Theme: We celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in our world, though he was with God the Father before all ages. His birth opens up for us a glorious new identity, as children of God
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: "You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.
When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, â€˜I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised; 24 before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, â€˜What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet."
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.
He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth 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 heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth:
Say to daughter Zion, "See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him, and his recompense before him."
They shall be called, "The Holy People,
The Redeemed of the Lord;"
and you shall be called, "Sought Out,
A City Not Forsaken."
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God reigns."
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to 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; today I have begotten you." Or again, "I will be his Father, and he will be my Son." And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him."
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 into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John . He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he 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 into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known
For the people of the Old Testament, light and darkness were more than merely parts of the natural world. They also symbolised virtue and wickedness in the community. Indeed, among the devout Essene Jews at Qumran on the Dead Sea shore during the life-time of Jesus, light and darkness were seen as two opposing forces, so that the sun’s victory over darkness was be a symbol of the triumph of faith over the all forms of evil. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .And God said, Let there be light, and there was light."
This original goodness was to be shattered by the abuse of human free will, so that as Isaiah says "darkness covered the earth, and thick darkness the peoples" (Is 60:2). To dispel this darkness needed a new act of creation, and the ideal of goodness took on human flesh with the birth of Christ into our world. He was the true light coming into the world, so that "the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light " (Is 9:2). God, who had created man in his own image and likeness, has raised us up, by lowering himself to become one of us.
We often associate snow with Christmas, (at least in the northern hemisphere), and when it does come and shrouds everything with a white mantle, calm settles over the countryside, especially at night-time. That combination of darkness and calm was the setting for the first Christmas. As the Book of Wisdom states, "When all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the middle of her course, your almighty Word leaped down from heaven, from your royal throne" (Wis 18:14f). At Christmas God says once again, "Let there be light!" Let all the gloom, darkness and sin, which so often blight our human race, give way to a new age of glory to God and peace on earth.
An angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds tending their flocks in the enveloping darkness, and the brightness of the Lord shone round them. "Do not be afraid," the angel reassured them. "Listen, I bring you news of great joy for the whole people. Today a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." This message is to us also. We too must listen, in the stillness of our hearts and like the shepherds, hurry and draw near to Christ. "And the shepherds came with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger."
But to get to the full reality of Christ, we must ponder in quiet times of prayer, as did Mary and Joseph at his birth. St Augustine held that prior to conceiving Christ in her womb, Mary first conceived him in her heart, spiritually, by her faith. It was after years of deep reflection that St. John expressed the most profound truth of that first Christmas when he wrote the beautiful Gospel we have just heard: "And the Word became flesh, and lived among us – and of his fullness we have all received."
We have all received of his fullness! – that we might become children of God. Our deepest identity as Christians is that we actually have a share in Christ’s own life. When we wish each other a happy Christmas, let there be a depth in the greeting because we wish our friends a full share in what Christmas brings: a share in the very life of God himself.
A certain parish priest was much respected by his people and by his fellow priests. One year he was on holidays when it was getting close to Christmas. He was thinking about Mary and Joseph, and how they must have felt when door after door slammed in their faces, when they went looking for a room for Mary to give birth to her baby. He kept thinking: 'No room for them at the inn!', and no room anywhere else! All his life he had been interested in social work, and this year he was thinking not only of the plight of Mary and Joseph and their baby, but also of the plight of homeless people everywhere. He was thinking and feeling so deeply about them that he decided to find out what it would be like to walk in their shoes.. so he set off in some shabby clothes and a knapsack. Wearing a hat and a shaggy stubble of beard, he found that nobody recognized him any more, as he went knocking on doors looking for help. He found too that those who were better off were less likely to help than those who had little themselves. In fact, rich people sometimes set their dogs on to him.
When he went to a certain rectory where one of his priest-friends lived, he was not recognised for who he was; but the housekeeper had pity on him, let him into the kitchen and gave him a piece of toast and a cup of coffee. While he was sitting there in a spot he knew very well, his priest colleague and friend came in .. and told him to leave immediately. He did.
That priest who went looking for help that year found out far more from experience than anything he had read in books and newspapers, or from anything he had seen on television, just what it is like to be a homeless person, poor and defenceless. He also understood so much better than before what it must be like to be a refugee and an asylum seeker, doors slamming everywhere. He also felt closer than ever before to Mary and Joseph, forced to find a shed as a roof over their heads for themselves and their baby. Never before had the Christmas story been so real for him. Never before did he feel so close to the Christ-child.
