The Mass of the day of Christmas Eve, prior to the Vigil of Christmas celebrated tonight, is called the “Mass in the Morning,” to distinguish it from the Christmas proper celebrations. This is also spiritually appropriate as the readings of this last liturgy of Advent point towards the growing light, the coming Dawn, and God’s promises about to be fulfilled. Even as we experience society’s frantic rush to a Christmas filled with physical gifts, throughout this Christmas Eve day, these readings invite us, even for a moment, to pause … breathe … and to become aware of the sacredness of our lives lived in the grace of God, made present in our flesh through Christ.
The first reading from the second book of Samuel in the Hebrew Scriptures reminds us that God is always at work in our lives and our history. David wants to build a Temple – a house for God. Perhaps David was genuinely concerned that he lived in a palace while the arc of God was in a tent, or perhaps he felt building God a Temple would make sure he stayed on God’s good side. But God reminds him, through Nathan the prophet, that it was God who gave David all that he has. God made David king. And this wasn’t because David was the most righteous or holy – for the Scriptures remind us that David committed some terrible sins as well. Rather, God did all this out of care for the people. God had a plan for them and for all of us, of which David was an important, but small, part.
God’s plan is much bigger than any Temple or earthly kingdom. And in the Gospel reading from Luke, we get a glimpse of the plan to be fulfilled in Jesus. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, has just received his ability to speak again after it was taken from him for nine months because he doubted that God would enable him and his elderly wife Elizabeth to conceive and bear a child. And the first words he utters are these – a canticle which is now part of the Church’s Morning Prayer each day, in the Liturgy of the Hours. Zechariah speaks of the Messiah and reminds us of what Christ is all about: One who will save us from enemies and from hatred, who will bring mercy, forgiveness and salvation; one who will demonstrate tender compassion, bring light and guide us to peace.
These are the true gifts of Christmas!
On this day, let’s make sure to stop before dusk, close our eyes, and be still in the wonder of God’s love for us. Reflecting on these readings Catholic theologian and storyteller Dr. Megan McKenna says: “We need to listen, to strain after the sounds of the song that is building in the universe, begun in creation’s seeds and put into words by throngs of angels, exploding into a new star in the heavens. … For this is Emmanuel, God-with-us. God has come to be with us as poor and human. … Finally, there are no more Words, only the Word that will slip among us in the night’s dark, silently, but resounding throughout history, born only of a simple, humble poor woman, and of God’s persistent, freeing love.”
May God give you peace!