December 23, 2011

Feast of the Birth of the Lord / Christmas / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe liturgy includes several Masses for Christmas. These readings are for the Mass celebrated during the day.

Isaiah’s third section supplies the first lesson.

To understand this reading, it helps to be aware of the historical context that surrounds the composition of this part of Isaiah.

God’s Chosen People had been through very much in the preceding century.

First, their land, regarded by the devout as sacred itself—and certainly belonging to the Hebrew people by nothing less than divine mandate because God had given it to them—had been conquered by invading pagans.

Not only were the people robbed of the land, and chaos and destruction swept through the society, but the social structure was destroyed.

Many people were killed, and those who survived this conquest were taken to Babylon, the capital of the Babylonian Empire.

There, they languished for four generations, far from their homeland and compelled to live in an atmosphere greatly unfriendly to their religion and to all that they had known.

At long last, this enforced exile ended. Returning to the Holy Land, however, was a hollow achievement for the people. The land was poor and unproductive.

Through prophetic guidance, such as that provided by the author of this section of Isaiah, the realization came to the people that true deprivation is the want within the human heart for peace, hope, and a sense of strength and worth.

This Scripture sees, as the antidote to anxiety, a sense in the heart of the presence of almighty God—the source of all peace, joy and hope—and living in obedience to God.

The second reading is a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews.

It is a marvelous revelation of God as the Trinity and of Jesus, as Son of God, the true and full reflection of the Father. The reading is characteristic in its eloquence and depth of this entire epistle.

In the third reading, the Church presents the first 18 verses of the Gospel of St. John.

Each of the four Gospels has its own literary majesty and inspired insight into the reality of God and salvation.

While each of the Gospels is splendid in its own literary construction, none outdoes John for clarity and magnificence.

For that matter, few passages, if any, in the long Gospel of John outdo the glory of these first 18 verses.

These verses, read today, are extraordinary because of the soaring and profound sense that they convey in revealing the person and mission of Jesus.

He is God’s wondrous gift to humankind, given in God’s eternal and unending love.

Only in Jesus does existence have meaning, order, purpose and a future. He is the glory of God, living for and among humans. He is the light of the world. He is eternal. He is life itself.

Reflection

By the time the Mass during the day is celebrated, dawn has come. Daylight shines almost everywhere on Earth, even if shaded in some places by the grey clouds of winter.

The Church began celebrating the marvel of Christ’s birth at Mass at midnight. It also celebrated at Mass at dawn.

In the Mass celebrated during the day, the Church ponders once again what it celebrated earlier. It invites us to join it in this holy reflection.

What is the true meaning of the event of Christ’s birth? What does it mean for each person?

The true meaning is that, despite the deprivation and despair produced by sin, as Third-Isaiah realized, we have a reason for hope and confidence.

Jesus, the Son of God, and the very glory of the Father, has come and is here for us.

Jesus is not distant or inaccessible. He is one of us, being the son of Mary. He has been born for and given by God to us! †

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