The first readings at the Masses between now and Christmas give stories of Old Testament people who somehow foreshadow the coming of Jesus. The next four Gospels follow Mary as she visited with Elizabeth who is about to bring forth her son, John the Baptist.
It seems to me we should turn from those readings to use the Masses these five days to giving a picture of the Hebrew people from whom Jesus was to be born. We’ll start back before 3000 B.C. when a people called the Sumerians built up a civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates in Mesopotamia They invented a peculiar type of writing that used to record many stories that were later copied for the Bible.
(When a flood was to cover the earth a god named Aea warned a man called Utnapishtim. He built an ark in which he and pairs of animals survived. He sent out a raven, then a dove to find where to land the ark.)
The Arabian peninsula to the south of Mesopotamia was inhabited by dozens of tribes at war with one another, although they were genetically the same people. We refer to all of them as Semites, supposing they were descended fro Noah’s son Shem. From 2700 to 2200 B.C. hunger drove one Semitic tribe after another to go north for field work under the Sumerians.
In 2200 B.C. a Semitic tribe called the Hebrews came north, settling near a temple town called Ur. Our Bible stories start at the end of Chapter Eleven of Genesis that relates how Terah, a Hebrew who grew up at Ur, left to settle five hundrd miles north on the Euphrates. One of his sons who accompanied Terah north from Ur was Abram.
Abram received a message from God, telling him to take his wife Sarai, along with the family of his nephew Lot to settle in the Land of Canaan at the place where Jerusalem would be built. When Abram was seventy-five God caused his wife Sarai to conceive, and bring forth Isaac, who would be the father of Jacob, the father of Joseph.