(Jer 23:5-8; Ps 72; Mt 1:18-24)
The late Serge LeClerc was a motivational speaker who spoke at a Health Conference in Saskatoon some years ago. Born in Winnipeg to a young drug addict mother deemed unfit to raise a child, he was taken away, put into foster homes, rebelled and got into a life of crime as a gang leader.
During his talk he used the word “identity” numerous times. He was always searching for identity, and discovered he could easily manipulate even rich people because they were also searching for identity. Finally, he was caught, incarcerated, underwent a conversion experience while in jail, gave his life to God and became a motivational speaker, trying to help young people choose a different path of life than his.
The readings today are somewhat similar – they establish firmly the identity of Jesus as the Messiah, and suggest a life of peace and justice as our response to him.
The prophecy of Jeremiah is all about Jesus. It is he who will be that righteous Branch of David, who will reign as king with wisdom, who will execute justice and righteousness, who is the Lord of Righteousness, who will save Judah from their sins and allow Israel to live in safety in its own land.
In the gospel, Matthew is even more direct. Jesus is the Messiah plain and simple. The child born of Mary would be named Jesus and would save the world from its sin. He would also be named Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us’ in fulfillment of prophecy. What is striking is how the Holy Spirit was always with Jesus. The Spirit conceived Jesus in Mary’s womb, when he took on our humanity. The Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan when he took on our sinful humanity. And it is the power of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead through the resurrection, bringing about a new creation, a new world order.
Knowing the identity of Jesus establishes our own. We are his brothers and sisters, his disciples, members of his Body. And the words of Jeremiah, “Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety” apply to us. As Messiah, Jesus had a two-fold mission – he came to redeem and to sanctify, to forgive and to heal, to save us from our sins, and to help us live in wellness and safety. We need come to him for both forgiveness and healing.
May I suggest our best response to this love of God in Jesus is also twofold – to live the beatitudes and to keep his commandments. To live the beatitudes is to be poor in spirit, to be gentle, to share others sorrow, to forgive quickly, to seek reconciliation, to be single-minded and pure of heart, be a peacemaker working for justice, and above all to be able to accept suffering and even persecution without bitterness or resentment.
The commandments Jesus gave us can be summed up as follows: we are to love God back with our whole being, to love others as we love ourselves, to love others as Jesus has loved us, and above all, to love our enemies by forgiving them from the heart. This is what Jeremiah’s description of living in safety means.
The Eucharist, our greatest prayer, was given to us by the Messiah as a way of keeping vigil until he comes again. It is also a source of forgiveness and healing as we are nourished by the Word of God and the body and blood of Jesus himself.
May our celebration strengthen our faith in Jesus as Messiah and Immanuel, God with us, and empower us to follow him more closely by working for peace and justice, living the beatitudes and keeping his commandments of love.