Nativity of the Lord: At the Mass at Dawn
Good Morning! Merry Christmas! On behalf of the staff of the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel and the faculty, religious and staff of the school, as well as myself, I would like to welcome all of you! Welcome to all parishioners, their families, and friends. Welcome to all who might be visiting from other parishes! And a special welcome to all the young people who are home for their semester break … welcome home … I hope and pray that your semester went well!
Entrance Antiphon: Is 9:1, 5; Lk 1:33 — “Today a light will shine upon us, for the Lord is born for us; and He will be called Wondrous God, Prince of peace, Father of future ages: and His reign will be without end.”
First Reading: Is 62:11-12 — “Behold, your Savior comes!”
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 97:1, 6, 11-12 — “A light will shine on us this day: the Lord is born for us.”
Second Reading: Ti 3:4-7 — “Because of His mercy, He saved us.”
Alleluia: Lk 2:14 — Alleluia, alleluia. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” Alleluia, alleluia.
Gospel: Lk 2:15-20 — “The shepherds found Mary & Joseph and the infant.”
Communion Antiphon: Zec 9:9 — “Rejoice, O Daughter Sion; lift up praise, Daughter Jerusalem: Behold, your King will come, the Holy One and Savior of the world.”
We Americans spend a good part of December celebrating Christmas. Even though the days of Advent dominate the Church calendar, for many of us Christmas celebrations may have begun a week or two ago, with holiday parties at work or in school. Radio stations have played Christmas music for well over a month already. All of the Christmas television specials will have already been seen by the time we get to December 25th. Many of us put up Christmas decorations right after Thanksgiving, and by New Year’s Day we’re ready to take them down (or at least unplug the timer so that they don’t go on anymore). It’s not that Christmas is fleeting for us. It’s just that we have celebrated so much before the actual day that by the time the feast itself has come, we are all a bit tired of Christmas. While family visits may continue through what we call “the holidays,” a so-called normal schedule typically returns within the first couple of days of January
Other cultures traditionally celebrate Christmas in a different way. In Spain, Christmas Day is just the beginning of the holidays. Children are out of school for two full weeks, not returning until after the Epiphany, which is celebrated on January 6th. That is also the day gifts are exchanged, in honor of the Magi who presented gifts to the Christ Child. Parties and feasting take place in the days between Christmas and Epiphany. As with some other places, Christmas Day is not the end of the celebration in Spain. It is only the very beginning.
In the meantime, back here in our country, it is very likely that we could drive down the streets on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday this week and already find a Christmas tree or two out on the curb, ready for pick-up.
While the season of Advent seemed to disappear for most Americans, there is a blessing in the anticipation that our own culture brings to Christmas. The run up to the feast makes it one the most important celebrations of the year. The secular calendar gives a huge nod to this religious festival (so much so that certain atheist groups try their best to quash references to “Christmas” in public discourse … how many cashiers and salespeople said “Happy Holidays” to you this season?). Despite the consumerism that can infect the season, for many people it is still the festival of the Savior’s birth, a religious feast of great importance.
I’m not suggesting that we try and change our culture of expectation in regards to Christmas. We’ll never overcome the advertising budgets of retailers who push decorations in July and August, Christmas cards in October, toy sales before Thanksgiving, and door busters on Black Friday. But there is at least one way in which we should be a bit like those Spaniards, and all the others who savor Christmas for twelve days of celebration. It is with the recognition that Christmas is not over in just one day. And for us this year, the Christmas season ends January 12th with the Baptism of the Lord.
In the musical Mame, after the stock market crash wipes out her fortune, Auntie Mame sings, “For I've grown a little leaner, Grown a little colder, Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older, And I need a little angel, Sitting on my shoulder, I need a little Christmas now.” While the song for the most part celebrates the festivities of the secular celebration, the reality for all of us Christians is that we do need a little Christmas each and every day.
The great mystery of the feast we celebrate today is that in the Incarnation God became flesh so that all humankind could be divinized … so that we could become children of God. Whether our Christmas celebrations take place mostly before the day itself or in the weeks after are really of little consequence. What really matters is that the celebration of this great feast pushes us to act like sons and daughters of God. Through the Incarnation God took on our human nature in Christ and so “by this wondrous union, we, too, are made eternal” as Preface III of the Nativity of the Lord says. The way we live our lives … how we act each day … how we relate to one another … the ways we express God’s love … should all reveal that we are truly empowered to be sons and daughters of God.
It might be good to remind ourselves not just on this day, but also in February, in March, in June, or next September, that we need a little Christmas, right this very minute. Then, even on those days, the mystery of the Incarnation holds true, and through His birth, Christ has given us the power to be sons and daughters of God who live in His love! May you and your families have a Blessed Christmas Season!