Today’s readings center around God’s loving plan, which begins “in the beginning” and results in the birth of the divine Savior.
(Reflections drawn from the Christmas readings for "Mass During The Day". See here for the readings at Vigil Mass, Night and Dawn.)
All the ends of the earth will behold the salvation of our God (Isaiah 52:7-10).
Chapter 52 of Isaiah is a remarkable one. It begins with a promise of redemption (from the exile that Israel endured in Babylon) and ends with prophecies that we often read in the Lenten season about the character of Christ’s Passion, the means by which he worked our redemption. This prophecy speaks mysteriously about a “servant” (in the Greek Old Testament, pais, which can be translated either as “servant” or as “son”) who will be both “exalted,” or “raised high,” and “marred…beyond that of human beings” (Is 52:13-14).
In this central section that we read for the celebration of Christmas, the theme is one of announcement of the coming of the one who brings these “glad tidings” of the “salvation of our God,” or what we as Christians call the Gospel. It is somewhat ironic that on this Christmas Day the Church would remind us, if even only allusively, that the scene which we contemplate today, so full of the warmth and religious of this feast of the winter season, is vitally connected to that other season in the spring of the year when we recall that the babe in the manger will pay the price of our redemption on the Cross. One of the themes of this part of Isaiah is that God will redeem (literally, “buy back”) Israel without a cost to her. That is, he will pay the ransom that she owes. We know by Faith that this prophecy is intended not just for Israel but also with reference to the sins of the whole human race. It is worthwhile to pause for a moment on Christmas to recall that the incomparable gift we receive in Christ, though it cost us nothing, cost Jesus greatly, beginning in the poverty of Bethlehem.
God has spoken to us through the Son, the very imprint of God's being (Hebrews 1:1-6).
In our Second Reading, which is from the very beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews, we find a theological reflection upon the truth that we find also in the portion of the prologue from John’s Gospel. Jesus is the very Son of God “through whom he created the universe” and the object of the worship of even the angels. This is an important element in the apologetic argument that Paul makes, because the Jews believed that the Old Testament Law was delivered through the angels. So a Jew who was arguing against the claims of Christianity might argue, “Our Law of Moses was received from the angels, but your new Christian law is only received from Jesus, a man.”
Christmas is a celebration of what we call the Incarnation, God the Son becoming man in Jesus and being born into our human experience by taking to himself our flesh and all that goes with it, both our birth and our death. This central mystery of our Faith is always a difficult thing to hold. In fact, we only hold it by virtue of the gift of faith that makes this great mystery known to us. For many Jews, too, this was the central difficulty of accepting Christianity. They thought that God could not enter the flesh in this way, though he had clearly demonstrated his love for his people in many ways. We know, again, only by faith, that this mystery reveals just how far his love goes.
The Word became flesh; from his fullness we have all received grace (John 1:1-18 [1-5, 9-14]).
As was noted in the commentary on Second Reading, the mystery of the Incarnation is central to Christianity and only confessed through the gift of faith. How the infinite God, without limit of any kind, could enter the limitations of space and time is naturally unknowable. While it is clear in the Gospels that Jesus does divine things and makes divine claims—and also does human things and makes human claims—how it is that these two sets of truths can be found in one Person is not seen without the gift of faith. Only faith can see that these two things, infinity and finitude, divinity and humanity, exist together in Jesus Christ. So though on Christmas we tend to stress the importance of love and the warmth of the scene in the stable where the infant Christ is surrounded by the love of Joseph and Mary, we ought to remember that it is only faith that enables us to see—and so to feel—that love in full. That is what St. John is trying to help us see in the prologue to his Gospel. He wants us to stand at the height of eternity with the divine Word so that we might gain the dizzying sense of how far down God’s love comes to enter time. We really ought to love God more when we see that he willed to come so far down to make himself knowable and lovable.
Today’s readings center around God’s loving plan, which begins “in the beginning” and results in the birth of the divine Savior—the Word made flesh, God dwelling with us. It can be very comforting to be reminded that God always has a plan. What are some ways that you have seen God’s plan unfolding in your own life? Is there some area of your life where you need the extra hope that comes from knowing that God is in control?
Make a commitment to discover God’s loving plan by joining a Small Group Bible Study this January. Register by January 15.
Reflection by Opening the Word and reprinted with the permission of Augustine Institute.