Wednesday December 18, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Advent
Reading (Jeremiah 23:5-8) Gospel (St. Matthew 1:18-25)
In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah tells us that God is going to raise up for His people a righteous shoot from the house of David and he will govern the people wisely, so it is going to be the king who will sit upon David’s throne. At the time of Jeremiah, there was still a kingship in Israel but it was also at that time that the people were exiled to Babylon. So it was right at the time of the Babylonian Exile and the kingship was close to an end. At that time also, the kings that had been raised up were pretty much one bad king after the next. There were two kings in all of Israel after David that were decent; the rest of them were all bad news. After seeing this generation after generation after generation (that there were these unrighteous kings), now there is a prophecy that there would be a righteous king. But it was not going to be following in the same line; even though it was from David, it makes it very clear that the days are coming – it is up the road someplace – where God is going to raise up this righteous shoot.
Then we look at the Gospel reading and we see that God has raised up to the house of David two righteous shoots because Saint Joseph is called “the just man”. He is righteous but he is not the king. It is the Son who is to be born to his wife and conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit who is going to be the king. Yet Jesus is going to be raised up in the home of two righteous individuals: Our Lady, of course, without sin; and Saint Joseph, who had become perfect. And so from this righteous place, the King of Righteousness is raised up.
This King of Righteousness, then, is also something that is important for us to understand if we put it into a little bit of a different context. Saint Paul, picking up on the same point in his Letter to the Hebrews, talks about Melchizedek, a name which means “king of righteousness”. When we see that Jesus is raised up as this righteous shoot, as this Zadok from the house of David, He is going to be a king who is also a priest and He is going to be righteous like Melchizedek was. He is going to offer the same sacrifice as Melchizedek, except the sacrifice He is going to offer is going to be an extraordinary sacrifice similar to that of Melchizedek – bread and wine – but entirely different, in other words, His own Body and Blood. And the righteousness here is not merely that He is going to bless the people the way Melchizedek blessed Abraham; but rather, the blessing that is going to be ours in Christ is going to be to have the ability to be one with Him, to receive Him into our own selves. He is not simply going to give a blessing; He is going to be the blessing. And so He is truly righteous, offering Himself for His people. Being a true king, He is going to seek to govern His people wisely, properly, and give Himself for them rather than expecting them to look out for Him.
And so when we see what He has done for us, then we in turn have our part to do, that is, to seek righteousness in Christ, to live holy lives, to give ourselves back to Him the way He has given Himself to us, to allow Him to truly be the king of our hearts so that righteousness will dwell within each one of us. That is what the Lord is seeking for us. We have this righteous Shoot. We have the one righteous King who has been raised up to David, the fulfillment of what we saw yesterday: that He is going to be a son of Abraham, a son of Isaac, a son of Jacob, a son of David. But now we see more specifically that He is going to be a righteous king, and that righteousness in Christ is being offered to us. As we saw yesterday, we are not objective observers of this, but rather, we have become participants in a new covenant in Jesus Christ. We are called then to this same righteousness, to be kings and priests and prophets with Jesus, and to live holy lives, lives of justice, lives of righteousness in union with Christ and in imitation of the Holy Family.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.