The Nativity of the Lord –Christmas Eve
To those in darkness, a child will be born who will have dominion over the earth.
Sing a new song to the Lord.
God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.
Jesus is born in a manger in Bethlehem as the angel appears to the shepherds.
Background on the Gospel Reading
During the Christmas season, our liturgy invites us to consider the birth of the Lord from many vantage points. As we begin this season, it is useful to remember that the stories of Jesus’ birth and childhood are found in only two of our Gospels, Matthew and Luke. Throughout this season, we will hear stories from both Gospels. Those Gospels tell different but complementary stories about Jesus’ birth, highlighting items of theological importance about the Incarnation and the salvation that Jesus brings.
On this day, the Feast of Christmas, we are given the details of Christ’s birth as found in the Gospel of Luke. Here we learn about the census that brings Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born. We also hear about the angel’s announcement of this good news to the shepherds. In these details, we find two of Luke’s particular concerns: (1) to locate the coming of Christ in the wider framework of salvation history as good news for all people, Gentiles and Jews, and (2) to show the Lord’s favor upon the poor and lowly.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is born as one of the poor. Laid in a manger in a stable, because there was no room at the inn, he comes into the world through obscure and surprising means. Yet, as the angel proclaims this good news to the shepherds, this infant is announced as the Messiah and Lord. In the song of the angels, all are invited to give glory to God for this miraculous birth, in which God comes to share our humanity.
The angels sing that Jesus’ coming brings peace. Yet there is little in the details of this Gospel that gives evidence of peace. Jesus is born as a traveler away from home, born in a stable in a crowded city under the occupation of foreigners. The appearance of the angel to the shepherds frightens them. When the angels proclaim Jesus’ birth as the harbinger of “peace on earth,” the evangelist Luke clearly wants us to take the long view. The shepherds are invited to claim a faith that will enable them to see this infant as a sign God’s promise of a messiah. It is through such faith that one finds the peace of which the angels sing.- loyolapress.com
The Nativity of the Lord – Mass during the Day
God’s salvation is announced to the world.
A prayer of praise for God’s salvation.
God now speaks to us through his Son.
John 1:1-18 (or shorter form, John 1:1-5, 9-14)
John announces that in Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Background on the Gospel Reading
Four Masses are celebrated for the feast of Christmas, and each is given its own set of readings to help us contemplate Christ’s birth. The Gospel for the vigil Mass on Christmas Eve is taken from the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew. The Mass at midnight proclaims the birth of Jesus using the Gospel of Luke. The Mass at dawn on Christmas morning continues the story of the birth of Jesus as found in Luke’s Gospel through the shepherds’ visit to the infant Jesus. In each of these Gospel readings, we hear portions of the Infancy Narratives with which we are familiar.
The Gospel for the Christmas Mass during the day is taken from the beginning of John’s Gospel, but this Gospel is not an Infancy Narrative like those found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Instead, John’s Gospel begins at the beginning, as it were, and presents the Creation story as the framework for announcing the Incarnation. John’s opening words, “In the beginning . . .,” echo the opening verse of the Book of Genesis. This framework invites us to view Jesus’ birth from God’s perspective. Each of the Gospels makes clear that Jesus’ birth was the result of God’s initiative. However, John’s Gospel highlights that this was the divine intention from the very beginning, from the moment of Creation.
As we observe in today’s reading, the Gospel of John includes highly philosophical and theological language. One example that particularly stands out is John’s use of the expression, “Word of God.” This expression (logos in the Greek) borrows from a concept found in both Jewish and Greek thought. In Jewish thought, this phrase describes God taking action—for example, in the Creation story and in the Wisdom literature. In Greek, or Hellenistic, thought, the logos was understood as an intermediary between God and humanity. John and others in the early Church adopted this language to describe God’s incarnation in Jesus. As the term was used to express the trinitarian faith of Christians, the word Logos came to be equated with the Second Person of the Trinity.
In this prologue to the Gospel of John, the main themes that will be developed in his Gospel are introduced. These themes are presented as dualities: light/darkness, truth/falsehood, life/death, and belief/unbelief. We also hear in this prologue a unique aspect of John’s Gospel—the motif of testimony. John the Baptist was sent by God to testify about Jesus, the light. Others in this Gospel will also offer testimony about Jesus. The reader is invited to accept this testimony, which bears witnesses to Jesus, the Son of God. But even more directly, Jesus’ action and words will themselves testify to his identity with God as God’s Incarnate Word.
Thinking about Jesus’ birth in these theological and cosmological terms seems particularly appropriate as we celebrate the feast of Christmas in the darkness of winter. At this time, nature itself seems to remind us of the darkness of sin. Into this darkness, in the midst of our sinfulness, God comes to dwell among us. John’s Gospel reminds us that through the Incarnation, God saves us from the darkness of sin and makes us his children.- loyolapress.com