December 25, 2016 — The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): Mass during the day
IS 52: 7-10; PS 98: 1-6; HEB 1: 1-6; JN 1: 1-18
“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is the Messiah and Lord, and this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest’.”
We are all very familiar with the report of Jesus’ birth. We know about the multitude singing, and we are aware of how the shepherds came from the fields to see and worship the child. On this glorious day we are the heavenly host singing and we in a sense are the shepherds who kneel in admiration of this child. This child is like none other. We know that every child changes the world in his or her own way. But the birth of Jesus, the Son of God and the son of Mary does more than change the world. He changes our lives completely. He comes to save us. He comes to embrace us. And He invites each of us to embrace Him.
Most of us are aware that the first four Books of the New Testament — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — are called the Gospels. We also know in general that these Gospels tell the story of Jesus Christ — His birth, ministry, teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection. What you may not know nonetheless is that the first three Gospels, which we call the Synoptic Gospels, are very different from the Gospel of John, from which our Gospel for today comes.
The Gospel of John is unique in many ways. For example, almost 90% of the material it contains about Jesus’ life is not found in the other three Gospels. Also, you might say that the Synoptic Gospels tend to be more historical while the Gospel of John is more theological. Today’s Gospel Reading, which is the opening statement of John’s Gospel, is an example of this difference. Note how John describes Jesus’ birth: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through Him. And without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life; and this life was the light of the human race: the light shines in the darkness.”
On this magnificent Christmas Day we receive the life and we receive His light. It is no wonder that all of our readings reflect that life and that light and the joy that results. Just listen to the words and phrases we find in the First Reading from Isaiah. These are perfect descriptions of what we should feel on this day: “beautiful; glad tidings; peace; good news; salvation; shout for joy; break out in song.” What a summary of this day!
The Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews complements and affirms the feelings expressed in Isaiah. The writer makes it clear that Jesus is God and that today marks the beginning of salvation for us. This passage from Hebrews parallels our Gospel today in that it is the opening words of the letter to the Hebrews. The first word is “God” as that is where it all begins. God speaks to us in the birth of Jesus, and the author of the letter uses a word to describe Jesus that may be foreign to us: the author speaks of the “refulgence of his glory.” Refulgence means brightness or radiance. The original Greek word from which this is translated is apaugasma. That means brightness beyond our understanding. It is as if we cannot see or look upon the Lord — only through the light of Jesus His Son.
The Gospel, as explained previously, speaks of the Christ child in a way that is not found in the other Gospels. Jesus is the Word incarnate. If we review what we know about Jesus, we might say He was from Nazareth or He was born in Bethlehem or He is descended from Abraham through David. However, John wants us to understand that Jesus has come to us directly from God as He is One with God. He is the Word. Toward the end of His Gospel John states of his Gospel: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” Today is day of life and light. It is truly a day on which we must proclaim “Glory to God in the highest.”