Second of four parts.
(Readings for all four Christmas Masses may be found in the New American Bible translation – the one used in most Catholic parishes – at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website: http://www.usccb.org/nab/122510.shtml)
First Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7 (Revised Standard Version; 9:1-6 in NAB)
A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shined.
Thou hast multiplied the nation,
thou hast increased its joy;
they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest,
as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
thou hast broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom,
to establish it, and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: The verse that the RSV translation calls Isaiah 9:1 is omitted here because the NAB calls it Isaiah 8:23. It’s quoted here to better enable us to understand this passage’s context: “But there will be no gloom for her that was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.”
The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament that supplies all of the Scriptural quotations in the New, renders this last phrase as “Galilee of the Gentiles.” That’s how it reads when this passage is quoted in Matthew 4:12-16 to show its fulfillment: the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
But there were Jews all throughout Galilee in Jesus’ day, right? Yes, indeed – but the reference to “Gentiles” dates to Isaiah’s time. As the former territories of the Israelite tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, this northernmost stretch of the Promised Land was the first to fall to the Assyrian Empire in the 700s BC – and thus the first to see its Israelite population mostly deported and replaced with Assyrians. Only after the Babylonian exile did Jews resettle Galilee in large numbers.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel was plagued by idolatry throughout its separate existence. Thus its people “walked in darkness.” But it was in this once-forsaken land that the ultimate Son of David, whose house had been rejected by the northern tribes, grew up and conducted the greater part of His ministry.
The Galileans were first to witness the power and authority of Jesus. They were first to hear His commands to “love one another” as subjects of the eternal Kingdom of God now “at hand” among them. They heard His wonderful teaching. They beheld the miracles that only the “mighty God” could perform. Through Him, they would come to better know their “everlasting Father.” And as Prince of Peace, He invited them – and us – to live in His glorious eternal Kingdom. Within it, the soul knows true peace and spiritual prosperity. Let us repent and enter through His narrow but inviting gate!
Second Reading: Titus 2:11-14
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to Titus.
For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: Like Timothy, Titus was one of Paul’s young associates whom he trained to become bishops in the young Church. Through Titus, who was sent to shepherd the island of Crete, Paul explains why Christians – then and now – should follow “the Way” of Jesus.
Through His life, His teachings and especially His redeeming death and resurrection, Christ transforms those who follow Him in faith. He says: Put away the selfishness that leads you to focus on yourselves instead of on each other. Put away the mockery of faith that closes your minds and hearts to your Father in heaven. By living a life of righteousness toward God and love toward each other, you will long to live and love as fully as possible. Then you will be made ready for our “blessed hope” – the day when Christ comes again and establishes the “new heaven” and the “new earth.” God, grant this to us!
Gospel: Luke 2:1-14
A reading from the holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, Lord.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: God’s promise to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is fulfilled. The “Seed of the woman,” a descendant of King David, is born in the great monarch’s hometown of Bethlehem. He was born there because Caesar Augustus, far off in Rome, wanted all people subject to his rule to be counted for imperial tax purposes.
In Palestine, as in Egypt, that meant calling all the people back to their ancestral homes. So Joseph and a very pregnant Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. It was sometime, by the Church’s best modern estimates, in 7 or 6 BC (no thanks to Dionysius Exiguus, whose fourth-century revision of the calendar was just a bit off in calculating the first “year of our Lord”).
The long-promised King enters the world in the most humble way possible: in a stable, well swaddled but consigned to a manger because the crush of census visitors had claimed all available rooms. As newborn Jesus slept, shepherds in the nearby fields heard the news of the Messiah – directly from heaven itself!
Abraham, Moses and David had all been shepherds; God had renewed His promise of a Messiah with each of them over the long centuries since Eden. The wait was over, the angel told these shepherds. Here’s where you’ll find your Savior. The heavens rejoiced. It was time at last to begin restoring God’s beloved humans to Himself.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be