Father David's Reflection for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Vigil Mass - not midnight)
The Feast of Christ’s Birth
Do you appreciate Jesus? What effect does he have on your daily life? Does the thought of him make you happy? How often do you think of him?
What does it mean to you (affectively as well as intellectually) to say Jesus is the Savior of the world and your Savior?
The Entrance Antiphon tells us, “Today you will know the Lord is coming to save us, and in the morning you will see his glory.” This is from Exodus 16: 6-7, when God promises to “rain bread from heaven” for his People each day while they are in the desert. The “manna” has been replaced by Jesus, the “living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). This Bread of Life is available to us every day in the Eucharist. It is ours for the taking.
That is something to appreciate.
In the Opening Prayer, we say that “every year we rejoice as we look forward to this feast of our salvation.” We celebrate Christmas every year to help us look forward to Mass every Sunday — and just to waking up every day. In every Mass we celebrate the gift, and the ongoing experience, of salvation. Whenever we think of him, we “welcome Christ as our Redeemer.”
“Salvation” becomes real for us the day we realize that there is something going on between ourselves and God, and we decide to get involved in it. That is when we begin to “meet him with confidence,” not just “when he comes to be our judge,” but as we undertake, with his help, to let him act with us, in us and through us in every action of our day.
In the Prayer after Communion we ask God to “give us a new birth as we celebrate the beginning of your Son’s life on earth” and to “strengthen us in Spirit.” We can have this new birth and new strength in the Spirit every day. All we have to do is celebrate every day the beginning of your Son’s life on earth. Say every morning, “Lord, live this day with me, live this day in me, live this day through me.” Say it before everything you do, all day long.
“As a bridegroom…”
The Responsorial Psalm is: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 89). The Psalm specifies, “Happy the people who know…” enough to do this. “At your name they rejoice all the day.” If we reflect on what Jesus did and is doing for us, and if we remember it frequently, we too will “rejoice all the day.”
What is there to know?
Isaiah 62: 1-5 deserves to be read and re-read every day of Christmas! It gives us a reason (many reasons, and there are many, many more!) to be Christians. It tells us what is so great about recognizing there is something “going on” between ourselves and God and deciding to get involved in it. It tells us what we get out of participating in the life of the Church.
Isaiah leaves no doubt about what our relationship with Christ is: “The Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse…. As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.” The Church is the “bride of Christ” (John 3:29; Ephesians 5: 25-32; Revelation 19:7-9; 21: 2-10; 22: 17). And all of us (male and female alike) are “brides in the Bride.” What this means is that we are all committed to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with Jesus as Spouse — just as married couples are committed to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with each other. When Paul speaks of marriage he says, “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32).
This may sound daunting, but look at what it gives! “You shall be called by a new name” — you will have a whole new sense of your identity. “No longer” shall you see yourself as “Forsaken” or “Desolate,” “but you shall be called [and know yourselves as] ‘My Delight’ and… ‘Espoused.’” Think for a minute about what this says. Is this a relationship with God worth entering into? Once we appreciate what this means, our response will be, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”
“Have no fear…”
Matthew 1: 1-25 answers the hesitancy we have about entering into a relationship of spousal love with Jesus Christ. It tells us how Joseph felt when he learned that God had chosen his fiancée to make her the mother of his own Son.
Contrary to legend, Joseph was not suspicious of Mary when she told him she was pregnant. He believed what he told her about the angel’s message. But like any devout Jew — or any one of us! — when he learned that God had chosen Mary for his own spouse, he bowed down in reverence and began to back out of the picture. Who was he to interfere in the mystery of God’s relationship with Mary? We would do the same!
But the angel came to Joseph and said, “Have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.” But you, Joseph “are to name him” with the name God has chosen. You are chosen by God to fulfill the role of earthly father to Jesus. And you are to be the earthly spouse of Mary in every way but sexual. She is to be your wife and you her husband — and you are to be a father to the Son of the Most High.
Was this a scary, a daunting call? Yes. Did it call for sacrifice? Yes. Was the sacrifice worth the privilege of playing such a role in the redemption of the world? When Joseph was assured that God wanted him to do this, and that God would be his strength, wasn’t his response, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”? Is that our response to the call we have received to seek perfect union of mind and will and heart with Jesus Christ?
The strength of call
In Acts 13: 16-25 Paul is presenting Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s long history of being chosen, guided, supported and empowered by God. It should give us confidence to embrace the relationship with God to which Jesus calls us.
Paul reminds the Jews that God “chose our fathers. He made this people great… led them out of Egypt… raised up David… ‘a man after my own heart, who will fulfill my every wish.’”
Then “according to his promise” he brought forth from David’s descendants “Jesus, a savior for Israel.” John the Baptizer, who announced him, was thought by some to be the Messiah himself. But John said, “What you suppose me to be I am not. Rather, look for the one who comes after me. I am not worthy to unfasten the sandals on his feet.”
It is possible that Christianity itself is not “what we suppose it to be.” If we don’t feel like shouting every day, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!” it means we haven’t really understood or appreciated the Good News. This is not a matter of emotions, but of deep, interior understanding, awareness and joy; joy even on those days when we would have preferred not to get out of bed! If, when we feel depressed and discouraged, naming ourselves “Forsaken” and “Desolate,” we remember what Jesus has done for us, think about all he is doing and willing to do for us in our lives right now, and decide to believe in this — to believe in him — and act as if we believed, then we will come to appreciate the Good News. We will appreciate the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the favor of “sharing in the life of God.” The privilege of being chosen to continue and carry out Christ’s mission on earth. And yes, even the opportunities we have to show our love for him, and to show his love for the world, by putting out when it costs us. We will appreciate what it means to be a Christian, what it means to take part in the life and life-giving labor of the Church. What it means to know Jesus Christ.
This is what Christmas is all about: a celebration to help us celebrate with more appreciation all year. It is the celebration of Jesus as Savior of the world and Savior of our lives in the world. Savior of our family and social lives, of our business and professional lives — the Savior of life itself. Then it will be natural for us to say, “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord!”
What would you say to someone who asked you what Christmas means to you? Does your daily life — your visible attitudes, values and priorities, the stance you express in action toward the Church and the world — say the same thing?
Every day during Christmas season (until the Sunday after the Epiphany) consciously and deliberately think of one thing Christianity gives you. Set a time to do this. And enter with special attention into the Introductory Rites at Mass.