Christmas Mass of Day
(Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18)
War was never far removed from the experience of Israel of old; few indeed would have lived their lives without having experienced several war campaigns: not only those on foreign soil, but also those necessary to repulse attacks on Israel and Judah, or perhaps even to endure a siege where an enemy had been camped outside their city within which were crowds of refugees suffering from shortages of food and drink, and ever- deteriorating public health.
Therefore, many people in Isaiah’s time might have been able to recall an occasion when they themselves had been anxiously waiting in their city -- on its walls -- for news of an approaching threat: they would remember the dreadful occasion when they had first seen, from a distance, a long, slow-moving, motley string of people, obviously fleeing exhausted, in terror and under a cloud of defeat; and they might still find themselves unable to repress a shudder as they recalled how that sight had first filled their hearts with fear and foreboding.
They might also have been able to recall those other, happy occasions, when a single figure had been perceived in the distance, running with vigour in his stride and joy in his bearing; a runner who, when within hailing distance, had shouted out glad tidings of proud victory along with joyful assurances of security and hope. Then there was overflowing relief, gratitude, and a treasured scent of peace, perhaps only to be short-lived, but oh so, so precious!
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things.
Such a messenger is evoked by Isaiah in our first reading. What is the message he brings? Isaiah has him report the supreme message of good tidings and joy for all Israelites:
(He) says to Zion, "Your God reigns!"
Then he pictures for us those who had been watching on the walls running to the sector from which the messenger was said to be visible so that they might glimpse him for themselves; whereupon they would break out into shouting and singing, for it was no illusion, they could indeed clearly see the runner, perhaps they could even imagine themselves already able to hear him:
Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye.
Finally, having both seen and heard the watchmen’s jubilant excitement, the whole heaving population -- crushed and crowded inside the city walls – bursts out, in one great sigh of relief and thunderous explosion of joy, into a paean of praise:
Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations.
The ultimate reason for such extreme jubilation, is that a victory has been won, and an enemy conquered; not, however, an ordinary victory over an earthly enemy, a victory that might be reversed when armies go out to war again next season, but a victory of universal and eternal significance and validity:
For the LORD has redeemed Jerusalem, He has (indeed) comforted His people;
and He has done this by means of a bloody victory, for:
The LORD has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations.
It has been a victory of such magnitude that:
All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
And so, this ‘comforting’ of the God’s Chosen People is not to be understood in the exclusive context of childlike innocence restored and maternal tenderness; both are there, of course, in some measure, but this comforting of Israel is above all to be recognized as arising out of a titanic battle of momentous earthly consequence and eternal significance.
This means that only those can fittingly appreciate the Incarnation and receive the consolation of God in the tenderness of Mother Church who have been made aware, have become aware in themselves, of the prodigious contest implied behind such peace and joy.
All the pain and suffering, all the anxieties and torments of the world, all the hatred and greed, envy and jealousy of society, all the selfishness and indifference of individual human beings, is the result of sin .... sin is the most terrible enemy of mankind and indeed of the whole of creation, and only those who have come to appreciate something the evil that has been ruling in them, over them, and through them, that is those who have appreciated and whole-heartedly accepted the truth of repentance preached by Jesus and His forerunner, John the Baptist, only those repentant ones can fittingly and fully embrace this Christmas feast where our Redeemer comes into our midst, and the dawn of our redemption begins to appear on the horizon of history.
With such an understanding in our minds we can now allow the second reading to make clear for us the wonder of this occasion of which Isaiah the prophet spoke, and in which Mother Church now invites us to share:
God, Who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds; Who, being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person, upholds all things by the word of His power.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Mother Church today announces this glorious news of salvation to us and invites, indeed urges and exhorts, us all to respond with heart-felt joy and acclamation to her news and her gift. For she not only proclaims God’s Good News, she also bestows God’s gracious Gift: the Lord Jesus, our Saviour, Himself; and with Him, through Him, the Holy Spirit, ever to remain with us in Mother Church, and abiding in His faithful ones. For, as the Gospel reading proclaimed:
(God’s co-eternal) Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld (and are called to share in) His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.
How blessed are we who are privileged to perceive and to receive this salvation! For, as John said:
No one (absolutely no one) has (ever) seen God at any time.
It is true, John admits, that God’s Law had been given through Moses to prepare God’s people. However, God Himself was only clearly revealed and truly known when:
The only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, declared Him, (for) grace and truth came (in and) through Jesus Christ.
As you heard, dear People of God:
To which of the angels did He ever say: "You are My Son, today I have begotten You"?
But, precisely, that is what God is saying to each one of us today, and this is the second and confirming reason for our great rejoicing. To each and every one of us here with good will and in sincerity of mind and heart, God the Father is saying, that thanks to His only begotten Son Whose birth we are celebrating:
If you will hear My voice aright, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN YOU. I WILL BE A FATHER TO (YOU) AND (YOU) SHALL BE(COME) A CHILD (OF) MINE.
Isaiah had said:
Break forth into joy, sing together, you waste places of Jerusalem! For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem.
And so it is today. For all those whom the Father is now comforting and calling, all those He has chosen in His Son, cannot fail to recognize that we, like those shut up in the threatened cities of old, are indeed today in “waste places”: this world, even this our own society, is evil to the extent that it disgusts us, even though it also touches our heart, because it is our society, our world, besmirched indeed with something of our own failures and filth. And, in this condition, lest we fear this coming of the Holy One of God to do battle with the evil and filth around us and within us, He comes as a Child, for He is well aware of, and full of compassion for, our weakness. And surrounding Himself at His Birth with shepherds from the midnight fields He assures us that He Himself comes as our Shepherd, for He comes into our darkness in order to search out those of His sheep who have strayed and, disregarding the mud that may cover their feet and flanks, the thorns that may entangle their wool, He wills to take them up in His arms and carry them back to the flock which He is leading to a fold where His heavenly Father awaits Him, Himself looking into the distance, as it were to see the runner returning with good news, to see Jesus that is, His own dear Son, at the head of a flock He is leading with joy towards the eternal pastures of salvation.