The Nativity of Our Lord – Mass during the Day
Theme: We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in our world, though he was with God the Father before all ages. His birth opens up for us a glorious new identity, as children of God.
First Reading: Book of Isaiah 52:7-10
(A prophecy describing the joy of the faithful watchmen, when they see the Lord, their Saviour, face to face. The whole world will see the saving work of God.)
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6
(The son born of Mary is the eternal Son of the Father, the image of the invisible God, and the one through whom all things were made.)
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to 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; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”
Gospel: John 1:1-18
(The opening words of Saint John’s Gospel which describes in sublime terms the eternal nature of the Word who in his incarnation became the source of light and life for all men.)
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 into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he 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 into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, â€˜He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”)
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known
Light shines out in darkness
For the people of the Old Testament, light and darkness were more than just part of the natural world. They also symbolised virtue and wickedness in the community. Indeed, among the devout Essene Jews at Qumran on the Dead Sea shore during the life-time of Jesus, light and darkness were seen as two opposing forces, so that the sun’s victory over darkness was be a symbol of the triumph of faith over the all forms of evil. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.”
This original goodness was to be shattered by the abuse of human free will, so that as Isaiah says “darkness covered the earth, and thick darkness the peoples” (Is 60:2). To dispel this darkness needed a new act of creation, and the ideal of goodness took on human flesh with the birth of Christ into our world. He was the true light coming into the world, so that “the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light ” (Is 9:2). God, who had created man in his own image and likeness, has raised us up, by lowering himself to become one of us.
It is traditional to associate snow with Christmas, and when it does come and shrouds everything with a white mantle, calm settles over the countryside, especially at night-time. That combination of darkness and calm was the setting for the first Christmas. As the Book of Wisdom states, “When all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the middle of her course, your almighty Word leaped down from heaven, from your royal throne” (Wis 18:14f). At Christmas God says once again, “Let there be light!” Let all the gloom, darkness and sin, which so often blight our human race, give way to a new age of glory to God and peace on earth.
An angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds tending their flocks in the enveloping darkness, and the brightness of the Lord shone round them. “Do not be afraid,” the angel reassured them. “Listen, I bring you news of great joy for the whole people. Today a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” This message is to us also. We too must listen, in the stillness of our hearts and like the shepherds, hurry and draw near to Christ. “And the shepherds came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.”
But to get to the full reality of Christ, we must ponder in quiet times of prayer, as did Mary and Joseph at his birth. St Augustine held that prior to conceiving Christ in her womb, Mary first conceived him in her heart, spiritually, by her faith. It was after years of deep reflection that St. John expressed the most profound truth of that first Christmas when he wrote the beautiful Gospel we have just heard: “And the Word became flesh, and lived among us – and of his fullness we have all received.”
We have all received of his fullness! – that we might become children of God. Our deepest identity as Christians is that we actually have a share in Christ’s own life. When we wish each other a happy Christmas, let there be a depth in the greeting because we wish our friends a full share in what Christmas brings: a share in the very life of God himself.