Year A: Christmas at Dawn
The Nativity of the Lord
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
- What has the “Lord made known to you” this Advent Season? Any new awareness of Emmanuel – “God with us?”
- Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. (I would add, not in her head) Is it hard for you to get out of your head and into your heart? How do you open yourself to this essential part of the spiritual life?
- As we close one year and begin another. What have you been reflecting on or pondering in your heart this Advent and Christmas season?
Christ Fulfills the Prophecies
Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ
The first part of this story, Luke 2:1-14, was the Gospel reading for Mass at Night. We hear of Caesar’s decree, the trip to Bethlehem, the birth and the announcement to the shepherds. In the liturgy for Mass at Dawn we hear about the shepherds’ response.
Luke must have thoroughly enjoyed weaving together his infancy narrative. Up to this point in the story angels had appeared to Zechariah and Mary to announce the births of John and Jesus. Now the angels have gone afield and found the least reputable, least educated members of the people of God to tell them that history has come to a moment of total transformation. And what’s the key to it all? The plain, ordinary fact that a baby has been born!
Perhaps Luke’s genius is this: only people as simple as the shepherds could believe that such immense meaning could come from something as simple as the birth of a child. The truth is those shepherds didn’t start out making any commitment, they simply decided to go and see. But that was enough. We don’t often emphasize the fact that it was not the message of an angel or the caroling choir that filled the night sky that convinced the shepherds. The miraculous manifestations simply whetted their curiosity. Something else persuaded them.
What might have moved them when they saw the child in the manger?
Luke wove this story as a careful prologue to his Gospel and a bookend to pair with his nearly final story about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In both cases we have a journey: to Bethlehem or out of Jerusalem. In both stories angels make an announcement about Jesus: in the first, that he had been born, in the second that he was alive. In both Bethlehem and Emmaus Luke mentions an inn, the place where travelers lodge. In the first case there is no room for Mary and Joseph who are awaiting the birth of their child. Going to Emmaus the disciples make room, inviting the stranger to remain with them at the inn. In the nativity story the baby was found wrapped and lying in the place where animals fed. In the Emmaus story the disciples recognized the Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread. Finally, both the shepherds and the Emmaus-bound disciples went to others with the joyful news of what they
had seen and heard.
Luke’s technique of placing mirroring stories at the beginning and end of his gospel is more than simply artistry. Luke is telling us that everything, from the beginning to the end of his Gospel, is an adventure, a pilgrimage of encounter with Christ. He is showing us that discipleship comes only from that encounter. He is also using simple shepherds and unperceptive disciples as models for all the followers of Christ who will read his story through the ages.
The feast of Christmas is a celebration of a new beginning, of the inauguration of God’s presence on earth in the person of Jesus the Christ. Christmas is a reminder that God appears in our midst as unobtrusively as a diapered baby or a fellow traveler on the road. There have been grand announcements, prophetic oracles, the equivalent of heavenly light and music shows, but, as Elijah learned, God comes in the gentlest of ways (1 Kings 19:12). We can never control the ways or times when God will become manifest in our lives. We are invited to seek God in the word, in sacrament, in community and in creation. Each of these carries within the power of real presence.
In the end we’ll never know exactly what so impressed the shepherds when they bent over the manger. It may have been the fulfillment of the angel’s or the prophets’ promise of a child to be born. It may have been something they perceived in the presence of the child. Perhaps Mary and Joseph had such an aura of being lovers of God that they evangelized the shepherds by their simple contact with them. Whatever it was, the shepherds were open and humble enough to be changed by it.
As we find joy in this feast, let us return with those shepherds to Bethlehem. Taking some quiet moments, let us enter into the contemplative prayer of imagining the scene and asking each participant to share his or her gospel perspective with us. Then let us listen to one another proclaim what it is that we have seen and heard in the contemplation of the feast. By so doing we will join as fellow disciples with shepherds and travelers as we all journey toward enjoying the full and timeless presence of God.
A light is kindled in the darkness. A word is spoken. The cold air crackles, the stones stir underfoot, a fire hisses out its breath, coals creaking like wind-racked pines. A woman labors to give birth.
And so, God arrives among us, shivering in the cold, howling with hunger, begging with each breath to be fed and clothed and sheltered. A voice crying out, a glimmer with a Gospel demanding to be proclaimed.
Gloria, we exclaim, and hunt in vain for angels in the sky. But Isaiah hinted at the shape of the light we seek: share your food with the hungry, shelter the poor, clothe those in need, then your light will blaze forth like the dawn.
Three decades later, ablaze on a sun-bright hillside outsider. Jerusalem, is he remembering that night? “I was hungry and you fed me, a stranger and you made me welcome.” When? we asked, the wailing child and spent mother long forgotten. “Whenever you did this for the least among you.” And we saw his glory.
Can we stop hunting for the cherubim and seraphim long enough to listen to the unending and all-sustaining Word, crying out in need, or for the Light pleading for warmth, for food and shelter? If you wish, said one of the desert mystics, you could be all flame. If we wish, we could be Isaiah’s blazing down.
The Word came to dwell among us, that we might be a word spoken, a voice for those in need, a light to the nations. Children of God, all flame.
Michelle Francl-Donnay; is a wife and mother, a professor of chemistry, and an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory.