I must say, the 17th of December is a very appropriate day to offer a Mass of thanksgiving, as we do today after the occasion of the ordination of Fr Adalbert Imperial! For on this day, we not only have the very rich readings we’ve just heard, which I’ll come to in a moment, but today also begins the sequence of the seven “O” antiphons which the Church has sung at Vespers since at least the 8th century. The “O” antiphons each begin with the vocative expression “O”, followed by one of the titles for Jesus. O Sapientia. O Adonai. O Radix Jesse. O Clavis David. O Oriens. O Rex Gentium. O Emmanuel –O Wisdom! O my Lord! O Root of Jesse! O Key of David! O rising sun! O king of the nations! O Emmanuel!– And when you take the first letter of each of these Latin titles, together they spell out SARCORE, which is not a word at all. But read backwards, they spell ERO CRAS, which in Latin means “tomorrow I will be”, as in, ‘tomorrow I’ll arrive.’ In other words, the “O” antiphons begin the countdown for Jesus’ imminent arrival.
And this brings me to the point I wish to make today. Fr Adalbert would be the first to say, today’s thanksgiving Mass is not about him. Yes, we certainly give thanks for the gift of his ordination and all God has done in and for him up until this point. But the story of Fr Adalbert Imperial, and indeed the story of each and every one of us here today, finds itself inserted into a much greater story. A story, I might add, that is imperfect and messy. We’ve heard that story proclaimed in our Gospel today. You see, more than being a long and boring list of names, the genealogy of Jesus traces the threads of God’s saving work through the unpredictable and at times horrifying twists and turns of human history: through war and peace, love found and love lost, families born and torn, rivalry and friendship, covenants formed and broken, personal sin and redemption, fidelity and betrayal, kingdoms built and kingdoms fallen, death and new birth, all of which we see in this genealogy somehow tied together by the same “bands of love” with which the Lord secretly and mysteriously brings about the saving purposes of his providence. Consider the complex family tree of our Lord: Abraham was a great man of faith who trusted God blindly. Judah the son of Jacob was the brains behind the selling of his little brother Joseph into slavery, resulting in the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt. Rahab was a prostitute who risked her life and betrayed her country for the Lord. David was an adulterer and a murderer, and yet a great ruler and king after God’s own heart. Many in Jesus’ genealogy were idolaters, including the illustrious and wise king Solomon who worshipped demons and erected shrines in their honour. Ahaz was an evil king who offered his son as a burn offering to Moloch, just to name a few of our Lord’s colourful ancestors… If you think your family is rough, just have a look at our Lord’s!
Our Lord’s genealogy shows us how God truly inserts himself into the twists and turns of our history, of our lives– and our being here today is no exception. At some point or other, providence has inserted Jesus into our personal life stories, and has in turn inserted us into his story of salvation. And again, through some stroke of providence, our lives have therefore been inserted into each other’s, such that we find ourselves here today at the thanksgiving Mass of Fr Adalbert, whose life, after many ups and downs, has been joined to that of Jesus Christ our Lord. Dear brothers and sisters, these facts, along with the genealogy we have heard, speak to us of the mystery of the Incarnation. The Incarnation is not just about God becoming flesh. It is something far more profound and broader in scope.
The genealogy suggests rather that the Incarnation is something which simultaneously seeps back in time and forward in time, like the roots of a tree slowly growing and spreading until it embraces everything. Our God is inserted into a family tree, the roots of which go back far into the history of human sin and salvation, and they extend forward into the messy histories of each and every one of us who are adopted by grace into God’s family, the Church. By God’s graceful providence, the roots of our Lord’s history reach into our lives and tie us together, who would otherwise likely have nothing to do with each other.
Brothers and sisters, that process of the Lord becoming incarnate in our lives and at the same time “incarnating” our lives into his life, is happening right now, even as I speak. Our “O” antiphons, which commence today, remind us of this reality as they proclaim, “tomorrow I will be”, leading us to contemplate this mystery of the Incarnation that Christmas presents to us. What is more, in just a moment we will consecrate the Blessed Eucharist, which IS the Incarnation. As we receive the Word-made-flesh into our flesh, the roots of our Lord’s Incarnation interweave further and more deeply into our personal stories of sin and salvation. Dear Fr Adalbert, it was for this above all that you were ordained. To be yourself an alter Christus in whom the people may discern the Lord Jesus, and to offer the awesome sacrifice that inserts our Lord Jesus more deeply into their lives. It is this mystery that you now dare to approach for the first time as a priest, with your brother priests, for the people of God before you. In faith, reverence and fear of God, let us attend, and let us make this holy offering in peace.