For Christ came on earth, not as a powerful prince, living in a fine mansion in the most powerful nation on earth. Rather he came as the foster son of a poor carpenter, to be born in an outhouse in one of the weakest nations on earth, a nation ruled by the Roman emperor, a nation paying taxes to a hated foreign occupying power. When he arrived in our world, he was not met or visited by dignitaries, generals, or celebrities. He was greeted and visited by poor shepherds, probably smelly and unwashed. In their time and place they counted so little that their testimony was simply not accepted in any court of law. But it was to those shepherds that God gave his good and wonderful news: 'I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people.'
Choosing such aliens and outcasts as the first to receive the Christmas message, shows that God has no exceptional love for the rich and famous and powerful, the movers and shakers of this world and the manipulators of markets. On the other hand God does have a special care and affection for the victims, the suffering, the poor and the downtrodden. God is on their side. This vital truth is illustrated by the condition of the Christ-child himself. The sign the shepherds are to look for is a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a manger, the feed box of animals. So within and beyond these signs of poverty, vulnerability and weakness, there is to be discovered the power of love, which is to say, the power of God, of Love Itself. The impact and the significance of the circumstances of the birth of Jesus could not be better expressed than in two sentences from our scripture readings today. The first says that 'The people that walked in darkness has seen a great light.' The second says: 'Today a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
In a nutshell, Jesus was born to us and among us, so that we might be born in a new way. Born to live like sons and daughters of the God who is particularly caring about the poor, the deprived, the lonely, the lost, the grieving, and the heart-broken! Born to live with the same sensitivity and compassion as Jesus .. walking his way, telling his truth and living like him! So the Christ-child whom we adore makes everything new again. He invites us to look at and respond to the hundreds and thousands of needy and human beings who won't be having even a tiny fraction of what you and I will be enjoying at our Christmas celebrations today.
We can't pretend that the invitation of Christ at Christmas time to opt for a new life, always happens at a time of perfect peace, tranquillity and contentment. Here's an extreme example. A newspaper reporter has said that whenever he was assigned to the Christmas shift he always did a story on how many more murders occur on this day than on any other in the whole year. Sadly, what is meant to bring out the best in people when they get together to celebrate Christmas, sometimes brings out the worst.
But we, the people of God gathered here for this feast, have only kind and gentle thoughts for one another and for all our fellow human beings as we celebrate God's overwhelming love. My own Christmas and New Year wish and prayer for you is that the God Who loves you individually, personally and dearly, and who has sent you his Son, will bless you with patience and endurance, with mercy and forgiveness, with faith, hope and love.
Santa's most famous reindeer was Rudolf, the red-nosed one, remarable for his shiny nose. We all know his story from the song, how all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolf play in any reindeer games. But one day, that was all turned upside down, because of a fog so dense it made travel nearly impossible. On that foggy Christmas eve Santa came to say: Rudolf with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?.. In a way, the Rudolf story is modelled on the story of salvation. It connects with our story both as individuals and as a community. It is not Santa Claus who saves us but another outsider, Jesus, born in a stable.
At the start, Rudolf seems a misfit. Compared to the image of the ideal reindeer we can say that something was definitely wrong with him. What is more, he was not in any position to help himself. So are we all, misfits, as the Bible tells us. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). "All we like sheep have gone astray" (Isaiah 53:6). Like lost sheep we are not in a position to help ourselves. Rudolf could not help himself. All his fellow reindeer only made things worse for him. Only one person could help him, Santa, the messenger from heaven.
Today we celebrate the birth of the true Messenger from heaven. As we read in today's gospel, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:1, 14). He comes to free us from our predicament of sinfulness. For it is sin that mars and disfigures the beautiful image of God that we all are. Sin turns us into a despicable Rudolf, the red-nosed reindeer. But the heavenly Messenger comes, not to take away the red nose but to declare to us the Good News that we are acceptable to God even with our red nose. Rudolf's red nose was a defect. But Santa chose him precisely on account of that. The heavenly Messenger has the ability to turn the defects and red noses of our tainted humanity into assets for the service of God. Jesus is this heavenly messenger.
What makes the Rudolf story so poignant is that Santa does not use his magic wand to heal reindeer of his defect. He left him with the red nose and used it for a good purpose. We can imagine that Rudolf would have loved to become a normal reindeer like all the rest. Similarly Jesus does not transform us into extraordinary men and women, rather he makes us into people who can use all their strengths and defects to the service and the glory of God. This is the proof to us that it is not by our own will power that we are able to become children of God. It is by God's grace, by God's unmerited and unconditional love of us. As God tells St Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Like Rudolf's yes to Santa Claus, today we listen attentively to what the Child Jesus asks of us, following him without looking back, even when we do not know where the journey will lead us, knowing one thing for sure: that the grace of God will supply the strength we need for the long journey of faith ahead. "For to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God".