pagans are now grafted. That is also true. But, more deeply, it is the tree of God's own life onto which all human beings, Gentiles as well as Jews, can now be grafted.

Because of His birth we have a new dignity since the Son of God has become our brother. Because of His birth we belong to a new family whose reach includes all human beings without exception. Because of his birth the family tree is extended universally in space and eternally in time. It means that our stories - my story, your story, the story of my new grand-niece - cannot be told without tracing our beginnings back to God the Creator and charting our future destiny forward to the life of friendship with God which is the life of the Blessed Trinity promised to us for all eternity.

We are all grateful and amazed at what my grand-nieces have already achieved, by the simple fact of their birth. We are preparing to be grateful and amazed again at the birth of Jesus, at what this Child has achieved by his birth and by his life, by his passion, death and resurrection: a radically new level of life for the human family, a radically new depth to the human story.

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