|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
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?