Father Donald Senior, CP

Multiple beauty to inspire our memory

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Dec. 25: The Nativity of The Lord (Christmas)
Vigil Mass: Is 62:1-5; Ps 89:4- 5, 16-17, 27, 29; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Mt 1:1-25;
Mass During the Night: Is 9:1- 6; Ps 96:1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13; Ti 2:11-14; Lk 2:1-14;
Mass at Dawn: Is 62:11-12; Ps 97:1, 6, 11-12; Ti 3:4-7; Lk 2:15- 20;
Mass During the Day: Is 52:7- 10; Ps 98:1, 2-3, 3-4; Heb 1-1-6; Jn 1:1-18

Christmas is one of those rare days in the church’s liturgical calendar when one set of readings for the Eucharist is not enough. Four different Masses are available for the feast of Christmas and all of the readings are exuberant with joy at the birth of Christ.

Each year there are voices that decry the sad fact of a Christmas celebrated without Christ. Some describe this as a lapse of “social memory.” The signs of celebration are all around: Christmas carols and cards, Christmas trees; decorations in the stores and on some homes; and Christmas gifts on sale in the malls and online. But how many people remember the original reason for all this celebration? The joy lingers but the purpose — and the true meaning — may be lost from our collective memories.

We might think of the Bible as a “memory device” — helping us not to forget the startling beauty of the God of the Bible, the God whose presence is uniquely manifest in Jesus. The abundance of selections from Scripture that we hear this Christmas can flood our memory with the true reason we celebrate this feast.

Just the Gospel selections alone are exceptionally rich. I like to compare the four Gospels to the work of four great portrait artists — each of them depicting the unfathomable beauty and power of Jesus but each doing so in a unique fashion. This is certainly true of the way Matthew, Luke and John portray the birth of Jesus — the three Gospels from whom the Christmas liturgy draws.

Matthew’s somewhat sober and subdued account is found in the Vigil Mass and had been anticipated in the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent. It begins with a long genealogy that traces the lineage of Jesus, beginning with Abraham and moving through the glorious reign of David and then into terrible tragedy of the exile. It culminates in the betrothal of Joseph and Mary.

But here, too, sorrow appears when Joseph learns that Mary is pregnant and thinks she has been unfaithful to him. God’s grace breaks into this apparent tragedy and an angel reveals to Joseph that the child Mary bears is conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. He will be named “Jesus,” our savior, and “Emmanuel” who brings God’s loving presence into our world and dispels the darkness.

Luke’s portrayal may be the most memorable for most of us: Mary, heavy with child, and Joseph coming from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, finding no room in the inn and having to give birth in a stable. These humble beginnings appear to mask the royal stature of this child. But the joy of the Savior’s birth cannot be hidden.

Angels announce the good news to the shepherds and these poor nomads become the first to see the Christ child — a sign of Jesus’ mission to come, a mission that in Luke’s Gospel reaches out with special care to the poor and neglected. When they have seen the infant Jesus, along with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds return to their flocks, “glorifying and praising God.”

The Johannine portrait of Jesus’ origin is from the magnificent prologue that begins his Gospel. No longer is the stage simply set in Bethlehem but the universe itself. Before all time, God speaks and that Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. Jesus, the Word, has a singular mission in the Gospel of John, to reveal God’s infinite love for the world, a love that would be communicated in every word and action of Jesus, particularly his life-giving death on the cross, the ultimate act of love.

Different portraits, one message. The birth of Jesus Christ — God-with-us — is the ultimate source of our joy and the deepest meaning of our lives.


  • scripture
  • liturgy