‘The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
God of love, Father of all,
the darkness that covered the earth
has given way to the bright dawn of your Word made flesh.
Make us a people of this light.
Make us faithful to your Word,
that we may bring your life to the waiting world.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.
O God, who have made this most sacred night
Radiant with the splendor of the true light,
Grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries
of his light on earth,
May also delight in his gladness in heaven.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy
and great rejoicing,
as they rejoice before you as at the harvest,
as people make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
will be burned as fuel for flames.
For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this!
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 712 The characteristics of the awaited Messiah begin to appear in the “Book of Emmanuel” (“Isaiah said this when he saw his glory,”1 speaking of Christ), especially in the first two verses of Isaiah 11:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.2
CCC 2305 Earthly peace is the image and fruit of the peace of Christ, the messianic “Prince of Peace.”3 By the blood of his Cross, “in his own person he killed the hostility,”4 he reconciled men with God and made his Church the sacrament of the unity of the human race and of its union with God. “He is our peace.”5 He has declared: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”6
1 Jn 12:41; cf. Isa 6-12.
2 Isa 11:1-2.
3 Isa 9:5.
4 Eph 2:16 J.B.; cf. Col 1:20-22.
5 Eph 2:14.
6 Mt 5:9.
What Isaiah foresaw some 700 years before it happened we are commemorating tonight nearly 2,000 years after it happened, and it will still be commemorated 2,000 years from today if this world will still be in existence. God came on our earth, became one of us so that we could become one with God. This is incomparably greater than any other historical event that ever happened or ever could happen on our planet.
Yet unfortunately there are millions of people who have not yet heard this good news, but its good effects will reach them if their ignorance is not their fault. There are millions of others who have heard this good news but refuse to believe it. The basic reason for their disbelief is not that it couldn’t be true, but that it is too good to be true. It is indeed hard to believe that the infinite, all-perfect God should bother with such imperfect, such mean creatures, as we are. But it is because he is infinite and his love is infinite that he can and did go to such lengths for us his unworthy creatures.
While we thank God tonight with true sincerity and heartfelt gratitude, for all he has done for us, and while we promise faithfully to try to make ourselves less unworthy of the infinite love he has shown us in the Incarnation, let us remember all those millions of our brothers who do not really know him yet. Let us beg God to send them the goods news and the grace to accept this great gift of infinite love, so that all his children on earth may know and thank him too. And let us strive by the example of a truly Christian life to make God’s love for us known not only to our fellow-Christians but to all men.
Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
(Lk 2:11) Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all you lands.
Sing to the LORD; bless his name.
Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Announce his salvation, day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his wondrous deeds.
Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
They shall exult before the LORD, for he comes;
for he comes to rule the earth.
He shall rule the world with justice
and the peoples with his constancy.
Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
The grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of our great God
and savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 66 “The Christian economy, therefore, since it is the new and definitive Covenant, will never pass away; and no new public revelation is to be expected before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ.”1 Yet even if Revelation is already complete, it has not been made completely explicit; it remains for Christian faith gradually to grasp its full significance over the course of the centuries.
CCC 312 In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: “It was not you”, said Joseph to his brothers, “who sent me here, but God. .. You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive.”2 From the greatest moral evil ever committed – the rejection and murder of God’s only Son, caused by the sins of all men – God, by his grace that “abounded all the more”,3 brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.
CCC 449 By attributing to Jesus the divine title “Lord”, the first confessions of the Church’s faith affirm from the beginning that the power, honor and glory due to God the Father are due also to Jesus, because “he was in the form of God”,4 and the Father manifested the sovereignty of Jesus by raising him from the dead and exalting him into his glory.5
CCC 1041 The message of the Last Judgment calls men to conversion while God is still giving them “the acceptable time,. .. the day of salvation.”6 It inspires a holy fear of God and commits them to the justice of the Kingdom of God. It proclaims the “blessed hope” of the Lord’s return, when he will come “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at in all who have believed.”7
CCC 1130 The Church celebrates the mystery of her Lord “until he comes,” when God will be “everything to everyone.”8 Since the apostolic age the liturgy has been drawn toward its goal by the Spirit’s groaning in the Church: Maranatha!9 The liturgy thus shares in Jesus’ desire: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you. .. until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”10 In the sacraments of Christ the Church already receives the guarantee of her inheritance and even now shares in everlasting life, while “awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Christ Jesus.”11 The “Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come. .. Come, Lord Jesus!”’12
St. Thomas sums up the various aspects of sacramental signs: “Therefore a sacrament is a sign that commemorates what precedes it- Christ’s Passion; demonstrates what is accomplished in us through Christ’s Passion – grace; and prefigures what that Passion pledges to us – future glory.”13
CCC 1809 Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods. It ensures the will’s mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion: “Do not follow your inclination and strength, walking according to the desires of your heart.”14 Temperance is often praised in the Old Testament: “Do not follow your base desires, but restrain your appetites.”15 In the New Testament it is called “moderation” or “sobriety.” We ought “to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world.”16
To live well is nothing other than to love God with all one’s heart, with all one’s soul and with all one’s efforts; from this it comes about that love is kept whole and uncorrupted (through temperance). No misfortune can disturb it (and this is fortitude). It obeys only [God] (and this is justice), and is careful in discerning things, so as not to be surprised by deceit or trickery (and this is prudence).17
CCC 2760 Very early on, liturgical usage concluded the Lord’s Prayer with a doxology. In the Didache, we find, “For yours are the power and the glory for ever.”18 The Apostolic Constitutions add to the beginning: “the kingdom,” and this is the formula retained to our day in ecumenical prayer.19 The Byzantine tradition adds after “the glory” the words “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The Roman Missal develops the last petition in the explicit perspective of “awaiting our blessed hope” and of the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.20 Then comes the assembly’s acclamation or the repetition of the doxology from the Apostolic Constitutions.
CCC 2818 In the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” refers primarily to the final coming of the reign of God through Christ’s return.21 But, far from distracting the Church from her mission in this present world, this desire commits her to it all the more strongly. Since Pentecost, the coming of that Reign is the work of the Spirit of the Lord who “complete[s] his work on earth and brings us the fullness of grace.”22
1 DV 4; cf. 1 Tim 6:14; Titus 2:13.
2 Gen 45:8; 50:20; cf. Tob 2:12 (Vulg.).
3 Cf. Rom 5:20.
4 Cf. Acts 2:34 – 36; Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13; Rev 5:13; Phil 2:6.
5 Cf. Rom 10:9; I Cor 12:3; Phil 2:9-11.
6 2 Cor 6:2.
7 Titus 2:13; 2 Thess 1:10.
8 1 Cor 11:26; 15:28.
9 1 Cor 16:22.
10 Lk 22:15.
11 Titus 2:13.
12 Rev 22:17, 20.
13 St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 60, 3.
14 Sir 5:2; cf. 37:27-31.
15 Sir 18:30.
16 Titus 2:12.
17 St. Augustine, De moribus eccl. 1, 25, 46: PL 32, 1330-1331.
18 Didache 8, 2: SCh 248, 174.
19 Apostolic Constitutions, 7, 24, 1: PG 1,1016.
20 Titus 2:13; cf. Roman Missal 22, Embolism after the Lord’s Prayer.
21 Cf. Titus 2:13.
22 Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer IV, 118.
Christmas is an occasion for rejoicing, a season of goodwill, a time of joy even for those who unfortunately do not know or realize its true meaning. For us Christians it is the second of our greatest annual feasts (next after Easter) in which we call to mind God’s infinite love for us and his infinite mercy towards us mortals.
We surely have reason to rejoice and be glad. Christ, the true Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, took to himself our lowly human nature and became one with us in order to raise us up to the dignity of adopted sons of his heavenly Father. If some earthly king or nobleman took the son of one of his servants into his palace, clothed him in costly robes and made him his heir, the world would gasp in amazement. God has taken us, his lowly creatures; has clothed us in the divine garments of grace; has made us one of his family by making his Son one of us, and has made us heirs of an eternal kingdom.
And yet mankind can ignore or forget such an act of benevolence, such a proof of divine love! Of course, we Christians do not ignore or forget this divine benevolence but we just do not remember it as much as we should; we do not thank God often enough for all he has done for us; too often we are ungrateful children.
Tonight, as we call to mind the infinite love of God which sent his Son on earth to be born of the virgin Mary in a stable in Bethlehem so that we could spend our eternity in the mansions of heaven, let us show our gratitude, our appreciation, by resolving to live as adopted sons of God are expected to live.
St. Paul’s letter to Titus tells us how. We must reject ungodliness and worldly lusts by living temperately, justly and piously, using the things of this world as stepping-stones to heaven. God has made us his Chosen People; nay more! he has made us his adopted sons. Let us show our true gratitude by striving to live a life worthy of such a sublime vocation.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus
that the whole world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment,
when Quirinius was governor of Syria.
So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town.
