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The Church’s liturgy includes several Masses for Christmas. These readings are those assigned for Mass during the day.
The third section of Isaiah supplies the first reading. To understand the reading, it helps to be aware of the historical context surrounding the composition of this part of Isaiah. God’s Chosen People had suffered much in the previous century. Their land, regarded by the devout as sacred itself because God had given it to the people, had been conquered by invading pagans and often devastated.
In addition, all the turmoil had destroyed the social structure. Political independence was gone. Untold numbers of people were killed. Many survivors were themselves taken to Babylon, the capital of their Babylonian Empire, where they languished for four generations, far from their homeland and compelled to live in an atmosphere greatly unfriendly to their religion, scornful of all that they had known.
At long last, this exile ended, but returning to the Holy Land was a hollow achievement. The land was poor and unproductive. Misery reigned.
For much of this time, this misery had been defined in terms of personal want and abuse. Indeed, deprivation and want were everywhere. The prophets, such as Isaiah, saw deprivation in another dimension, gnawing want within the human heart for peace, hope, and a sense of strength and worth, the result from sin.
This piercing want is not inevitable. It is relieved by grasping the reality of the almighty God of Israel, the source of all peace, joy and hope, and by living accordingly. Only this matters.
For its second reading, the Church offers a passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews. This epistle is a marvelous revelation of God as the Trinity, and of Jesus as Son of God, the true and full reflection of the Father.
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 particular, inspired insight into the reality of God and salvation. But none outdoes John for depth or eloquence. Few passages, if any, in the long Gospel of John outdo the glory of these first 18 verses.
These verses, proclaimed in this Mass, are magnificent because of the soaring and profound sense they convey in relating the person and mission of Jesus. He is God’s wondrous gift to humankind, given in God’s eternal and unending love. He reigns in a realm far beyond the human ability to comprehend.
In Jesus, all existence has 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. He is everything.
The key to deciphering these readings, and Christmas itself, is in admitting that at the birth of Jesus, and in the reality of Jesus, circumstances and powers utterly beyond our human capacity of knowledge occurred.
Human life can be difficult. Our times testify to this fact, with all the terror and agony of so many people. Yet relief is at hand if we seize the opportunity.
The opportunity is to turn to God. He provides this opportunity marvelously and mercifully by giving us, as our own, Jesus, the Son of God.
We thus obviously, appropriately, logically celebrate the birth of Jesus. He is human, the son of Mary. Son of God, Jesus came to us as one of us. He reconciled us with God, repairing a relationship broken by human sin.
So, with the ancient Hebrew prophets, we can be hopeful and assured. Our eternal fate is guaranteed, if we take the opportunity to accept it. In Christ, we can live, truly, now and eternally. †