Christmas Midnight Mass, cycle C

1st Reading – Isaiah 9: 1-6

One can certainly see how the early Christians (who were all Jewish) ‘saw Jesus’ in this passage . . .  What line do you most treasure from this poetic passage?  What name for the Messiah speaks to you?

Of course, when Isaiah first wrote this passage he was not thinking of Jesus – or of a ‘far-future messiah.’ He was trying to encourage King Ahaz (the weak and unwise king at the time) to be strong and to rely on God’s wisdom and power. He was promising the birth of a son who unlike Ahaz would be faithful, prudent, and far-sighted – and in this way would be Immanuel, God-is-with-us. It seems that Isaiah’s hope never did become reality; this yearning, though, gave rise to the yearning for a true Messiah – one born to bring God’s presence to the people. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook for Year C, 77-78)

2nd Reading – Titus 2: 11-14

This letter was written not to a community but to an individual in regards to their pastoral duties.  Paul, himself, probably did not write this letter.  Most likely a disciple of Paul wrote it hoping to be giving the advice that he felt Paul would have given. In this passage he is simply reminding all that Christ’s coming in time and history [in birth and on a cross] is about our lives right nowand in the ultimate future hope of a second coming in fullness and light. Our task we are told is not to retreat from the world but to be “eager to do what is good” – to let our very lives reflect the goodness of our Lord. (http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509; Birmingham, W and W Wrbk. for Yr C, 77-78)

The Gospel – Luke 2: 1-14

The Infancy Narratives pose difficult problems for those who try to use them to reconstruct some actual history for there are agreements and also discrepancies. (Reginald Fuller, “Scripture in Depth”, http://liturgy.slu.edu.)  It is more about the truth of God’s entrance into human history through the person of Jesus – born as one of the poor and insignificant, tracing his life to two inconsequential towns (Nazareth and Bethlehem). His power is not about ‘government overthrow’ but about conversion and openness to God’s love. In Jesus, God comes for the outcast, for the despised, and ‘unclean’ – the shepherds. Angels bring messages: God is acting and offering salvation to everyone. The phrase “people of good will” is not meant to be an exclusion – it is meant to refer to all people who because of this birth, are objects of divine favor — all is permeated with God’s life and love and holiness. Luke’s purpose is Christological and ecclesial: Jesus links God’s glory with the humble – those open and listening for the surprising way in which God will break into life – the small and vulnerable and those needing human care and concern. (Birmingham, Word and Worship Workbook Year C, 79-80)

From John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings” http://liturgy.slu.edu./ChristmasC122509:

The Christmas story urges us to ask: “What does it mean to be fully human?” Since God chose to become human, the whole meaning of Christmas rests on the answer. Is it about all the ‘Martha-like-work’ that the season brings? Is it the ‘family tradition’ of dinners and presents and decorations to which we cling?

But what about those who have no family – or are sick and alone? Jesus’ life, too, had fun and laughter along with the suffering and poverty. Maybe full humanity has to do with loving and being love. Isn’t love the aching desire that lies under all the rest? Don’t we all long for a love that will at last be carried out? A love we can trust? And a love that we might be bold enough to love in returnTo be fully human means allowing enough room inside ourselves to let God and others in. It means letting go of all those things we think will save our lives (possessions, honors, importance, bigness), so that we can relate to God and to others. In the busy-ness and noise of this season, we need to find time to listen for the stillness. We may be only inches away from the emptying-out that will let God be born inside of us. Let it be!

Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing:

Thoughts on Jesus and Incarnation: The Word was made flesh and dwells among us. (John 1: 14) The incarnation is still going on and it is just as real and as radically physical as when Jesus of Nazareth, in the flesh, walked the dirt roads of Palestine (p.76).

God takes on flesh so that every home becomes a church, every child becomes the Christ-child, and all food and drink become a sacrament.  God’s many faces are now everywhere, in flesh, tempered and turned down, so that our human eyes can see him.  God, in his many-faced face, has become as accessible, and visible, as the nearest water tap” (p. 78).  We are the Body of Christ.  This is not an exaggeration, or a metaphor . . . The word did not just become flesh and dwell among us – it became flesh and continues to dwell among us (p. 79-80). This is the core of Christian spirituality . . . God’s presence in the world today depends very much upon us.  We have to keep God present in the world in the same way as Jesus did . . .  The word that he spoke is not heard in our contemporary world unless it is proclaimed by the community . . .As God once acted through Christ, so he now acts through those who are conformed to the image of his Son   (p.80).  The God who has become incarnate in human flesh is found, first and foremost, not in meditation and monasteries, albeit God is found there, but in our homes (p.100).

Luke’s Birth Story – Notes from William Barclay

The Roman Census — In the Roman Empire, periodic censuses were taken with the double object of assessing taxation and discovering those eligible for compulsory military service. The Jews were exempt from military service so any census would have been only for taxation. In Egypt they have discovered much evidence of these censuses – and that they were taken every 14 years. If that pattern held true, then Jesus’ birth might have been in about 7 or 8 B.C. Quirinius was not governor of Syria until 6 A.D. but he did hold an official post there from 10 -7 B.C.  It was also the custom in Egypt to have every man go back to his home origin; it may also have been the case in Israel.

Bethlehem Nazareth was 80 miles from Bethlehem. (Its name means the ‘place of bread’.) The accommodations for travelers were most primitive. ‘Inns’ were merely a series of stalls opening off a common courtyard. Travelers brought their own food. Since there was little room according to Luke, Mary and Joseph would have stayed in the common courtyard – or perhaps found shelter in a cave, also common around this town. The fact that there was no room for Jesus was symbolic of what would happen to him: rejection would be his fate: the only place where there was room for him was on the cross. He still seeks to enter the crowdedness of our hearts . . .

Swaddling clothes –were the common way to ‘dress’ an infant. They consisted of a square of cloth with a long, bandage-like strip coming off from the corner. The infant would be wrapped in the square and then the long strip was wound round and round about him.

Manger—(R. Brown’s An Adult Christ at Christmas, p. 20)  not a sign of poverty but probably meant to evoke God’s complaint against Israel in Isaiah 1:3.  “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me.”  But this has been repealed, because the shepherds find the baby in the manger and praise God.

Shepherds –were despised by orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they simply could not observe all the hand-washings and regulations. Their flocks made constant demands on them. They were rough, uncouth, and unclean characters. But these shepherds also served God. Their sheep were the lambs to be one day offered as sacrifice in the temple in Jerusalem just 7 miles away. Luke is certainly comparing their lambs with Jesus, the Lamb of God. The shepherds, the unclean and rough, were invited by angels (God’s messengers) to come.

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