O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant, we pray, that we may share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity... collect for Christmas Mass during the day
Several years ago, I found myself in the pediatric outpatient clinic of a Hospital two days before Christmas. The youngest member of my extended family was there for chemotherapy. The doctors, nurses, and staff there are people of great skill and deep compassion. As they work for the children in their care, they are true healers of body and spirit.
Even so, it was a hard place. The suffering of children is difficult to comprehend even for people of faith. In that setting, surrounded by the sights and sounds of hospital and illness, the joyful message of Christmas felt far away.
That day, there was a commotion by the nurse’s station as a group of high school students arrived with musical instruments and began to play Christmas carols. Hearing the unexpected sound, parents carried little ones out of their rooms and people gathered. “God rest ye merry gentlemen...,” “The first Noel...,” “O come all ye faithful...,” the instrumental music filled the space and the words filled our hearts and minds. In those few minutes, beauty eased the pain. In the florescent darkness, another light shone. The consoling, transforming, life-giving proclamation of Christmas arrived where it was needed most.
Mass at Midnight First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6 Responsorial: Psalm 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13 Second Reading: Timothy 2:11-14 Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
The readings for midnight proclaim glad tidings. Isaiah, who guided us through the weeks of Advent, heralds a transformative moment. The original context for Isaiah’s message appears to be specific to his time and place: a great figure will arise who will deliver the people from the oppression of the Assyrians. Perhaps Isaiah himself understood that this remarkable vision of hope transcended those circumstances. The Jewish people would come to see in his words a promise of deliverance for other ages and Christians came to understand that Isaiah spoke a privileged message. The Prince of Peace is a liberator from all oppression, even that of sin and death.
The Letter to Timothy serves to remind Christians that the birth of Jesus is no mere event from history. It is a living reality, calling us to live our faith and anticipate the return of the Lord in hope.
Luke tells us of the long-awaited birth with meaningful details. This child is deeply rooted in the Jewish people. He is of the house and family of David. But Luke also tells us of the Roman Emperor and Governor in order to remind us that he will be savior for all peoples. Nor is the good news limited to the rich and the powerful. This Prince of Peace is swaddled like a poor child and laid in a manger. The first to hear the remarkable news are the shepherds- those who literally live as outsiders. And the angels announce that this seemingly humble moment is the most momentous of all history as God’s grace transcends all human expectations.
Mass at Dawn First Reading: Isaiah 62:11-12 Responsorial: Psalm 97:1, 6, 11-12 Second Reading: Timothy 3:4-7 Gospel: Luke 2:15:20
The shepherds are the poorest of the poor, living out in the elements far from the comforts of home and the consolation of community and family. It a strange thing that they serve as the first witnesses to the most important moment of all time.
God’s choice of shepherds as the first witnesses to the birth of Jesus reinforces the message of the first and second readings for the Mass at dawn. These events are solely the result of God’s gracious love and faithfulness. We are all ultimately poor and alone without God. We all hear the remarkable news that God has given everything to those who can offer nothing. The birth of the Lord is pure, unearned, and extravagant grace.
Mass during the Day First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10 Responsorial: Psalm 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6 Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6 Gospel: John 1:1-18 (or 1:1-5, 9-14)
The Gospel passage for Christmas Mass during the day moves beyond the events of Jesus’ birth to reflect upon on the meaning of the birth. These verses from the prologue of John’s Gospel serve to sum up the meaning of the Lord’s coming in beautiful poetic language. Here John celebrates the exalted status of the one born and the stunning nature of the gift offered- God’s own Word made flesh. To know this source of true light is to be transformed. John understands that the events of Jesus’ life are not to be remembered but lived. We are invited to believe and become children of God. We can take up our role in the story- that of testifying to the light that touched the world in Bethlehem long ago and touches our hearts as we come to know, love, and be loved by the Lord Jesus.
Be sure to sing the Christmas carols. In their beautiful melodies and words, the message of Christ’s birth penetrates the deepest despair, the hardest of hearts. They are joy and hope and healing and grace.
At Christmas, many will be away from home and family. Some must work night shifts to support those they love. Others will work the night in a patrol car or firehouse or emergency room. Others may find themselves on guard in a foreign land. Still others suffer loss, loneliness, or illness. In the songs of Christmas, the Lord calls out once again to all those in need of hope.
Perhaps others will celebrate Christmas surrounded by loved ones in a warm home and sitting down to a feast. To all those of us who are contented this Christmas I make this plea: let us do more than sing the carols of Christmas. We can be the carol. On the day when we celebrate His birth, we can be born anew as children of the light and serve as a means of consolation, comfort, and hope.