Christmas Night Mass (Year B)
First Reading: Isaiah 9:1-6 Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14 Gospel Reading: Luke 2:1-14
“TODAY IS BORN OUR SAVIOR - CHRIST THE LORD”
Nine-year-old Wally was in second grade when most children his age were fourth-graders. He was big for his years, a clumsy fellow, a slow learner. But Wally was a hopeful, willing, smiling lad, a natural defender of the underdog, and he was well-liked by his classmates. His parents encouraged him to audition for the annual parish Christmas play. Wally wanted to be a shepherd. Instead, he was given the role of the innkeeper. The director reasoned that Wally's size would lend extra force to the innkeeper's refusal of lodging to Joseph. During rehearsals, Wally was instructed to be firm with Joseph. When the play opened, no one was more caught up in the action than Wally. And when Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, Wally was ready. He flung the door open and asked menacingly, "What do you want?" "We seek lodging," Joseph replied. "Seek it elsewhere," Wally said in a firm voice. "There's no room in the inn." "Please, good innkeeper," Joseph pleaded, "this is my wife, Mary. She is with child and is very tired. She needs a place to rest." There was a long pause as Wally looked down at Mary. The prompter whispered Wally's next line: "No! Be gone!" Wally remained silent. Then the forlorn couple turned and began to slowly move away. Seeing this, Wally's brow creased with concern. Tears welled up in his eyes. Suddenly, he called out, "Don't go! You can have my room."
The season of Advent is over and the period of anticipation & expectation is complete. Now it is time that we celebrate with great joy, the feast of Christmas, commemorating the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, which occurred about two millennium ago. 'The Christmas event' is one of the most important events in the history of mankind, an event when God takes the human form in the person of Christ Jesus and comes into the world to save humankind from sin and death. Today, Jesus wants to be reborn in our lives. Do we have a place for him in our hearts?
Every year, on Christmas night during Mass, we listen from Luke's Gospel about the story of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and how the good news of his birth was first announced to the shepherds by the angels:
Luke places it against the background of the reign of Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus and he also mentions a census in Palestine issued by him at the time when Jesus was born.. It is generally accepted that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. Now, in the Roman Empire, a census was taken periodically with the double object of assessing taxation and of discovering those who were liable for compulsory military service. But Luke’s purpose in mentioning the census is to provide God’s reason for, and means of, getting Mary and Joseph eighty miles south from Nazareth, a small village in Galilee, to Bethlehem in Judea, the city of David, wherein the promised heir of David was to be born, as prophesied by Micah (5:1).
Further, Joseph and Mary had to take shelter in one of the caves in the outskirts of Bethlehem, where animals were kept, as there was no room in the inn. There Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough, and it symbolizes the sacrificial meal that Jesus becomes, which provides sustenance for the whole world.
Again, the news of the birth of Jesus was first announced to the shepherds by the angels. Since David was a shepherd, it seems fitting that the shepherds were given the privilege of visiting David’s successor in the stable. Further, shepherding was a lonely, dirty job, and shepherds found it difficult to follow all the obligatory religious customs. Hence, they were scorned as non-observant Jews. So Infant Jesus selected these marginalized people to share His love at the beginning of his life. The shepherds expressed their joy and gratitude by “making known what had been told them" (v. 17). Other than the angels, they were the first to proclaim the Good News of Jesus' birth.
Actually, the Infancy Narratives are theologumena; that is to say that they are not so much a literal history, but are stories with a theological point. So, the important thing to remember is that they are stories of God’s love and they speak about Jesus’ role in the salvation of mankind, and that’s what counts, not historical details. So, what is the feast of Christmas all about? What are its messages?
First and foremost, Christmas is an event of light, it is a feast of light: The Readings resonate the theme of light, and the Baby in the manger is the Light of the world. In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, light surrounds the shepherds as the Angels sing their praises of God. Also, in the First Reading of today from the prophet Isaiah, we hear - “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” A truly 'great' light indeed, because the light which radiates from the humility of the crib is the light of the new creation. In the Child of Bethlehem the primordial light once more shines in humanity’s heaven and dissipates the clouds of sin.
Secondly, Christmas is an event of love, it is a feast of love: John in his Gospel says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him, will not perish, but will have eternal life.” Christmas is God's self-gift laid in human hands, in the person of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind and it really tells how magnanimously God loves us and cares for us. The Magi came from the east to worship the Lord and they brought him gifts. We too, in response to God's great love, need to give ourselves to him as gifts. Christmas thus is also seen as a feast of gifts, and exchange of gifts with our loved ones has become a common practice during this time.
Thirdly, Christmas is an event of joy, it is a feast of joy: The angel said to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Evidently, the whole atmosphere is suffused with joy, the joy of the angels and of the shepherds as they hasten to Bethlehem to find the new-born child. Actually, joy is a theme which goes right through the infancy narrative in Luke’s gospel.
Fourthly, Christmas is an event of peace, it is a feast of peace: And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." (v. 14). That peace is the shalom of God – life experienced in all its fullness, richness, and completeness in accord with the will of God. The angelic song conveys the message that true peace on earth is available only to those with the good will to receive it by doing the will of God, thus giving Him glory.
Fifthly, Christmas is an event of hope, it is a feast of hope: Christmas is not just one day, but a season which lasts for twelve days, concluding on Epiphany. The extension of the feast should remind us to continue to share our joy at the comings of the Messiah – the first some 2000 years ago, the last at the 'Parousia' or 'Second coming,' and all those occurring between the two, as we live our daily lives. This is what Paul expresses in his letter to Titus, in the Second Reading of today - “The grace of God has appeared, saving all and … as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself to deliver us … eager to do what is good.”
But lastly, the real meaning of Christmas actually is 'Emmanuel,' God-with-us – God coming down to us; God coming alongside us; God seeking us out; God revealing Himself to us; God bringing us forgiveness, healing, comfort, moral strength, guidance. Each one of us has, deep down in our soul, an incredible hunger: a hunger for purpose and meaning; a hunger to feel and celebrate the redeeming, forgiving, sustaining love of God; a hunger to be in the presence of God. Christmas is special because it reminds us concretely that God is indeed with us. In every circumstance of life, even when we are frightened or lonely or in sorrow, God is with us. As we celebrate the incarnation of the Word of God this Christmas, we must make a conscious effort, both to remember that Jesus is always with us, especially in the Eucharist, and to share our joy in His presence with others. So let’s go home to the heart of Christmas and embrace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
To conclude, we must say that every year, Christmas asks all of us a tough question. If Jesus were to come today, how would he come? As a matter of fact, he is already there standing and knocking at the door. Do we close the doors of our hearts to Jesus, who is looking for a place to be reborn in our lives? Can we just say to him like the little boy Wally in the opening story, with tears rolling from eyes, “Don't go! You can have my room.”
Christmas isn't only an event of the past, but more importantly - it is also an event of today and each day, and as we solemnly celebrate it today, we joyfully acclaim - “TODAY IS BORN OUR SAVIOR - CHRIST THE LORD”
Wish you all 'A Merry, Happy & Holy Christmas!'