Tag Archives: Christmas

25 December 2018: Christmas: Mass at dawn

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 62: 11-12
RCL: Is 62: 6-12
  Ps 97: 1, 6, 11-12   Ti 3: 4-7   Lk 2: 15-20

Liturgical note: Christmas readings
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 mass at dawn.
You can find the other Christmas readings on this blog.

 

Incarnation: the message and the sign

White_gold_banner_sm On the feast of Christmas, the believing community celebrates the incarnation, and the readings invite us to reflect on the meaning of the mystery.

The first reading from the prophet Isaiah proclaims “your savior has come!” For Jewish hearers, this passage recalls how God’s mighty acts delivered the exiles for Babylon. For Christians, this passage foretells Jesus’ incarnation and his redemptive death and resurrection.

The second reading is from the letter to Titus. The author identifies the incarnation (“the kind and generous love of God”) as the starting point of redemption. Through baptism (“the bath of regeneration”), we receive the gifts of grace (“mercy”) and divine adoption (“heirs of eternal life”).

The gospel completes Luke’s nativity story, begun at Midnight Mass: the shepherds, having heard the angel’s message about the messiah’s birth, travel to Bethlehem to see the angel’s sign revealed in Jesus.

  • The message and sign. Luke’s angel announces to shepherds in the fields that the “messiah and Lord” is born (Lk 2:11). Luke contrasts God’s glorious messenger with the working shepherds, who are anawim (“the Lord’s poor”). The shepherds “go in haste” to Bethlehem because the angel also gave them a sign (Lk 2:12): “a swaddled child lying in a manger.” To poor shepherds, a newborn was a common sight, but a newborn in a feeding trough was unusual. Only poor and displaced parents would need such a makeshift crib.
  • The sign’s fulfillment and impact. In Bethlehem the shepherds find the child “lying in the manger,” fulfilling the angel’s sign. The shepherd’s encounter with the also-poor Sign (the newborn in a feeding trough) compels them to tell everyone the angel’s message and the sign they had seen. Luke emphasizes that Jesus’ incarnation is a public and cosmic event.

Luke draws strong opposing images of Jesus’ birth. He places the Roman empire’s absolute power against the occupied people who are powerless to object to the census. He contrasts the angel’s and heavenly host’s glory with Mary and Joseph’s indigence and the shepherds’ poverty.

The Christmas mystery we celebrate is not how God became human, but why God would want to take on the weaknesses of a created human at all. Luke’s message is that God’s love and fidelity is worked out in human events, even when appearances seem to deny God’s very presence. Like Mary, the believing community must “turn over these words and events in our hearts” repeatedly to understand what incarnation really means. Do we hear and see God’s mighty act? Do we celebrate the message and mystery of God-made-human, or only the sign and sentimentality of the makeshift crib?

—Terence Sherlock

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25 December 2017: Christmas: Mass at midnight

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
  Is 9:1-6   Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13   Ti 2:11-14   Lk 2:1-14
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 Midnight mass.

Christmas: God and God’s kingdom is with us

White_gold_banner_smThis week the RCIA participants and the believing community celebrate the Incarnation mystery and rejoice at the savior’s birth. The Lectionary readings invite us to think about human rulers and the Divine ruler.

In the first reading, Isaiah reassures the northern kingdom of Israel, which has suffered a punishing defeat (732 BC). Because Israel’s king ignored God and the people were unfaithful, God allowed the Assyrians to conquer Israel. Through Isaiah, God promises that a coming king from David’s line will drive out their oppressors and restore God’s people. Christians find Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled in Jesus, who overcomes death and reconciles God and humans.

In the second reading from the letter to Titus, the author describes the two comings of Jesus, and how the community should live based on these two events. “The grace of God has appeared, saving all” refers to Jesus’ coming in history at his incarnation, birth, death, and resurrection. “As we await the blessed hope” refers to Christ’s return at the end of time (parousia) to destroy death. Because of these two events–Jesus’ already coming in history, and Jesus’ not yet coming parousia–we should be “eager to do what is good:” turn away from sin and turn toward God.

