THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD(CHRISTMAS): MIDNIGHT
Isaiah 9: 1-6; Psalm 96; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-14
By: Jude Siciliano, OP
The appearance of the angel to the shepherds in the fields is a staple of every Christmas pageant. Children know the angel’s lines almost by heart, "Don’t be afraid...." After calming the frightened shepherds the angel continues to address them and you can hear the fourth graders reciting the next familiar line, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests."
Did you notice the variation from the older version of those lines which we still remember from when we had our parts in the school Christmas pageant? We used to say, "... peace to those of goodwill." Which made it sound like the shepherds fell under that rubric – "people of good will." It was as if the good news of the savior’s birth would bring a gift of peace to those already properly disposed, people of "good will" only.
But no one at the time of Jesus’s birth would have held the shepherds in high regard. Let’s not make a quaint holy card out of this gospel scene. The very nature of their work and their itinerancy meant that shepherds lived a non-observant lifestyle. People would not have counted them among the devout or pious. They were here today and gone tomorrow and if something were missing, they would most likely get the blame.
If we are still using the older version of the Nativity play for our school pageants we need to make sure we change the important line to fit our revised, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests." For this rendition fits more closely with the way Luke’s gospel will unfold. Throughout this gospel the least likely will be the recipients of the good news, The shepherds may have been unlikely candidates to be the first to receive the news of God’s gracious gesture towards humanity, but they knew a good thing when they heard it. There they were, going about their work, "keeping night watch over their flock." They weren’t praying, or reciting memorized Bible verses. Still, they find themselves surrounded by the divine light for no other reason than God having decided to extend favor to them. On them God’s favor rests. In this gospel the misfits and the outcasts are offered salvation and they seize it. They know a good thing when they hear it.
God is the source of all goodness; is well disposed towards us and, as we experience in tonight’s Christmas gospel, is once again reaching out to all of us.
Tonight’s passage from Isaiah is a poetic gem. But the lovely language doesn’t cover up the agony behind the lines; it underlines it. A prophet is appealing to the people who have, "dwelt in the land of gloom," pressed down by "the yoke that burdened them..." under "the rod of their taskmaster." This is poetic language that highlights the pain of an enslaved people.
But now their condition is changing, they "have seen a great light." God is acting on their behalf and is the source of their "abundant joy and great rejoicing." How wonderful to experience God’s deliverance! If God can deliver us from trouble now, we need to promise ourselves to remember God’s gracious action so that the next time we "walk in darkness," or dwell "in the land of gloom," we will be encouraged by our memory of God’s past help.
We are celebrating our God who delivered the people in the past and is doing it again decisively tonight. Once and for all the gloom is lifted, for light has pierced our darkness. The child born to us is a sign that God is actively working on our behalf. We will need to remember all this, especially when gloom descends again and we feel unworthy of God’s goodness. But this celebration tonight isn’t about how God rewards us for being "people of good will." Rather, it’s about God’s goodwill already proven to us in the birth of the child Isaiah promised. What was gloom and darkness has turned into festivity and celebration. As we proclaim in our Psalm Response, "Sing to the Lord a new song."
Our religious language can sound abstract. Words like "salvation," "redemption," "Kingdom of God." "Grace" is one of those words; hard to visualize or describe, not only to nonbelievers, but even to devout Christians. The Old Testament is the story of grace, God freely reaching out to lift up the enslaved and continually forgiving the sinner. As if that weren’t enough, tonight we celebrate how far God is willing to go to show us what grace looks like.
Paul puts it succinctly in the opening line of tonight’s second reading when he says, "The grace of God has appeared...." In case grace seems too intangible and hard to describe, God has put a human face on grace – Jesus Christ. Again Paul sums it up, "... who gave himself for us to deliver us." What is the effect of the appearance of grace in Jesus? People who are weighed down by their sin are "cleansed." As a result we become a new people, whom Paul describes as "eager to do what is good." How did that change happen in us? Well, to repeat, "the grace of God has appeared."
Click here for a link to the Christmas readings:
glow of Christmas does not fend off the misery, the
uncertainty, the anxiety, the confusion of the world.
Catholics have never thought it did. For the mystery of
evil, Christmas offers no philosophical explanation.
Rather, Christmas tells a story that points us to the
conclusions that because of God’s passionate and
unconditional lover for us, the ultimate ending, the
final word will be joyful, not despairing; happy, not
sad. Christmas validates our hope. And in the words of
composer Gerry Herman, "We need a little Christmas,
— Bishop Joseph Gossman, Raleigh, N.C.
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God
– John 1:12
"A Psalm for the Twelve Days of Christmas"
by Edward Hayes
(Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, Forest of Peace, 1989)
O timeless and ever-youthful God,
I thank you for these twelve days of Christmas.
And I ask the gift of an endless encore
of this feast of the birth of your Son.
Though I am grown now
beyond the age of childhood toys,
gift me with playful tool
of how to treat each day
as a Christmas gifting day.
Grant me within these twelve days of Christmas,
the bottomless gift
of the heart of a child:
enthusiastic with the excitement of expectation,
unashamed to play and dance with delight
and filled with a faith in elves and fairies.
Place upon my feet
shoes of lead
that I may be slow to put away
the electric stars that have hung
like clusters of constellations
upon my Christmas tree.
They have nightly spoken to me
of what a child’s eyes
can see in every tree.
Turn to concrete my Christmas consciousness,
that I may continue to greet
hassled clerks in crowded stores
and nameless strangers on the street
with blessings and joyful wishes.
And so by living the whole year
in the quality of Christmastide,
your Word may endlessly become flesh
in me, your Christmas child.
Wishing you a most blessed Christmas!
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
The angel said to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid,
for behold I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all people."
Throughout Luke’s gospel the least likely will be the recipients of the good news, The shepherds may have been unlikely candidates to be the first to receive the news of God’s gracious gesture towards humanity, but they knew a good thing when they heard it.
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
----Central Prison, 4285 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4285
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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4. "First Impressions" is a
service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday
worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like
"First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to
fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the
Great Priory of Texas
Vince Hagan Drive
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736