And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth
to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem,
because he was of the house and family of David,
to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
While they were there,
the time came for her to have her child,
and she gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ 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
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 333 From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God “brings the firstborn into the world, he says: ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.’”1 Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church’s praise: “Glory to God in the highest!”2 They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been.3 Again, it is the angels who “evangelize” by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.4 They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement.5
CCC 437 To the shepherds, the angel announced the birth of Jesus as the Messiah promised to Israel: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”6 From the beginning he was “the one whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world”, conceived as “holy” in Mary’s virginal womb.7 God called Joseph to “take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”, so that Jesus, “who is called Christ”, should be born of Joseph’s spouse into the messianic lineage of David.8
CCC 448 Very often in the Gospels people address Jesus as “Lord”. This title testifies to the respect and trust of those who approach him for help and healing.9 At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, “Lord” expresses the recognition of the divine mystery of Jesus.10 In the encounter with the risen Jesus, this title becomes adoration: “My Lord and my God!” It thus takes on a connotation of love and affection that remains proper to the Christian tradition: “It is the Lord!”11
CCC 486 The Father’s only Son, conceived as man in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is “Christ”, that is to say, anointed by the Holy Spirit, from the beginning of his human existence, though the manifestation of this fact takes place only progressively: to the shepherds, to the magi, to John the Baptist, to the disciples.12 Thus the whole life of Jesus Christ will make manifest “how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power.”13
CCC 515 The Gospels were written by men who were among the first to have the faith14 and wanted to share it with others. Having known in faith who Jesus is, they could see and make others see the traces of his mystery in all his earthly life. From the swaddling clothes of his birth to the vinegar of his Passion and the shroud of his Resurrection, everything in Jesus’ life was a sign of his mystery.15 His deeds, miracles and words all revealed that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”16 His humanity appeared as “sacrament”, that is, the sign and instrument, of his divinity and of the salvation he brings: what was visible in his earthly life leads to the invisible mystery of his divine sonship and redemptive mission
CCC 525 Jesus was born in a humble stable, into a poor family.17 Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty heaven’s glory was made manifest.18 The Church never tires of singing the glory of this night:
The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal
And the earth offers a cave to the Inaccessible.
The angels and shepherds praise him
And the magi advance with the star,
For you are born for us,
Little Child, God eternal!19
CCC 559 How will Jerusalem welcome her Messiah? Although Jesus had always refused popular attempts to make him king, he chooses the time and prepares the details for his messianic entry into the city of “his father David”.20 Acclaimed as son of David, as the one who brings salvation (Hosanna means “Save!” or “Give salvation!”), the “King of glory” enters his City “riding on an ass”.21 Jesus conquers the Daughter of Zion, a figure of his Church, neither by ruse nor by violence, but by the humility that bears witness to the truth.22 And so the subjects of his kingdom on that day are children and God’s poor, who acclaim him as had the angels when they announced him to the shepherds.23 Their acclamation, “Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord”,24 is taken up by the Church in the “Sanctus” of the Eucharistic liturgy that introduces the memorial of the Lord’s Passover.
CCC 695 Anointing. The symbolism of anointing with oil also signifies the Holy Spirit,25 to the point of becoming a synonym for the Holy Spirit. In Christian initiation, anointing is the sacramental sign of Confirmation, called “chrismation” in the Churches of the East. Its full force can be grasped only in relation to the primary anointing accomplished by the Holy Spirit, that of Jesus. Christ (in Hebrew “messiah”) means the one “anointed” by God’s Spirit. There were several anointed ones of the Lord in the Old Covenant, pre-eminently King David.26 But Jesus is God’s Anointed in a unique way: the humanity the Son assumed was entirely anointed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit established him as “Christ.”27 The Virgin Mary conceived Christ by the Holy Spirit who, through the angel, proclaimed him the Christ at his birth, and prompted Simeon to come to the temple to see the Christ of the Lord.28 The Spirit filled Christ and the power of the Spirit went out from him in his acts of healing and of saving.29 Finally, it was the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead.30 Now, fully established as “Christ” in his humanity victorious over death, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit abundantly until “the saints” constitute – in their union with the humanity of the Son of God – that perfect man “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”:31 “the whole Christ,” in St. Augustine’s expression.
CCC 725 Finally, through Mary, the Holy Spirit begins to bring men, the objects of God’s merciful love,32 into communion with Christ. And the humble are always the first to accept him: shepherds, magi, Simeon and Anna, the bride and groom at Cana, and the first disciples.
