Year C: Christmas Day - Mass 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 the heart-space, an 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? What new feelings, reflections and actions can bring to prayer and then, into the New Year?
Christ Fulfills the Prophecies
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.
Nativity Scenes, Here There and Everywhere
Fr. Michael K. Marsh
I probably need to begin with a disclaimer. My understanding of the nativity has changed. It is not what it used to be. I no longer see the birth of Jesus the way it is so often portrayed.
The image of sweet baby Jesus asleep on the hay has given way to a vision of God who is wide awake, present, among us, concerned and involved in every aspect of our life. A God who longs for humanity and desires that we would share and actively participate in the divine life through Jesus’ birth, has replaced my image of Mary and Joseph as calm, peaceful, and exceptionally holy spectators of the baby in a manger. That God chooses to enter into and experience the messiness of real life, my life, and your life, offers me more hope than the image of a manger drenched in the warm glow of candlelight and filled with soft fuzzy animals and gentle shepherds.
Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I am not opposed to manger scenes. I just think God is calling us to a deeper way of seeing. My disclaimer is really just a description of some of the many ways in which we sentimentalize Jesus’ birth, sanitize the world into which he is born, and strip humanity of divinity. When this happens the nativity scene reveals the influence of marketing and advertising more than the power of God. Christmas then becomes a holiday in which we take a break from everyday life and escape the world rather than a holy day that remembers, celebrates, and gives thanks for God’s entry into our world and everyday life.
Jesus’ birth is more real than most of us know. It has to be because too often life is more real than we can handle by ourselves. Wherever we find authentic humanity we will find the birth of Jesus. Likewise, wherever we live or act as less than human we will find the birth of Jesus calling us back to our true selves. For it is in God that we are most Truly Human.
The birth of Jesus is, therefore, not limited to Bethlehem some 2000 years ago. So I want to describe to you three other nativity scenes. Beware. They are a bit different than what we are used to.
- Think about your family’s holiday gatherings and meals. Some are filled with joys and love, laughter, and conversation. Others with tension and tears, arguments and hurt feelings. Surely, the holy child is born at the table of relationships.
- About a week ago photographs of the “girl in the blue bra” appeared in news reports. Her shirt had been pulled open revealing a blue bra. She was drug through the street, kicked, and beaten by Egyptian soldiers. God help us if we declare there is no room for Jesus’ birth in the manger of violence.
- I have no doubt that the one whose body and blood would feed the world was born again at 211 S. Evans St. this past Wednesday when the Uvalde Food Pantry gave away Christmas groceries to more than six hundred families.
How on earth can these be nativity scenes, a place of Jesus’ birth? You now, no doubt, understand why I began with a disclaimer. These other scenes look nothing like the manger scenes that fill our holiday cards or that sit on our tables. That’s my point. We need a larger and more real vision of Jesus’ nativity.
If Jesus is not born in these other scenes I have described; if Jesus is not born in the darkness, fears, and brokenness of our world; if Jesus is not born in the love we give and receive, in the intimacy we share, and in the beauty, we create; then it makes no difference that he was born in Bethlehem.
And if that’s true then there is no hope for the woman in blue, the soldiers who beat her, the poor, or families. There is no hope for you and me. There is no hope for the world. Tonight, however, God proves otherwise. There is hope and good news. The angels sing it. The manger reveals it. Mary and Joseph hold it. The shepherds come to see it. And we, we show up to be reminded of and celebrate the hope and good news that Jesus, God incarnate, is with us. He is our hope and good news.
While the nativity is a historical event, it is not just an event in history. While Bethlehem is a geographical location, it is not just a town in Israel. Name any place in the world and you have named Bethlehem. It is in Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan, Somalia, the United States, and Uvalde, Texas. Bethlehem is everywhere. Bethlehem is the world into which Jesus is born; the good, the bad, the ugly, the ordinary, the beautiful, the unbelievable. Bethlehem is more about life than a location.
Each one of us could talk about the Bethlehems of our lives. They may not involve a blue bra, but they are just as real. They would be stories of times when we were helpless and life was fragile, times when we were lost and the world seemed to have no room for us, times when our lives and world were dominated by powers other than love, compassion, mercy. Undoubtedly, they would also be stories about love stronger than death, stories of hope that overcame despair, and stories of light that shone in our darkness.
Ultimately, they would be stories about times when life got real. More than anything else though, they would be stories of how Jesus was born anew in us; how our flesh and blood lives were the Bethlehems of Jesus’ flesh and blood birth. That birth is happening in all times, in all places, and in all people. That is the hope and good news of Christmas. “For to [us] is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Reflection excerpt from: Interrupting the Silence by Fr. Michael K Marsh.