Everybody know that Holy Mother Church prays all day, every day—celebrating Mass and singing all the psalms and canticles of the Bible in The Liturgy of the Hours?
Everybody know that She sings three particular canticles every day, without fail? Before bed, the Canticle of Simeon. In the morning, the Benedictus of Zechariah. In the evening, the Magnificat of the Blessed Virgin.
What do the Benedictus and the Magnificat have in common? They both mention one person in particular by name. The Lord “swore and oath” to this person, “made a promise” to him, when the great history of our salvation began.
The genealogy of Christ at the beginning of St. Matthew’s gospel offers us much more than just a series of tongue-twister names. It gives us the true context of Christmas.
Not that we need to memorize all the ancestors from Amminadab to Mannaseh to Shealtiel to Eleazar, instead of decorating the house. But we do need to ponder the utterly ancient tradition of faith that surrounded Bethlehem, and the manger, like an atmosphere.
At the mall, we won’t see signs that read: “Special Deals for the Fulfillment of the Promises Made to Abraham!” But if we want to know what the Bible says Christmas means; if we want to know what the saints of the all the Christian ages have thought that Christmas means, we need to imagine Abraham, forty-two generations earlier, in a world that had forgotten God.
God broke the silence of the heavens then. “Abraham! We shall be friends! I promise your people a glorious future.”
After forty-two generations of struggling to hold on, of believing in good times, and during the exile; believing during the reigns of good kings and bad; during the times of honest prophets and lying false prophets—the time finally came, the fulfillment of God’s promise.
The ancient Israelites didn’t have to hold on for 42 shopping days. They held on for 42 generations. Then, when a few of them had been trained by all this long preparation to have enough faith to grasp what was happening, God Himself became a child of Abraham.