Homilies for Christmas Masses

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Posted on by on December 24th, 2011 | 0 Comments »

Christmas Midnight Mass.

Now at last Christmas is with us. The four weeks of waiting and preparation that characterize Advent have come to an end. During those weeks we have meditated on the figure of the messiah, especially as delineated in the writings of the Prophet Isaiah. But the church has kept some of the riches of that great prophetic book in reserve: there are three more readings from Isaiah for the three masses of Christmas Day on which we have still to meditate.

The first reading opens with the words; “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. On those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone.” (Is. 9;1-7). The historical situation is which this passage was written need not concern us here: we can do no better than the evangelist Matthew and apply it to the advent of Jesus. But what is more important is that we associate it with His coming into our hearts tonight and lighting up a dark world around us. Nothing else can afford to the human spirit  greater joy: the prison gates have been thrown open and we are now a free people.

“For there is a child born for us.” ‘Puer natus est nobis’ this is the promised Emmanuel, God with us come to set us free.

As we know, a name was deeply symbolic in Israel but this son who is given to us has not only one name but  a whole array of names full of meaning and significance. He is called Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father (Avi-Od) and Prince of Peace (Sher- Shalom).

The coming of the Prince of Peace is indeed a reason for singing a new song and caroling to the newborn king. If we may slightly alter the opening words of the second reading tonight it is an ‘Epiphany of God’s grace’ (Mt. 2.11).

This child is the bearer of salvation for the whole world. But we cannot lay hold of this gift on a personal  or community level unless we accept its implications. Those implications concern the way in which we behave.

The Lord’s coming has very much of an ethical connotation for the Christian. We are not to forget the motivation given us at the beginning of Advent for our Christian conduct. We hold ourselves in readiness for the ‘parousia’ of our great God and Saviour Christ Jesus. (2.13)

The gospel for Midnight Mass is also chosen for the  ‘Mass at Dawn’ and is taken from St. Luke. Luke is precise in his account. He sets the scene in its historical context under Caesar Augustus. The latter had ordered a universal census,  and so Joseph set off on the long journey from the province of Galilee to Judaea with Mary his wife. This was because he was descended from the House of David and Bethlehem was the town of David. This is a very significant detail in view of the fact that Jesus would be the promised Messiah. In the providence of God this coincided with the birth of the Messiah.”: While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born” (Luke 2.7) Luke tells us that ‘simple poor shepherds’ were the first category of people to learn of the good news. The book of Daniel mentions Gabriel and Michael as messengers of Yahweh. Now Luke

tells us that a messenger (Malach) of the Lord proclaims God’s word. This is a personal manifestation of God and the evangelist tells us it was surrounded by the ’doxa’ or `cabod’ of the Lord by which is meant  His glory. The Gospel is proclaimed or the first time and it is a wholly reassuring message.

“Do not be afraid, look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today is the town of David a saviour has been born for you: he is Christ the Lord.” – Christos Kurios – The Messiah Lord – the shepherds are given a sign  - a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Then like an orchestra or chorus, a group of the  heavenly ‘Sabbath’ takes up the note, “Gloria in Excelsis” and peace to people  who are t,  as the fullness of peace and security and well being.

 

Christmas Dawn Mass

What a marvelous dawn it is for us on this Christmas morning equalled only by the splendour of the Easter Mass. `Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive`, wrote Wordworth, but this joy surpasses the bliss he was thinking of.

Salvation has dawned for God’s people with the coming of his Son. Again we exult with the prophet Isaiah that Advent is over and we now contemplate with joy what it promised. “ Your saviour comes” (1st reading) and everything is changed. We are now living in the era of the new creation and so appropriate new names are introduced – ‘the holy people’, ‘ the Lord’s redeemed, ‘ and ‘the sought-after’: The presence with us of ‘ God our saviour’,  our Emmanuel ,is beautifully descried in the extract from St. Paul’s letter to Titus. We might paraphrase it by saying that it is an epiphany of the love and kindness of God. This comes to us by way of a free gift, a gift that infinitely surpasses anything we can receive from mere humans. The scintillating array of Christmas boxes that those who love one another exchange at this time,  is a very pale reflection indeed of this supreme gift of God. This gift is none other than the incarnate Son of God. He is presented to us by Mary His mother gift-wrapped in white swaddling bands. In the words of that beautiful Christian song ‘O Holy Night’.

“A thrill of hope a weary world rejoices for yonder breaks a new and glorious dawn.”

The incarnation represents the climax of all God’s interventions in favour of his people. Our misery and need had aroused the compassion of our loving father. St. Paul will never tire of proclaiming this completely undeserved aspect of what God has done (cf. Rom. 3.21 Eph. 2.1-10). Our need is great; our bondage is just as hopeless as that which held the chosen people to the backbreaking labour of Egypt. In the appearance of this newborn child, in his face the light of hope begins to shine. Well indeed may we join in the well-loved carols:

“How silently, how silently,

The wondrous gift is given

As God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of his heaven.

No ear may hear his coming

But in this world of sin

Where weak souls will receive him still

The dear Christ enters in.”

 

As we saw in the gospel of Midnight Mass, a poor and lowly category of people, namely shepherds, were the first to learn about redemption’s happy dawn! Consequently they became the first to evangelise the world with the message of salvation. It is perhaps no coincidence that the name ‘Shepherd of the flock’ became the most popular way of referring to the function of leadership in the Church. And today more than ever we still refer to our ‘pastors’ and the pastoral ministry.

This lowly group vigilant and ‘watching in prayer’ now go on a pilgrimage to the stable of Bethlehem. The shepherds had learned the good news by a revelation from God, Luke tells us, that now they engage in a dialogue with one another over these mysterious events. When they arrived in Bethlehem they set about to find a baby in a manger. Their search was rewarded and eventually they found the child with Joseph and Mary his mother. These shepherds may have been looked down on by the wealthier inhabitants of the towns and villages but they were now the ones who found themselves spiritually rich. They were now the ones who found themselves spiritually rich. They would have been conscious that their father Abraham had , like them ,kept watch over his flocks. They knew that David, the ideal king of their race, had been chosen by God when only a shepherd boy. So the shepherds now returned to their own flocks praising and thanking the God of Israel who did such marvelous things before their eyes.

As long as time lasts the Church will continue to proclaim to the world the message of peace and goodwill that radiates from the lowly manger. In a world torn by conflict the recurring celebration of the birth of Christ year after year heralds a new hope. In the newborn face of an infant we discover again the mystery of life and we solve again the enigma of existence.

 

Mass of Christmas Day

For the third and final Mass of Christmas the Mass during the day, the Church seems to reserve for us her profoundest reflections. In the magnificent prologues to the New Testament books of Hebrews and John, we are brought into the presence of awe-inspiring mysteries: the eternal birth of the Son of God in the bosom of the Father is proclaimed to us. Lovely indeed are the feet of the evangelists who have preached the gospel to the world. That great passage from Isaiah, which is rendered in song as ‘Our God Reigns’, fittingly introduces this deep theology of the incarnation. We are by now very familiar with the prophecy of Isaiah through our Advent meditations. Today above all we may savour the passage from the Book of Consolation. Now today the new or second exodus is proclaimed by second Isaiah . The Lord accomplishes this with `outstretched arm’ or in the words of Isaiah ‘he bares his holy arm’.

The second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews today , thoroughly prepares the ground for the prologue to the fourth Gospel. God has now ‘spoken to us through his son’. This new revelation of God on Christmas Day surpasses all others as much as Christ surpasses the angels.

First of all we notice that the Father has ‘appointed’ the son to inherit everything. The created order (including all peoples) is by right the heritage of the son. Hebrews here uses the word ‘kairos’ rather than ‘cosmos’ to signify the extent of the son’s dominion. Secondly the son is the ‘radiant light of

God’s glory’. The sun throws out its brilliant beams that light up the most of our solar system. The image here is the same as that used about wisdom reflecting God’s glory (Wisdom Ch.7.26).

In the next place we read that the son is the ‘perfect copy’ of God’s nature. This is the same thing as the impression made by a seal on the appropriate material. The sacred writer now refers to the son’s role in the universe sustaining it by his powerful word. Christ is the centre of the continual stability. This reminds us immediately of the creation account in Genesis and the gospel of today’s Mass. Finally the Son has taken away sin and is now enthroned ‘at the right hand of divine Majesty’. Here we have an echo of the enthronement Psalm No. 110.

All this leads us to the proclamation of the Gospel for the Mass of Christmas Day. The Nicene Creed has taken its description of the incarnation from this Gospel and the liturgy bids us kneel when we sing today – ‘et verbum caro factum est.’

In presenting us with the prologue to the 4th gospel the Church is asking us to meditate more deeply on the significance of the child in the manger. The picture Luke gives us points to God’s self- communication in his word that the present gospel brings out for us.

Now we think of the pre-existing son, as in the first reading from Hebrews. He is the personified wisdom of the Father (cf. Prov. 8.22). This ‘child who has been born to us, this son who has been given to us’ is truly our Emmanuel. ‘The word was God’. John will tell us very shortly that the ‘word’ was in fact the child who was born of Mary, in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ. But Jesus was not born out of human stock, or urge of the flesh or out of man, but of God himself.’ This ‘word’ became flesh and lived among us.’ This ‘word’ as John will afterward insist on elsewhere in his gospel,  is the life and light of the world. John the Baptist witnessed to this light that shone for all who had eyes to see. Many however preferred to remain in darkness. They would never know the peace and joy of Christmas.

Tadgh Tierney ocd (Morley, Dec. 24th 20

 

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