1 Heb 1:6.
2 Lk 2:14.
3 Cf. Mt 1:20; 2:13,19; 4:11; 26:53; Mk 1:13; Lk 22:43; 2 Macc 10:29-30; 11:8.
4 Cf. Lk 2:8-14; Mk 16:5-7.
5 Cf. Acts 1:10-11; Mt 13:41; 24:31; Lk 12:8-9. The angels in the life of the Church
6 Lk 2:11.
7 Jn 10:36; cf. Lk 1:35.
8 Mt 1:20; cf. 1:16; Rom 1:1; 2 Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16.
9 Cf Mt 8:2; 14:30; 15:22; et al.
10 Cf. Lk 1:43; 2:11.
11 Jn 20:28,21:7.
12 Cf. Mt 1:20; 2:1-12; Lk 1:35; 2:8-20; Jn 1:3 1-34; 2:11.
13 Acts 10:38.
14 Cf. Mk 1:1; Jn 21:24.
15 Cf Lk 2:7; Mt 27: 48; Jn 20:7.
16 Col 2:9.
17 Cf. Lk 2:61.
18 Cf. Lk 2:8-20.
19 Kontakion of Romanos the Melodist.
20 Lk 1:32; cf. Mt 21:1-11; Jn 6:15.
21 Ps 24:7-10; Zech 9:9.
22 Cf. Jn 18:37.
23 Cf. Mt 21:15-16; cf. Ps 8:3; Lk 19:38; 2:14.
24 Cf. Ps 118:26.
25 Cf. 1 In 2:20:27; 2 Cor 1:21.
26 Cf. Ex 30:22-32; 1 Sam 16:13.
27 Cf. Lk 418-19; Isa 61:1.
28 Cf. Lk 2:11,26-27.
29 Cf. Lk 4:1; 6:19; 8:46.
30 Cf. Rom 1:4; 8:11.
31 Eph 4:13; cf. Acts 2:36.
32 Cf. Lk 2:14.
Tonight as we kneel before the Baby in the Manger in praise and thanksgiving to the Son of infinite love and mercy let not our amazement at the humility and poverty of the stable and manger, touching though they be, prevent us from seeing the greater, the almost incredible, humiliation of the Incarnation itself. Had our Savior been born in Herod’s marble palace in Jerusalem and laid on a gilded cot with covers of the finest silk, his becoming man would yet have been a humbling, a lowering of himself, which would stagger the human mind. There are those who puzzle over and try to explain the mystery of the Incarnation–how Christ, namely, could be God and man at the same time, how one Person could have two natures. But mystery though this is, and fully intelligible to God only, the mystery of the love of God who did this for us is a greater mystery still and more of a puzzle to our finite human minds. “What is man that God should be mindful of him?” What have we ever done or what could we ever do to merit such love, such mercy, such condescension? No, we did not merit such love but the infinitely unselfish generosity of God, which no human mind is capable of grasping, has done this. We are his creatures who are capable of sharing his own happiness with him for all eternity and he has arranged it that we shall do so.
All we can do is to say from our heart a humble, thank you God, and to resolve to have the sense to avail ourselves of this almost incredible offer. We are “God’s friends.” He has called us so, then let us do our best to retain this friendship than which there is nothing greater for us on earth or in heaven. If we do, and if we do the little he asks of us, he will do his part; he will give us our share in the eternal happiness the Incarnation has won for us.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission of Franciscan Press.
New Beginning, New Creation
To become a Christian means to be brought in to share in a new beginning. Becoming a Christian is more than turning to new ideas, to a new morality, to a new community. The transformation that happens here has all the drastic quality of a real birth, of a new creation. But in this sense the Virgin Mother is once more standing at the center of the redemption event. With her whole being, she stands surety for the new thing that Gid has brought about. Only if her story is true, and stands at the beginning, ca what Paul says be true: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5: 17). God is not tied down to stones, but he does tie himself down to living people. The Yes of Mary opens for him the place where he can pitch his tent. She herself becomes a tent for him, and thus she is the beginning of the Holy Church, which in her turn points forward to the New Jerusalem, in which there is no temple any more, because God himself dwells in her midst. The faith in Christ that we confess in the Creed of the baptized people thus becomes a spiritualization and a purification of everything that was ever said or hoped, in the history of religions, about God’s dwelling in the world. Yet it is at the same time an embodiment of God’s being with men, which renders this concrete and particular, going far beyond anything that might have been hoped for. “God is in the flesh” – this indissoluble association of God with his creature, in particular, is what constitutes the heart of the Christian faith.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
A Christmas Prayer
O sweet Child of Bethlehem,
grant that we may share with all our hearts
in this profound mystery of Christmas.
Put into the hearts of men and women this peace
for which they sometimes seek so desperately
and which you alone can give to them.
Help them to know one another better,
and to live as brothers and sisters,
children of the same Father.
Reveal to them also your beauty, holiness and purity.
Awaken in their hearts
love and gratitude for your infinite goodness.
Join them all together in your love.
And give us your heavenly peace. Amen.
Pope John XXIII