Friday, December 25, 2009

All The Ends Of The Earth Have Seen The Saving Power Of God.

The Nativity of the Lord -- Christmas

Mass during the Day

Reading 1           Isaiah 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,
announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, and saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”
Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy,
for they see directly, before their eyes,
the LORD restoring Zion.
Break out together in song,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the LORD comforts his people,
he redeems Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will behold
the salvation of our God.


Responsorial          Psalm 98

All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
his right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.


Reading II              Hebrews 1:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins,
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say:
You are my son; this day I have begotten you?
Or again:
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?
And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says:
Let all the angels of God worship him.


Gospel                   John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.

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The Gospel Reading for the Mass of the Day on December 25 is taken from the opening of the Gospel according to Saint John. There is no mention of Bethlehem, of Mary, of shepherds, or of the stable and the manger. So, why do we read this Gospel on Christmas Day?

The traditional “Christmas story” was told last night at Midnight Mass. Today, we’re going behind the scenes, looking at the deeper meaning of that story. Who is that newborn baby? Why do we make such a fuss about his birth? He is the Word of God. From before the beginning of time, he was with God and he WAS God. Think about what that means as you gaze at the stable and the crib.

Just as you and I reveal ourselves through what we say and how we say it (and sometimes even more by what we do not say) God expresses his very self through the Word. But God’s Word does not just communicate; God’s Word is active – the theologians say God’s word is a verb, not a noun – that makes, produces, creates.

Look at the “word” of Shakespeare in Hamlet, Othello, Romeo and Juliet; or the “word” of Beethoven in the Fifth Symphony; or the word of Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel – all of these do far more than express ideas, they have a powerful influence in changing us. Consider now the opening verses of the Book of Genesis. God spoke these words, “Let there be light!” and there was light; “Let the earth bring forth living creatures”, and all sorts of animals – wild beasts, reptiles and cattle appeared; “Let us make man in our own image and likeness”, and male and female they were created, in the image of God. So, it is through God’s Word that all things came to be; and to the Word of God we owe our very existence.

At this time our homes and our city streets are filled with lights. It is no coincidence that Christmas is celebrated in the depth of winter, just after the solstice, as the days begin to get longer, and new life is preparing to burst forth. Today’s Gospel says that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it. It is in this hope that we long to see the darkness of our world put to flight by the light of Christ.

But wait, there is another side of the story: “He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to his own people, but his own did not accept him.” John writes, “The Word was made flesh, and made his dwelling among us; He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.” In John’s vocabulary, the word “world has two meanings – first, the usual sense, our planet and all that is in it. But it also refers to that part of our world that is caught up in all that is caught up in all that is evil, degrading and dehumanizing, just as “flesh” refers to all that is weak and sinful in human nature.

The Word of God entered both of these worlds. He did not live on the edge, but in the very center of human activity. This caused problems for some religious people who found it scandalous that Jesus consorted with sinners, and even worse, at with them. Those events occur three decades later, but they are foreshadowed in the Bethlehem story.

As today’s Second Reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews, reminds us, God spoke in the past through prophets and other spokespersons. But now, “he has spoken to us through the Son”, because the Son is the Word of God, through whom he created the universe. He is “the radiant light of God’s glory”, and “the perfect image of his nature”.

In seeing all that Jesus says and does, we are put in touch with the very nature of God. A good exercise would be to locate the birth of Jesus in a similar situation in our city today: He was born in the utter simplicity of a stable, rejected by every place of lodging in the village, without any of the amenities of life we take for granted, visited by shepherds who were despised outcasts (the “gypsies” or illegal immigrants of their day). It is important to be aware that this scene is not set just for pious contemplation; it holds a message. God has become a human being like you and me; he has come to live and work among us. He has entered our world to bless it, and to free all those who have been enslaved by oppression, by hunger, by homelessness; who have been enslaved by addictive habits and substances; who have been crippled by fear, anger, resentment, hatred, loneliness…

Let us pray that we might come near this Holy Child to be free from our particular enslavement – for each of us is a slave to something! But, more than that, as brothers and sisters of Jesus, we are called to work together with him to assist others in breaking the chains of their enslavement, so that, in the words of Isaiah today (First Reading), “all the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God.”

1 comment:

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I love your interpretation of the manger scene, shepherds, etc., and its significance.

I find interpretation of God's symbols very difficult. It has taken me months to interpret a scene/image/picture that God has consistently given to me in answer to prayer about a particular situation in my life. I think I finally understand what I am being told and where I am being led, but it took a couple of misinterpretations before knowing that I probably do finally have it right. The ability to understand God's images and metaphors must be a gift in itself.

Merry Christmas, Father. Thank you for your blogs. I read them regularly, and they are informative, even formative, for me.