SECOND DAY: December 17
  (from the book: Where is the Child? by Fr. R. Marcos (Makati: St Pauls); 

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First Reading: Genesis 49:2, 8-10

Jacob called his sons and said [to them]: “Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob, listen to Israel, your father. “You, Judah, shall your brothers praise—your hand on the neck of your enemies;the sons of your father shall bow down to you.

Judah is a lion’s cub, you have grown up on prey, my son. He crouches, lies down like a lion, Like a lioness—who would dare rouse him? The scepter shall never depart from Judah, or the mace from between his feet, until tribute comes to him, and he receives the people’s obedience.”

A.Short Background on the First Reading

1. Who was Judah? Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob (or Israel). Jacob was considered the father of the nation of Israel and his twelve sons were considered the foundation stones of this tribal community. This reading shows the royal privileges of Judah.  Among Jacob’s children, Judah would enjoy prominence and power. From Judah’s line will come David, the greatest king of Israel.  The people believed that David’s reign would be forever and from him would come one who would be enthroned as eternal ruler and ultimate monarch.

Jacob prophesies about the scepter of Judah. He promises a victor, like a lion, a ruler. “The sons of your father shall bow down to you.” Christ is the son of Judah, but how do we see these images adapted to Christ?

2. Jacob gives a blessing to his son. The Bible puts strong emphasis on blessings.  The words that comprise blessings are not mere praises or flattering encouragement.  They are truly a source of grace in the lives of those who receive them.  Isaac, the father of Jacob, mistakenly gave his blessing to Jacob instead of the elder son Esau.  And yet, he could not revoke the blessing or repeat it for Esau.  Once given, the blessing remains.  God is always faithful in his words.

B.  Reflections on the First Reading

Reflection 1: Be a Blessing

This Christmas, we desire to partake of God’s blessings.  We count our blessings and we want to share our blessings to others. Christmas is an ever-constant reminder of the ceaseless blessings that come from God and that flow into our world.

In actual life, however, do we experience bestowing and uttering blessings on one another?  Due to complex life situations, so many words and actions are wasted today in anger, in hostility, and in retribution.  We speak ill of people whom we envy.  We malign people who wrong us.  We destroy reputations of those we do not like or those who pose as threats to our interests.

But have we ever thought of positively altering our lives and the lives of other people by putting a stop to the cycle of malediction happening around us?  The reading shows us a way of improving our lives and the lives of others.  Jacob gives a blessing that will change forever the future of his son, Judah.  His blessing will remain forever in effect, and from Judah’s tribe the Messiah will be born—all because Jacob spoke words of faith, encouragement, and hope.

At Christmastime, we dream of blessings.  Have you ever thought of yourself as an agent of blessings?  When was the last time you spoke positively of your spouse, children, coworkers, friends, or neighbors?  You can start the cycle of blessings by desiring that others be blessed and by speaking the blessing that will change the lives of people for the better.

Jesus even tells us to bless our persecutors, to bless and never to curse.  Like Jacob, when you bless, you transform others.  And like Jacob, when you bless others with your love, presence, words, and actions, you become the first recipient of your blessing.

Remember that God blesses the world through you.

Reflection 2: God’s Plan for You

Through the figure of Jacob, the reading assures us that God prepares a bright future for all his children.  In creating the world and in creating each of us, God assumes the role of father concerned for the welfare of each member of his family. The seasons of Advent and Christmas unveil the plan of God for the whole human race, a design for the emergence of love, harmony, and peace in this world.

It does not mean that because God initiates his great plan for our lives, we do not anymore have the freedom to pursue what we want in life.  By just looking at people around us and maybe even our own experiences, we know that, in fact, many have taken the future into their own hands, regardless of the plan of God, obeying only their own agenda, their heart’s desires.

Man and woman have the freedom and energy to carve their own futures, even apart from the design of God.  We also know the painful and sad consequences of such indifference and disobedience to God’s manifest will.

But in the reading, it is clear that from the heart of God, he lays down before us only the best possibilities. He is our Father, and like Jacob, foresees what is most beneficial for his family. Jacob, through his prophecy for Judah, prepares the bright future of his son’s lineage.  Not that in the future there will be no tribulations in Judah’s clan.  But God will see to it that in the end, all his promises will materialize.

Believe that God has something excellent in store for you!  Resist the doubt that tempts us to think that God has forgotten us or that he plays deaf to our pleas. You are loved and favored. 

At times when the clouds are dark, stand tall and claim the future the Lord has planned for you.  Seek his will and totally adhere to it in faith, and know that God’s promises will be fulfilled.

GOSPEL: Matthew 1:1-17

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king.

David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos, Amos the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile.

After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud.  Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok.  Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar.  Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Messiah.

Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

A. Short Background on the Gospel

1.  The genealogy of Jesus settles many questions about his identity.  Jesus, the Son of God, is indeed truly the Son of Man—human like the rest of us. This is what the incarnation means and this is what the early Christians knew about Jesus—God who became man. He was not merely pretending to be human; he was indeed born into a human family, the genealogy affirming the human society where he was historically inserted.

2.  The genealogy of Jesus shows a motley crew of Old Testament figures dotting the family tree of the Messiah:  great men of faith, patriarchs of Israel, illustrious kings.  But there are also great unknowns, even names of public sinners and transgressors of God’s law are included in the list.   This family tree is not perfect.  It is really a history of human achievements and limitations.

3. There are women in the genealogy of Christ. Matthew included five women in his list. This is remarkable since it was not customary for Jews to include women in their records. Even more noteworthy is the fact that Matthew included some women who had disreputable histories. The five women included are: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary.

Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah. She was a childless widow. Tamar disguised herself as a harlot and seduced Judah. She became the mother of Perez. Rahab was a harlot who lived in Jericho. She hid the spies of Joshua. Rahab’s faith was later commended (see Heb 11:31). Ruth was a foreigner from the land of Moab. She was the widow of a Jew. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who was a soldier in the army of King David. She and David had an adulterous affair. Mary was the mother of Jesus and the wife of Joseph. She was a virgin when Jesus was conceived in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit.

In a patriarchal society, the contribution of women is rarely acknowledged, and even more is the avoidance of any mention of women with blight on their reputations.

B. Reflections on the Gospel

Reflection 1: True God and True Man

When Edith Stein told her mother that she wanted to become a Christian, the mother, a faithful Jew, cried out: I know that Jesus is a good man. But why does he have to pretend that he is God? Jews and Muslims consider the humanity of Jesus but fail to see that Jesus is at the same time the divine Son of God.

On the reverse plane, there are instances when people who believe in Jesus put the heavy emphasis on his divinity and they cannot accept that he was fully human at his incarnation and in his earthly life. Historically, there had been certain groups within Christianity that upheld the divine nature of Jesus but belittled his human nature or that stressed only his human nature over his divine status.

This season is a time to reaffirm our faith in the true identity of the Lord. We cannot live in partial appreciation of the person of Jesus. Otherwise we will fall into misleading and erroneous beliefs and doctrines.

The Catholic Church upholds the conviction that God became a human being. We rely on Scriptures and Tradition for this faith, guided by the Holy Spirit. The Gospel clearly shows that Jesus, who is divine, totally embraced our human nature, and a proof of this is his membership in this great but flawed Jewish clan.

During Simbang Gabi, let us reflect on the greatness of God’s love. He has truly become one of us, joining his divine nature to our human weakness and limitations. In doing this, God has shown his magnanimity, identifying with and loving his weak creatures and making them his children.

Reflection 2: Accepting Our Families

Jesus’ family line shows a combination of good and virtuous men and profane and wicked personalities. I am amazed at such humility of God. In sending his Son, he was inserted into a normal family with good and bad genes, good and bad reputations. Even Jesus had to live with the reality of an imperfect family, one with dysfunctional members. The perfect family only exists in movies and comic books. Each of us feels the pressures and tensions of belonging to families with flawed characters as our relatives. The adage about being able to choose your friends but not your relatives is undoubtebly true.

God has made preparations for our lives long before we were born. God has a plan for all of us. No one in this planet is here by accident. Like what he did to Jesus, God prepared our future through the ancestors he has chosen for us.  Whether or not our lineage shows prestigious and honorable men, our lives have a purpose that God alone truly understands.

Are you ever tempted to rue, disown, or be ashamed of your family members who have tarnished the family’ dignity and honor? Jesus certainly did not live his life blaming his relatives.  It is only by accepting both positive and negative elements in our families that we can appreciate who we are and discover our capacities to change our future.

Just as Jesus did not disown his human lineage, so, too, we must not distance ourselves from our family. Family is about relationship, and ultimately relationships are most important in our lives.

Let us offer prayers today for our families and ask the Lord to heal wounds that alienate us from them. Let us remember our ancestors and be thankful for them. These are the men and women called by God to open paths and opportunities of goodness and holiness to enter our lives.

Reflection 3: Appreciation for Women

The Gospel shows an appreciation of women not found in the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time. With the coming of Jesus, his disciples slowly recognize the equality of all men and women in the eyes of God. Christians have always been known to work for the eradication of artificial barriers among human beings. Sadly, though, many women today still suffer indignities and ill treatment in communities and even within their own families. How are women in our society appreciated and valued? When was the last time you showered praise and commendation for the women in your life?

Women in the Church deserve respect and acknowledgment for their many gifts and contributions. Though like men, women are marked by flaws in many ways, let us remember that women were part of God’s plan in preserving his people, redeeming them from sin and preparing them to receive the Father’s greatest gift of his only Son.

Reflection 4: Openness to “Others”

The genealogy of Jesus has a further challenge to us. The family line of Jesus manifests openness to strangers and foreigners and people of little or bad reputation. It is an all-embracing human community. We will truly enter the Kingdom only when we open the doors of our homes, churches, and communities to the “foreigners,” the marginalized among us. 

If we are selfish, selective, or indifferent, we will lose out on the experience of being enriched by the presence of newcomers or unfamiliar people. “Foreigners” come unannounced in our lives and yet, the Lord has put them there for a particular intention. God is fond of surprises that come with unexpected people.

Reflection 5: Today’s O Antiphon

December 17:  O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: come and teach us the way of prudence.

Life today is situated in the midst of choices. There are just so many choices and decisions to make each day. Margaret Silf wrote, “Decisions, decisions—not just a half dozen, but scores, even hundreds of them, every day. The range of choices we face in daily life seems to grow exponentially and so does the accompanying stress.”

Choices demand wisdom. Whether we must make personal or global choices, there is such great need for wisdom, not mere human but supernatural wisdom. We need the guidance from on high.

In the Bible, wisdom is a personification of God. In Proverbs, in Sirach, in the Wisdom of Solomon, wisdom is portrayed as alive and as coming forth from God. We need God’s wisdom not only for our survival but specially for guidance in our choices. Wisdom will help us in discerning important matters for our lives today.  

Jesus is the Wisdom of God. Let us invite him as we make decisions so that he can share with us the gift of prudence in our actions and words. Let us bring to the Lord those things that need to be decided today with God’s help.