In the gospel, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth: an “orderly story,” based on research and interviews (Lk 1: 3). He places Jesus’ birth in the larger historical context of the Empire, sounding these themes:

  • The savior comes to all. Luke uses the word “all” three times in fourteen lines: Augustus’ decree covers “everyone in the empire” (v 1); “all go to register” (v 3); and the angel announces “great joy for all people” (v 10). While Matthew’s infancy story and genealogy emphasize Jesus’ coming to the Jewish people, Luke’s nativity and genealogy describe a savior engaged in world history, coming to save all people.

 

  • God’s kingdom is greater than human empires. Throughout Luke’s gospel, heavenly authority and earthly powers are in constant conflict. In today’s reading, for example, Augustus claims to be “god” and “savior” (as minted on coins from this period), while Jesus is God and savior (v 11); Augustus issues a royal tax decree (v 1), but the angel proclaims a royal message of salvation (v 11); Augustine creates the Pax Romana (“peace of Rome”), but Jesus’ birth brings “Peace on earth” (v 14); Augustus rules over the world (v 1), but Jesus rules heaven and earth (v 13-14).

 

  • God’s peace is God’s kingdom. The peace that comes from Jesus birth, life, death, and resurrection is not Augustus’ Pax Romana, but the Hebrew shalom, meaning “wholeness” or “completeness.” The angel’s announcement of peace indicates that the messianic kingdom of God is now present among people.

Jesus’ birth changes everything. Salvation has come to everyone. An infant supersedes the emperor. The empire’s rule over the inhabited lands passes to God’s reign over heaven and earth. Isaiah’s promise is now our lived experience. For this we give glory to God. Let us be eager to do what is good, always.

—Terence Sherlock

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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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25 December 2015: Christmas

Christmas
Mass
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)

 

Incarnation: God takes human flesh; God-with-us

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. 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. The gospel readings are:

  • Christmas Vigil Mass: Matthew’s gospel presents Jesus as the messiah (Hebrew: “anointed”), the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures. Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy through Jewish history: Abraham and the patriarchs; David and the kings; and finally through common people. Jesus, born of Mary and of the Holy Spirit, is uniquely related to God. In taking Mary into his home as his wife, Joseph gives Jesus an earthy connection to David–Joseph is a descendant of David. This gospel gives us Jesus’ identity: son of David, Son of God.
  • Christmas Midnight Mass: Luke’s gospel presents Jesus as the savior of the whole world–Jews and gentiles alike. Jesus’ birth takes place at the nexus of cosmic events: Augustus’ census, angelic proclamations of good news, the visible glory of the Lord, and heavenly choirs promising peace. God uses gentiles like Augustus and Quirinius to bring about the long-awaited salvation.
  • Christmas Mass at Dawn: Luke’s sweeping scope of Jesus’ birth includes not only emperors and angels, but also the poor and powerless. The shepherds who come to Bethlehem are the first recipients of the gospel–the good news (Greek: εὐαγγέλιον) about Jesus. They share their good news with Mary and Joseph, who don’t yet fully understand Jesus’ identity. All are amazed by these wondrous events: the inbreaking of the kingdom of God within the daily life of humans.
  • Christmas Day Mass: John’s gospel presents Jesus as the cosmic Christ. In this passage from John’s prologue, Jesus is a divine being (God’s Word), light, and God’s only son, who comes into the world and becomes flesh. God’s Word dwells among us (in Greek σκηνόω, literally “pitches his tent”) as another human, but the tent image reminds us of God’s presence in the Ark of the Covenant, which was housed in the Hebrews’ Tent of Meeting in Exodus. Like Matthew’s and Luke’s nativity stories, John’s incarnation story announces the fulfillment of the prophecies, the mystery of God-with-us, and the day of salvation.

In the Christmas season, RCIA participants and the believing community reflect and rejoice in God’s fulfilled promises and in the Incarnation mystery: God becomes human to save us. Glory to God! Peace to us!

–Terence Sherlock

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