Luke 2: 1–14
In the gospel passage for Mass at Midnight we hear the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. It is a story so simple that even a child can grasp it; yet, even after 2000 years it is a mystery so profound that the richness of its meaning remains inexhaustible. We are reminded again of God’s providential care which makes all history sacred history. The powerful rulers of the world, whether an Egyptian pharaoh or a Roman emperor, may have their armies and issue their decrees, but through the odd coincidences of history, God’s own purposes are ultimately achieved. As foretold by the prophet, Mary gives birth to a savior, who is Christ and Lord, in Bethlehem, the city of David.
Caesar Augustus, regarded by the Romans as a god who would bring peace and salvation to the world, is now only the unwitting instrument in the divine plan to bring God’s peace and salvation through this child born of a young Jewish woman. Mary is the faithful, willing agent of God’s loving care. After giving birth to her son, she wraps him in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger. Jesus is cared for in the manger of the Lord (Isaiah 1: 3), not in an over-crowded lodging among strangers. Already in the Christmas story, we have an intimation that divine-human love (now as a child in a manger, in a few short years as a young man dying on a cross) offers itself to us in vulnerability. Who can be afraid of such a God? Love cannot force itself, and can suffer the pain of rejection or indifference.
In the gospel passage for Mass at Dawn (Luke 2: 15–20), Luke continues the Christmas story by having shepherds go to Bethlehem and relate the divine message they had received. Mary keeps and reflects upon all these things in her heart. Then the shepherds, like the faithful to this day, join the heavenly, angelic liturgy in glorifying God for all that has happened.
The meaning for us of Luke’s Christmas story is completed by the prologue of John’s gospel read at Mass During the Day (John 1: 1–18). Christ is born of Mary so that he might be born and live in us. Those who accept the Word who became flesh become the children of God, not by natural generation, but by divine grace. The good news of Christmas will not be fully realized until we can say with Saint Paul: “Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2: 20).
The Church constantly proclaims the truth, which may well be the hope and the challenge of the new millennium: the mystery of the Incarnation sanctifies all human life. The Lord, by accepting a share of our common humanity from his mother, has identified himself with all humanity, even the least of his brothers and sisters (Matthew 25: 31–46). The good news of Christmas will not be fully realized until the dignity of every human being is respected and made secure in terms of the right to live, religious and political freedom, social and economic justice. Mary, in the loving care of her child, becomes the icon of the care that God wants us to extend to every human being, even the most vulnerable. In truth, it is care extended to Christ himself.
In a special way at Christmas we might treasure in our hearts the prayer said by the priest at every Mass in preparation for the Eucharistic Liturgy: “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.