Isaiah 9:1-6

Psalms 96:1-3, 11-13 

Titus 2:11-14

Luke 2:1-14

[The readings can be found in your Magnificat, Give Us This Day, and Lector workbook, under the Nativity heading, Christmas Mass During the Night. While there is nothing wrong with the other readings assigned for Christmas Day, they require a more sophisticated theological handling to be of real use to readers lacking that extra theological knowledge. The lectionary designers chose a more monastic unfolding of the readings, as though the average listener would be present at all four possible Masses (Vigil, Night, Dawn, and Day), which present a gradual unfolding of God’s great plan to send His Son into the world, leaving some attendees the possibility of hearing nothing proclaimed at Mass that sounded remotely ‘Christmassy.’ My first pastor in Florida, Fr. Tom Zedar, rightly suggested the appropriate reading of just one set of readings at all of the Mases on Christmas night and day so that everyone might hear the same joyful message proclaimed. Thanks Fr. Tom. You were a true pastor!]

As one can tell from the above introduction, Christmas is a moment when one almost doesn’t know where to begin – there is so much theology in the four liturgical options provided by the church. We can never exhaust the wonder of what it is we celebrate on Christmas, for the mystery of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is but a small glimpse of a plan God had from all eternity, a plan which embraces us and all those who came before us, and the generations who will come after us. Rather than focus on one liturgical iteration, let us look at or imagine our own Christmas Crèche, which combine the elements of the entire Christmas tradition and is a more than adequate place to begin any Christmas reflection.

Our crèche is no doubt quiet and still, and, no matter how large or elaborate, it has only one focus – the simple little child with outstretched arms who lays upon a bed of straw. There is nothing about most crèches that screams palatial. Indeed, like the Savior it honors, it is humble in its origins, just like the child who shed the mantle of divine royalty, taking on the simplicity of human flesh. The baby in the crèche looks like one of us, and that is deliberate, for the child calls us to become something more, and cast aside the parts of human flesh which weigh us down, and keep us from seeing the divine in each and every one of us. Although Lord of Lords, and King of Kings, there are no royal accoutrements necessary to let us know that this child lying there in the most humble of surroundings is the child of God, Emmanuel, God with us.

My crèche is crowded with sheep, and oxen, and donkeys, just like my real neighborhood is crowded with dogs. There is no canine odor, but the crèche has an imagined farm-like odor (or maybe that’s the camels?), an odor that has existed from the dawn of civilization. It is the origins of that odor which has kept the humans present in my crèche fed, and healthy, and searching for a new born king who will make their lives better.

There are angels present in my crèche, and while their wings make a bold statement, they are content to lightly hum a song of “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” The real stars of my crèche are the sheep herders and rug makers, the blacksmith and vintners, the women with children and the man just out for a walk. You see, it is for them that this child is born, and while that man (Joseph) and woman (Mary) in the stable have custody of the baby for awhile, He is as much born for them as He is for Mary and Joseph. How lucky they are to be there on this very special night and catch a glimpse of their salvation, for they never would have received an invitation to anything of any importance. Were it not for the angels’ humming, their eyes might never have been drawn in this direction. 

The throng did not feel underdressed until the kings arrived, wise men, they say, from the East. Their camels are far better dressed than the blacksmith, and they were wise enough to bring gifts, to what is taking on the aura of a party as people mix and mingle and learn how much they have in common. While the kings’ embroidered robes very much set them apart, they strangely seem to be part of the same group, people seeking for something more. Their sight is transfixed on that small baby lying on the straw, just like that of others, and while the baby surely cannot speak, I think He would say He came to save them as well.

Don’t take your simple mangers for granted, for they hold a wealth of insights into what this marvelous feast day is all about. The child whose birth we celebrate today came to save all peoples. Even if and when you are feeling particularly unworthy, God came to save us all, and to lead us to heaven through a path of right living. Like the population of our crèches, let us keep our focus rigidly in the right place this day, on the loving child who has come to save us all. If we do there is no doubt that we will have a very, merry Christmas.

[I dedicate this simple reflection to Mrs. Mary Jo Maher who died suddenly this past week, and with whom I was privileged to be a pen pal. A seasonal parishioner of St. Isabel, she was a woman of great faith, which she shared not only with her beloved family, but with everyone she met. May she Rest In Peace.]

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