The Reason for the Season, Christmas Mass During the Day, December 25, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Christmas Day Mass
December 25, 2013
Is 52:7-10, Ps 98, Heb1:1-6, Jn1:1-18

The recording apparatus did not function to record the homily. The following is the written text that guided the homily: 

The Progressive Entrance into the Mystery of Christmas

At Christmas, there are four different Masses to help us to celebrate the wonder of this day and each of them has a different focus in the prayers said and in the readings given.

At the Vigil Mass we ponder the Angel’s words to St. Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary and the Child growing within her into his home and ask God for the grace to help us “joyfully welcome” Jesus as our Redeemer.

At Midnight Mass we contemplate the radiant glory of God shining around the angels as they announced the good news of great joy to the shepherds awake keeping watch over their flocks by night and we pray to God that the light of Christ’s birth might shine in the darkness and lead us to see all things in the light of Christ.

At the Mass at Dawn, we accompany the Shepherds in their going with haste to Bethlehem to see the infant Savior and we ask the Lord to allow the light of faith to shine through our deeds and help us to go to encounter Christ and offer ourselves to him as worthy gifts.

In all of them, we retrace the history of progressive revelation by God and deepening awareness among his people, seeking to lead us step-by-step into a greater assimilation of the mystery.

At the Mass during the Day, however, the Mass we’re celebrating now, in the Gospel and in the prayers, we come to the dramatic conclusion, the Church’s most profound explanation of the meaning of Christmas.

The Reason for the Season

Many people talk about the “reason for the season” of Christmas and by it they basically mean Jesus is the reason for the season as they seek to keep themselves, their families and our culture focused on God rather than on commercialism.

But as praiseworthy as those efforts are, we need to state that it’s not sufficient or theologically precise to declare that Jesus is the reason for this season. The real reason for the season of Christmas is what Jesus seeks to do in us. It’s the why behind the what of the Son of God’s becoming man. This is what this Mass During the Day helps us to ponder.

The Gospel for this Mass from the Prologue of St. John is one of the deepest passages in all of Sacred Scripture. Unlike the Gospel readings at the other Christmas Masses, which have had hundreds of Christmas hymns written about them in various languages, this passage seldom makes it into music. There are no herald angels singing, no shepherds watching, no cattle lowing, no stars brightly shining, no little town of Bethlehem, no swaddling clothes, no Mary and Joseph. But it brings up to the heart of why lies underneath all of those unforgettable details.

It communicates to us, first, that the child placed in the manger is the actual incarnation of the Word who was in the beginning with God and was God, that this Child is the eternal word who out of love for us took on our flesh, our whole human nature, and made his dwelling among us.

Second, it points to the whole mystery of whether we and others accept or reject this gift, whether we’re like the ancient Bethlehem inn-keepers who refused to make room even for a pregnant woman in labor, or whether we’re like that woman and her carpenter husband who welcomed that child and allowed him to alter the trajectory of their lives.

St. John says, “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But,” and this is one of the most important ‘but’s’ in history, “But to those who did accept him, … to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation, nor by human will, not by a man’s decision, but of God … he gave power to become children of God.”

If we truly accept Jesus, if we receive him as he wishes to be received, if we allow him who took on human flesh to take on our flesh and blood, then we receive power to become children of God.” This isn’t a beautiful image. It’s the reality of what Christmas is meant to bring about.

The Mystagogical Itinerary of the Prayers of the Mass

This is the mystery we contemplated and begged for in the opening prayer of the Mass. Turning to God the Father, we prayed, “O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and still more wonderfully restored it, grant… that we may share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” The meaning of Christmas is that we cooperate with God in his making us “divine,” in his giving us a greater gift of creation. Creation was a miracle, but our recreation by Christ’s redeeming love is something even greater. After our fall, God comes to pick us up and lift us even higher than we were before.

The early saints of the Church said that the deepest mystery of Christmas is the admirabile commercium, the “miraculous exchange” that happens between God and us when we accept the gift Christ is and gives us. He has taken on our humanity to make us sharers in God’s own divine life.

The Preface we will sing later develops this mystery. We pray to the Father, “For through [Christ your Son] the holy exchange that restores our life has shone forth today in splendor: when our frailty is assumed by your Word not only does human mortality receive unending honor but by this wondrous union, we, too, are made eternal.”

But that gift not only changes our being but our doing. At the Prayers over the Gifts, we beg the Lord to “make acceptable… our oblation on this solemn day, when you manifested the reconciliation that makes us wholly pleasing in your sign and inaugurated for us the fullness of divine worship.”

Christ on this day makes it possible for us to worship God fully, because in uniting ourselves to him, he makes it possible for us to give of ourselves totally to God and others. Just as on this day we ponder how he became our great Christmas gift, we also contemplate how he in turn, in divinizing us from within, seeks to make us in turn Christmas gifts — gifts of his incarnate presence — not only to God but also to others, so that we can together with Jesus be the instruments of their sanctification and divinization.

The Eucharist as the culmination of the Reason for the Season

As we come forward today to celebrate the enduring manifestation of God with us, we give God thanks for going so far beyond what was possible for those in Bethlehem. There, Mary and Joseph, the Shepherds, the Angels, the Wise Men and others, could all come and adore Christ the Lord on the outside, but we here have the privilege to adore the same Christ on the inside, to receive him within so that he can transform us from within more and more into his human and divine likeness.

That’s the reason why in the middle of the offertory of every Mass, when the priest is placing a drop of water in a chalice full of wine, we recite the opening prayer for this Mass on Christmas: “By the mystery of this water (which symbolizes our humanity) and wine (which symbolizes Christ’s divinity) may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

The Mass is where we receive more and more the power to become children of God glorifying our Father in heaven.

This is where we learn how to give God the fullness of divine worship.

The admirabile commercium that Christ came into the world to bring reaches its culmination here.

The reason for this season is to lead us to what Christ accomplishes here at Mass. The Word of God here becomes flesh and dwells among us, and we see his “glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”

O Come Let us Adore Him! Amen!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 52:7-10

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings glad tidings,
announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, and saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”

Hark! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy,
for they see directly, before their eyes,
the LORD restoring Zion.
Break out together in song,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the LORD comforts his people,
he redeems Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
all the ends of the earth will behold
the salvation of our God.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6

R. (3c) All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done wondrous deeds;
his right hand has won victory for him,
his holy arm.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
The LORD has made his salvation known:
in the sight of the nations he has revealed his justice.
He has remembered his kindness and his faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation by our God.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
sing joyfully before the King, the LORD.
R. All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.

Reading 2
HEB 1:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins,
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For to which of the angels did God ever say:
You are my son; this day I have begotten you?
Or again:
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?
And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says:
Let all the angels of God worship him.

Gospel
JN 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying,
“This was he of whom I said,
‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me
because he existed before me.’”
From his fullness we have all received,
grace in place of grace,
because while the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has ever seen God.
The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side,
has revealed him.