As we enter the last week of Advent, the Gospel readings for the daily Mass begin to tell the story, as St. Matthew puts it, of “how the birth of Jeus Christ came about”. One of my favorite of these Gospel readings was today’s, in which we heard the genealogy of Jesus from the Gospel According to St. Matthew.
We all know this reading — it’s the one with all those strange unpronounceable names of Jesus’ ancestors — Amminadab, Uzziah, Abiud, Zerubbabel, and so on. For many of us — both those of us who hear it and the priests and deacons who have to proclaim it — it’s both odd and difficult and strange. But I love it.
To hear that litany of names is a reminder of how important names are to God, how they mark us as individuals He knows and loves. That list is full of saints, scoundrels and sinners — “Jesus’ dysfunctional family”, as a friend told me today. But each of those persons were called by name by God, in his inscrutable wisdom and plan, to be a link in the chain that led to salvation through the birth of our Lord.
Calling someone by name is a powerful thing. We’ll hear later this week of how the angel came to Mary and Joseph to tell them of their role in the birth of Jesus, and each time the angel begins by calling them by name. Our Lord himself regularly called his disciples and others by name, summoning them out of the crowd or down from a tree to be his disciple.
There are few things more beautiful than being called by name by your spouse or parent — to hear your name spoken with love and affection. Like our spouse, God too calls our name in love. Before we were born, God called us by name in our mother’s womb. We hear this call deep in our hearts, and we feel its intimacy and love.
The Prophet Isaiah reports the words of God to describe this:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you…
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life…
Fear not, for I am with you
every one who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.” (Is. 43: 1-2, 4-5, 7)
That long list of obscure names from today’s Gospel is a reminder to me of my place in that chain of faith and divine plan. Each one of us — no matter how dysfunctional we are — has been called by God to add our names to that list. Not as Jesus’ ancestors, but as His descendants who also await his coming.
We yearn for our Lord to come, so that we may meet our beloved, and hear him call us by name. We are His, and He is ours.
Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.