For any of us who are celebrating this Christmas in orthodox fashion looking forward to the midnight mass and the readings and celebrations which follow tomorrow, I thought I would just post all the mass readings for the next 24 hours and just offer a very short reflection on each – whatever comes to my mind as I read them.
First Reading: Isaiah 62:11-12
Psalm: Psalm 97:1, 6, 11-12
Second Reading: Titus 3:4-7
Gospel: Luke 2:15-20
During the Day
First Reading: Isaiah 52:7-10
Psalm: Psalm 98:1-6
Second Reading: Hebrews 1:1-6
Gospel: John 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14
Isaiah 9: 1 – 6
1 But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zeb’ulun and the land of Naph’tali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. 3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Mid’ian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
This passage is one of my absolute favorites, since it was probably the first passage that I had committed to memory when younger. Traditionally this passage in Isaiah is interpreted as a prophesy which is connected with the Davidic Messiah (see especially verse 7, not included here). Although verses 5-6 are clearly images of peace to come, because the promised Messiah will be born. He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace – clearly again this young prince (to be king) brings tidings of peace. It is interesting to examine in what sense he will be called Father, but perhaps even more interesting to note that he is everlasting, which means that his rule will be absolute and for all time. Jewish interpretations generally saw herein an eschatological preview of the age which Messiah would usher in, something which Christian exegesis agrees with adamantly though somewhat differently; Since the Messiah was a man, it becomes hard to imagine a Messiah who both is everlasting and also dies, just as it is hard to think that this man would live forever. The Dead Sea Scrolls record one ancient Jewish interpretation being that there were at least two men who were together messiah, and an eschatological theology is worked out in the “War Scroll”. Christianity offers a much simpler more profound marriage of all the images, in Christ as God incarnate.
The ‘rod’ of the oppressor in verse 4, which yoked us and bound us captive – here represents sin as that which we are captives of. Yet, just as on Midian’s day, the yoke is broken here, because something tremendous is happening. The one coming is to have an everlasting government which will be on his shoulders; these Davidic images are being applied to something, by the Prophet Isaiah, which is still to come – the Messiah.
Notice that the readings tonight are aimed to find their completion in the Gospel reading of tomorrow, since it is in the Gospel of John that we find the true signification fulfilled of the first verses here. On them a ‘light’ has dawned – the light came into the world and dwelt among us.
|Psalms 96: 1 – 3, 11 – 13
|1||O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!|
|2||Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.|
|3||Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!|
|11||Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;|
|12||let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the wood sing for joy|
|13||before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth. ——————————————————————–—-|
I love that in verse 12 even the trees are going to sing for joy. The trees, in Catholic theology, along with all the rest of nature, glorifies God always by their mere existence, as do (even more perfectly) the animals. This psalm is supposed to signify the celebration of something earth-shattering, the LORD himself coming into the world to judge it in truth. The sense in saying that even the trees sing for glory is perhaps that all Nature is always involved in some way in the glorification and celebration of Christ. In reciting this psalm, the Church invites us to celebrate along with all creation the coming into the world of its maker. We do this most perfectly in glorifying him by offering ourselves to him in the Mass, which is a sacrifice, a celebration, a giving of our-selves over to Christ.
|Titus 2: 11 – 14
|11||For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men,|
|12||training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world,|
|13||awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,|
|14||who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.|
The Grace of God, which has appeared, is the light which was mentioned in Isaiah, and the prince of peace, the one whom all creation together rejoices. Notice that in verse 13 Jesus Christ is recognized as God. Verse 14 is key, since here we preview the ultimate signification of Christmas – the purpose for which Christ came into the world. He came to redeem man, and to set apart for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good works; which is simply the Church.
|Luke 2: 1 – 14
|1||In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.|
|2||This was the first enrollment, when Quirin’i-us was governor of Syria.|
|3||And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.|
|4||And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David,|
|5||to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.|
|6||And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.|
|7||And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.|
|8||And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.|
|9||And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.|
|10||And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people;|
|11||for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.|
|12||And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”|
|13||And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,|
|14||“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”|
In verse 4 we see that Christ was born in the lineage of David, and thus had to be registered in the town of David: Bethlehem, and this reminds one of what the prophet said:
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Notice that verse 14 is what Catholics always sing during every Mass, and here the Church touches this passage and reminds us why we say these exact words, joining in the chorus of angels. Notice the wording, also, of Luke, in verse 5, where Mary is said to be “with child” – this wording was not accidental, but rather is quoting Isaiah again, in Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the Virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Usually ‘virgin’ here is translated to ‘young woman’ as that is the most responsible translation of the Hebrew. However, the Jewish Rabbis before Christ also seemed to recognize that Isaiah’s political prophecy, here, was also layered with a deeper meaning about Christ. Therefore, the translation of this verse to say ‘virgin’ was actually done by the Jews in the Septuagint, when they first translated from Hebrew to Greek in 285 B.C. – and it is their insight in translating the passage this way which the evangelist here shares. Messiah, indeed, was born of a young woman, unmarried, virgin, and this is to be a sign not just to Ahaz, but to the whole world. He will be called ‘Immanuel’ which literally means ‘God with us’.
