[by Barbara Shanahan]
Mass at Midnight: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-3; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-4
Mass at Dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Psalm 97:1, 6, 11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:1-14
Mass of the Day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
The readings for the three Masses of Christmas set before us a particular insight into the meaning of the feast we celebrate. Each of the Mass settings shines a light on the hopes that Israel has treasured for centuries, hopes which are based on the promises God made to them. When we link these hopes with the birth of Christ, we see how his coming brings to full realization everything God has promised. This event is the conclusion of a very long story! It is helpful to be familiar with this long story that precedes Christmas.
Time and space do not permit our considering in any depth the readings for each of the three Masses. Not wishing to reduce the rich significance of each one, let us focus on one common thread that weaves throughout the readings for all three Masses of Christmas.
In each reading, something is being announced or made known or decreed. We detect the idea of a “proclamation” or a “revelation” that carries with it great signi cance or that announces a change in the way things once were perceived. There has been a shift in reality, and it makes a difference to those who take note of it. During Advent, we were reminded of the importance of being attentive and alert. Now, we are invited to focus more on the need to tell the story, to be part of the announcement, to own what has been revealed and tell others.
In the Gospel of Luke, we read that a decree goes out from Caesar. . . . And thus begins a journey for Joseph and Mary! God unfolds his plan in the midst of human history. It is always thus. In the Gospel for the Mass at Dawn, we hear more of the birth story that includes the announcement made by the angels to the shepherds. The message announces praise to God and peace on earth! The incarnation and birth of Jesus accomplish this!
Both readings from Titus (Mass at Midnight and Mass at Dawn) reveal that the experience of God’s presence now takes on a new, tangible form: “the grace of God has appeared, saving all” (Ti 2:11) and “the kindness and generous love of God our savior has appeared . . .”(Ti 3:4). Essentially each reading is saying much the same but in different ways. God’s life (grace) and his generous love now have a human face!
In each of the three readings from Isaiah, salvation is announced. Recall we said in an earlier re ection that the name Isaiah is taken from the root word meaning “salvation.” The name Jesus also is from that same root and likewise means one who saves. In Isaiah 9, the reading for the Mass at Midnight, we hear a proclamation that darkness has ended and people now walk in the light.
There is a historical context for what Isaiah says here, but the words are fully realized in the new age ushered in by the birth of Jesus. The land in question: “the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali” (Isa 8:23) refers to the region captured by the Assyrians, a fruitful and productive land, and therefore desirable. This is the same region that centuries later received the preacher from Nazareth who made his home on the shores of the Lake of Galilee. Indeed, a light shone in this region for the world to see!
“The Lord proclaims to the ends of the earth . . . your Savior comes!” (Isa 62:11). “How beautiful on the mountains the feet of one who brings good news announcing peace and salvation” (Isa 52:7). There is something to tell, and whether proclaimed by God or God’s messenger, the good news must go forth!
The readings for the Mass of Christmas Day set before us the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews and the Prologue from the Gospel of John. Sublime in their message, both speak of a revelation from God through the Son who is the “imprint of the Father’s being” (Hebrews) or the Word spoken by the Father from all eternity (John). John the Baptist will bear testimony to the light of revelation in Christ so that all might believe.
The importance of proclaiming the good news of salvation! How is one to come to faith unless one hears the story proclaimed with enthusiasm and deep faith? Emmanuel! God is with us! Rejoice, it is Christmas!