25 December 2016: Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

Christmas Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Vigil: Is 62: 1-5 Ps 89: 4-5, 16-17, 27, 29 Acts 13: 16-17, 22-25 Mt 1: 1-25
Midnight: Is 9: 1-6 Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13 Ti 2: 11-14 Lk: 2: 1-44
Dawn: Is 62: 11-12 Ps 97: 1, 6, 11-12 Ti 3: 4-7 Lk 2: 15-20
Day: Is 52: 7-10 Ps 98: 1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6 Heb 1: 1-6 Jn 1: 1-18
(or Jn 1: 1-5, 9-14)
Lectionary note
The Lectionary presents four different sets of readings for Christmas: the Christmas Vigil mass, Midnight mass, Christmas mass at dawn, and mass during Christmas day. This commentary uses the readings for the Christmas vigil mass.

Incarnation: who Jesus is and how he came to be with us

White_gold_banner_sm This week the RCIA candidates and catechumens, along with the rest of the believing community, celebrate the Incarnation mystery and rejoice at the savior’s birth.

In the first reading Isaiah foretells how God and God’s people will be reconciled through the messiah. Isaiah describes this restoration like a marriage: the coming savior will “marry”–that is, make a new covenant with all people. Christians believe Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy through his becoming human, his life among us, his transforming death, and his resurrection.

In the second reading from Acts, Paul preaches at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch. Paul places Jesus within Israel’s history and people: Jesus is the messiah from David’s line, announced by John the Baptizer.

In the gospel, Matthew tells us who Jesus is and how he came to be with us:

  • Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew opens his gospel with Jesus’ beginnings (genesis) or “birth record.” Like Paul in the second reading, Matthew traces Jesus from Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish nation, through King David, through prophets, kings, and common people. Jesus has some non-Jews in his family tree, such as Rahab and Ruth, and some questionable relatives, such as Tamar and Bathsheba. Matthew’s point: Jesus is the royal messiah descended from David, his family includes the famous and infamous–like all human families.
  • Jesus’ birth: In Matthew’s story, Jesus’ birth is simultaneously common and miraculous. Mary and Joseph are religious people from a small town. Through these ordinary people God chooses to break into human history. Mary’s mysterious pregnancy challenges Joseph’s righteousness. In a dream an angel confirms to Joseph that Mary is pregnant not by another man, but through God’s action. Joseph and Mary fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: she bears a son, they name him Jesus, meaning “God saves.” Jesus, as God’s son, will “save God’s people from their sins.” Jesus is Emmanu-el, which means “God-with-us.” Matthew’s point: God’s presence with humans doesn’t immediately create a perfect world. God invites us to change our hearts and minds and to work with God to bring the kingdom.

Advent, the season waiting, conversions, preparations, prophecies, and promises, has closed. In the Christmas season, RCIA participants and the believing community rejoice and reflect on God’s fulfilled promises: God becomes human to save us. God is with us. God lives among us. God continues to call us to change. Why God chose to be in human flesh is mysterious. How the incarnation came to be is miraculous. This is the mystery and miracle of Christmas; this is why we are merry.

—Terence Sherlock

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