There is a lot more in this passage which I would love to touch on, for instance Quirinius and the sensus, but I must digress from peripheral points. These readings collectively invite us to join in the ‘song’ of celebration, with all of creation, from Trees to Angels, and to likewise give glory to God.
The next day begins, in the morning, with these readings:
|Isaiah 62: 11 – 12
|11||Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.”|
|12||And they shall be called The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD; and you shall be called Sought out, a city not forsaken.|
‘your salvation comes’ – recall that etymologically the name ‘Jesus’ means literally ‘the Lord is Salvation’. He comes, again, to gather his people Israel to himself, who will be holy (notice that the word ‘holy’ literally means consecrated or ‘set apart’).
|Psalms 97: 1, 6, 11 – 12
|1||The LORD reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!|
|6||The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory.|
|11||Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.|
|12||Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name! ———–————————————————————-|
The theme of all creation celebrating continues, as “Light dawns”.
|Titus 3: 4 – 7
|4||but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,|
|5||he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,|
|6||which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,|
|7||so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.|
Notice that it is when God’s loving-kindness (Greek word has no English equivalent) appears that he saved us. Catholics believe that Christ’s whole life, death, and resurrection are the groundwork for salvation, and not just his atoning death. From the moment he first appeared salvation had appeared. Just as he was born, so here the passage reminds us that we must be born again by the ‘washing of regeneration’ (the Sacrament of Baptism) in which the Holy Spirit re-generates (literally re-genesis) us.
|Luke 2: 15 – 20
|15||When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”|
|16||And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.|
|17||And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child;|
|18||and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.|
|19||But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.|
|20||And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.|
Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart – just as she did when she later looses Jesus for three days (which signified his death and resurrection), she “pondered these things in her heart”. So, just as the episode when Christ was lost for three days, so also the episode of Christ’s birth itself is a mystery which is worth pondering in our hearts.
Following these morning readings, the day readings begin again with Isaiah:
|Isaiah 52: 7 – 10
|7||How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”|
|8||Hark, your watchmen lift up their voice, together they sing for joy; for eye to eye they see the return of the LORD to Zion.|
|9||Break forth together into singing, you waste places of Jerusalem; for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.|
|10||The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.|
Just as this passage aims to arouse Israel to be alert and recognize the good news (literally Gospel) coming to Zion – so the Church calls her children to “break forth together into singing”. It is in this act, where we celebrate Christ’s birth, that we celebrate the salvation which came from the mountains (signifying ‘from on high’ and reminding one of Moses’ coming down from the mountain, so similarly Christ condescended to us from on high and brought the good news).
|Psalms 98: 1 – 6
|1||O sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.|
|2||The LORD has made known his victory, he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.|
|3||He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.|
|4||Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!|
|5||Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!|
|6||With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD!|
Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done something truly ‘new’ and marvelous. Something unexpected; just as one would never expect to meet in Shakespeare’s plays, not Hamlet nor Horatio, but Shakespeare himself written in as both character and author.
|Hebrews 1: 1 – 6
|1||In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets;|
|2||but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.|
|3||He reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature, upholding the universe by his word of power. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,|
|4||having become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs.|
|5||For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?|
|6||And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”|
Here, the Church invites us to delve into the mystery of considering Christ the ‘Son of God’ which is a Jewish idiom generally referring to the ‘King of Israel’, but obviously implies divinity in a peculiar way. Christ, here, is the one through whom the world was created, and it is in his victory over death that he realized that which his name signified, and thus he has become for us superior to the angels. Verse 5 is a reference to Davidic prophesy, again, which can be found in the passages fortelling Solomon’s birth by the prophet Nathan (2 Samuel 7:11-16; 1 Chronicles 17:10-15). Notice that the second of those passages I just mentioned was written long after Solomon was dead and gone, and it clearly rewords the prophesy as though its readers recognize in that prophesy a prophesy of the messiah.
Finally, the Third and Final Gospel reading:
|John 1: 1 – 18
|1||In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.|
|2||He was in the beginning with God;|
|3||all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.|
|4||In him was life, and the life was the light of men.|
|5||The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.|
|6||There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.|
|7||He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.|
|8||He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.|
|9||The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.|
|10||He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.|
|11||He came to his own home, and his own people received him not.|
|12||But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;|
|13||who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.|
|14||And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.|
|15||(John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, `He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'”)|
|16||And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.|
|17||For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.|
|18||No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.|
Also Liturgically optional to read instead:
In this time, we have gone from seeing the prophesies of Isaiah of the coming prince of peace, bringing the good news and realizing an everlasting kingdom, and Christ’s birth to the blessed Theotokos, to the more cosmic view of this moment in history as being that moment in which God himself came and dwelt among us. Above all, these readings direct us to recognize this event as the moment at which “on the people living in darkness, a light has dawned” as “the true light which enlightens every man was coming into the world”. Therefore we are invited into this cortege wherein we join all of creation in giving glory to God, and recognize that he has come to us.
These things are worth pondering.