Updated: Jan 21
Mass readings for Christmas Night can be found: [HERE]
Merry Christmas! On this holy night nearly two thousand years ago, the world first heard the voice of God in the flesh, in the cry of an infant. What better way to enter into the birthday of our savior than to hear the sound of infants this night. Thank you parents, for bringing your children to share in this mystery and allow their voices to join in this celebration. Thank you mothers for being mothers to that next generation of Christians.
Tonight, at long last, this nativity scene is now complete. We’ve seen portrayals of this scene throughout this season, maybe in plays, films, or even on Christmas cards. Some of those portrayals might strike us as anachronistic; that is: elements within those portrayals can seem as if they belong to a different time period or place.
In many Renaissance masterpieces, for example, the figures of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph can often appear more Italian than Judaean. Their clothing can seem for suitable in a baroque Cathedral rather than on a desert highway. In certain films, the actors can seem more European than Semitic; their mannerisms more western rather than middle-eastern.
All of this is okay. Whether in a painting or on screen, these masterpieces are particular cultures' response to the God who introduces himself in the flesh. They each respond according to their own traditions and customs.
If you’ve ever had a chance to visit the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., you’ve seen how many cultures have depicted the Blessed Virgin Mary and the child Jesus. Jesus and Mary are depicted as Europeans, Asians, Africans, stylized in mosaics and icons, and so on. Those familiar with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe know how she appears as a mestiza and is garbed in clothing and symbols that would resonate with an Aztec people.
All of these depictions are legitimate expressions that respond to God who comes for all people. And that is the message of this holy night. Our God comes for you and for me.
In our gospel passage tonight, we heard, spoken by the angel:
“…Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Again, Christ’s birth is for all people. This isn’t any sort of sentimental wishful thinking. This is and has always been God’s plan for the human race. And we’ll see how this theme continues in the upcoming weeks.
In a few days, the gospel passage for the Mass will involve the circumcision of Jesus at the Temple. Even though that moment marked the initiation of Jesus into the faith of Israel, the elderly Simeon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prophesied that Jesus was for all nations, saying:
“Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
In a couple of weeks, we’ll hear the story of three foreign kings, who journey from the East, far beyond Israel, in order to pay homage to Jesus.
After the Resurrection, Saint Paul will be sent by the Holy Spirit to proclaim Jesus to the Gentiles; that is, the non-Jews. That’s why the entire New Testament was written in Greek originally, not Hebrew. The gospel of Jesus Christ went far beyond Jerusalem.
We see how every peoples respond to God's revelation in the recording of history itself. History has been marked and recorded around certain world-shaking events, or the reigns of great emperors and conquerors. But all of that came to an end with the birth of Jesus. His birth became the definitive point of reference for human history from that point on. All other divergent ways of recording history eventually vanished, and converged to his birth.
Earlier this night, right before the entrance hymn of this Christmas night Mass, we heard the great announcement of Christ’s birth, which I’ll repeat now:
When ages beyond number had run their course from the creation of the world, when God in the beginning created heaven and earth, and formed man in his own likeness; when century upon century had passed since the Almighty set his bow in the clouds after the Great Flood, as a sign of covenant and peace; in the twenty-first century since Abraham, our father in faith, came out of Ur of the Chaldees; in the thirteenth century since the People of Israel were led by Moses in the Exodus from Egypt; around the thousandth year since David was anointed King; in the sixty-fifth week of the prophecy of Daniel, in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; in the year seven hundred and fifty-two since the foundation of the City of Rome; in the forty-second year of the reign of Caesar Octavian Augustus, the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to consecrate the world by his most loving presence, was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and when nine months had passed since his conception, was born of the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem of Judah, and was made man.
The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
This is the great Christmas Proclamation. This is the good news of this night. Long ago, when the emperor of the world had an important announcement, his messengers would go to every city and proclaim his word—the euangelion which we translate as gospel; the good news.
But since the birth of Christ, any other euangelion unrelated to him blushes with shame. The savior has been born for us. All other news prior to him pales in comparison. The only news even greater than this will be his Resurrection from the Dead.
It is to this child that the world pays homage and has done so throughout the centuries. We do so to this day even implicitly whenever we write the date. A week from now, the year will be 2023 A.D.—anno Domini nostri Jesu Christi, Latin for: In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ has come for all people, and we’ve seen how artists throughout history have responded to the mystery of his nativity. When we approach this scene, what is our response? How do you and I respond to God who introduces himself in the flesh? What masterpiece will you produce as a result?
Nativity, by Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, oil on canvas, c. 18th century, [Public Domain]