The Old Testament is full of prophecies. But what exactly do they all mean? Reading the Old Testament carefully, we discover that not all prophecies were fulfilled, that many prophecies were dreams of the prophet. But one fact is certain: The Old Testament tells the history of salvation up to the coming of Christ. It tells the story of God’s action in history from God’s creation of the universe and mankind’s Fall through sin, all the way through the calling of Abraham, the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt under Moses, the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel through David and Solomon, and the breakdown of that Kingdom
Today’s First Reading is taken from that last period of salvation history. The Kingdom broke down because the people of God were unfaithful. They stopped following God’s commandments, and so their nation was divided, and they became vulnerable to invasion. The people of Israel failed to keep their promises to God. They abandoned God, and they suffered the consequences.
But even though the Chosen People didn’t keep their promises, God still kept his. God didn’t force his people to follow him – he allowed them to break their promises. After all, we are not slaves of God but friends, or even sons and daughters of God. But he didn’t lower himself to their level – he was faithful to his promises.
The Old Testament prophecies are, in a sense, the list of God’s promises. St Paul in the Second Reading writes that the gospel of Jesus Christ had been “promised previously through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.” And St Matthew in the Gospel passage interprets the events of Christ’s birth by saying that they all took place “to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet.”
This is our God, a God we can count on even when we can’t count on ourselves, a God who keeps his promises. And when we fail, God found an incredible way to show his love and faithfulness.
It reminds me of an incident in the life of St. Vincent de Paul.
During one of his many visits to the galley slaves in the French city of Marseilles, he met one man who seemed sadder than all the rest. Galley slaves were criminals condemned to serve their punishment by forced labor as rowers on board ships. “My friend,” St Vincent asked the man, “what makes you so sad?”
“I have a wife and family far away,” the slave replied, “and my heart aches to see them. But it will be a long time before I have that happiness – if I ever do.”
St Vincent went to the overseer and asked permission to take the poor man’s place. Not recognizing the saint, the overseer agreed. The chains were taken off the slave and put on St Vincent, who was forced to work in the place of the man he had befriended. A short time later, however, when it was discovered who he was, the saint was set free. But the love and generosity of St. Vincent’s heart had already breathed new life and hope into all the pitiful men who were condemned to cruel labor at the oars.
This is the kind of God we believe in. Jesus Christ is a God who comes to save us, who will never abandon us, who was willing to leave the very throne of heaven and come to take our place in this fallen, sinful world, just because he couldn’t bear losing our friendship. This is what God is like – he is faithful; he keeps his promises.
One of things that most saddens Christ is that so many people don’t believe this. They don’t trust him. That’s why they don’t follow the Church’s teaching, or they cut corners on it, or make exceptions to it. They let God into their lives up to a certain point, but no further.
And yet, he loves us more than we love ourselves. He wants to fill our lives with grace, wisdom, strength, and peace. That’s why he came to earth in the first place! Christmas proves this love. Good Friday proves it. Easter proves it. Every detail of our Lord’s life proves it.
This Christmas, let’s give Christ the present he wants most. Let’s open our hearts to him a little bit more than we have already. Let’s let him into the secret corner where we have been following our own lead instead of his lead, and let’s say to him, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done – not mine.”
Christ came to earth because he wanted to be close to us, so that he could save us from frustration and sorrow.
This Christmas, let’s make our hearts into little Bethlehems. Let us remember what the great 17th century poet and priest Angelus Silesius wrote: “Christ could be born a thousand times in Bethlehem – but all in vain until He is born in me.”