Birth of Jesus fulfills promise of salvation
Published 1:40 pm Sunday, December 26, 2021
I really like the numerous social and cultural traditions that have become part of our preparation for the celebration of Christmas. Christmas lights glisten in store windows, streets, Memorial Park and private homes. I like the Christmas tree on Main Street. Christmas trees in stores and in family homes set the Christmas mood. Christmas carols and music draw us into the Christmas spirit. Giving and receiving beautifully wrapped gifts is also part of the pre-Christmas excitement as are Christmas parties at places of work and in private homes.
This year I was happy to see families, individuals, church groups, school groups, helping agencies, police groups and many more ‘adopt’ families and treat these generously with toys, clothes, bicycles and food vouchers. My prayer is that the donors and the beneficiaries experience joy and abundant blessings in this season.
In my denomination, Roman Catholic, the weeks leading up to Christmas, known as Advent, emphasize liturgically that we Christian people are in a ‘waiting and preparing mood.’ The scripture readings in our worship (Masses) take us back to the original promise of a savior in Genesis, and then the messages of patriarchs, prophets, godly rulers, and finally John the Baptist prepared the people for the eventual coming of the world’s savior. His coming at Bethlehem as an infant fulfilled the hopes of God’s chosen people, the Jewish people, and opened the way for the salvation of Jew and Gentile alike.
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I write my reflections hoping that as you prepare for or gather for your Christmas celebration you will be conscious of the significance of Jesus’ birth. It was the fulfillment of the promise of salvation given many thousands of years earlier. The promise remained in the collective memory of the people and sustained them in times of turmoil and doubt. My wish for you the reader is that your Christmas celebration this year will echo the meaning of Jesus’ first coming. Think about some of the historic events and experiences that culminated in the birth of Jesus.
God created a beautiful world to share his glory. He placed our forebears in a privileged environment to enjoy the wonders of this created world and the life he had given them. In their selfishness and limited perspectives they fell from grace and lost God’s friendship. But God did not abandon them. Instead he promised to send a savior (Gen. 3:15) so that they, at some future time, could again enjoy life with him.
Because humankind had lost its original innocence God’s ongoing grace was needed through the centuries. Selfishness, pride, greed and sin became part of man’s experience. To protect humankind from destroying itself, God intervened through judgment on the murder of Abel by his brother Cain (Gen. 4:10-16), sending the great flood (Gen 7:6-23) and stopping construction of the tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9).
About 2000 years before the birth of Jesus, God called Abram (Gen. 12:1-7) to be the leader of a people whom God would call his own people. The call involved leaving his home in Ur of Chaldea and taking with him his family to a land God would show him. God promised to be with him and to make his descendants into a great nation, later to be known as the Jewish people. We consider Abram (renamed by God as Abraham) a man of faith.
After Abraham God raised up outstanding leaders among his people – Isaac (Gen. 26:25), Jacob (Gen. 47:9) and Moses (Ex. 7:7), and later kings Saul (1100 A.D.), David (1060 A.D.) and Solomon (1020 B.C). Although God’s people were blessed with outstanding leaders, and always believed that God would send a savior, they often lost their way and failed to live up to the covenants God had given them. This resulted in God’s chastisement of them and their eventual return to observing his laws and precepts. God liberated them from the slavery of Egypt (1250-1200 BCE) and through their leader, Moses, gave them rules of life for godly living that we refer to as the commandments on Mount Sinai (Ex. 25:16, 40-20).
Beginning in the eleventh century B.C., and continuing until the fifth century, God continued the preparation for his people for the coming of a savior through the work of the prophets. Their mission was to be spokespersons for God to his people, to challenge them when they forgot God and his laws, to call them back to him from their sinful ways, and to remind them of his promise to send a savior. It was during the latter part of this period that ‘God’s people’ were deported to Babylon and later restored to their homeland by the hand of their God.
Finally, the promise of a savior is fulfilled when God sends His angel, Gabriel, to ask Mary to become the mother of his son (Luke 1:26-38). This young Jewish girl is overwhelmed at the request, but after assurance from the angel is open to the will of God and accepts. She is told that her son will be ‘Emmanuel’ meaning ‘God among us.’ His birth in Bethlehem is the wonderful event we celebrate this day (Luke 2:1-14). The long await for a savior was over and through his life, teachings, death and resurrection the kingdom of God is proclaimed for all peoples.
Today, Christmas Day 2021, we celebrate the anniversary of Jesus’ first coming. It is my wish and prayer that each of you as individuals and families will experience joy, peace, hope and love in abundance.
Father David O’Connor is pastor emeritus of St. Mary Basilica and Assumption Catholic Churches where he ministered for about thirty years. He resides in Natchez since he retired in 2019 and recently published his memoirs, A Priestly Pilgrimage.