Sunday, Dec. 25, is The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas, Year A). Mass Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14.
I am a huge fan of Christmas, and by “Christmas” I mean all the trappings we have put on it in the West: decorations, pop songs and gifts — all of it.
But the Church on this feast of Nativity gives us a reading that silences all of the color, flash and noise of Western Christmas and speaks in solemn, stark tones of the very essence of Christmas.
And it turns out that the scriptural Christmas is far greater than even the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year” Christmas we know and love.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” says the Gospel of St. John. “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.”
“In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways,” says the second reading from Hebrews. “In these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son, whom he made heir to all things and through whom he created the universe.”
Think about what these readings are saying: The inner logic that shaped the universe, the Word, is now Mary’s infant. He who moves the planets, “the Father’s only son,” is now a baby in Joseph’s arms.
St. Ambrose says we have to let go of our human understanding of the situation in order to grasp what is going on here. “Let the soul that wishes to approach God raise itself from the body and cling always to that highest good that is divine,” he says. “This is the divine being ‘In which we live and move.’”
How often are we willing or able to truly do that?
The rest of the Gospel tells the sad tale of what happens to this great God. “He was in the world ... but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.”
Rejecting Jesus Christ is the greatest tragedy of history, and accepting him is the greatest accomplishment of history.
“History is shaped like an X,” said English author Msgr. Ronald Knox. “To us Christians, the first Christmas Day is the solstice or bottleneck of history. Things got worse till then, ever since we had lost paradise; things are to get better since then, till we reach paradise once more.”
If you look at the places that accepted Jesus Christ, you see them grow greater: more committed to beauty, truth and goodness; more unified; more at peace. Following Christ throughout history, you find a long line of saints, teachers, doctors, nurses, heroes, public servants, fathers, mothers, champions of the weak and consolers of the afflicted.
As the Gospel puts it: “To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God. From his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace.”
No wonder Isaiah in the first reading is so delighted by the prospect of Christmas that he praises the very feet of the one who makes it possible: “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!’”
The outpouring of decorations, pop songs and gifts at Christmas are a great testimony to the outpouring of Christmas grace. But the grace is so much more.
This day is not only awe-inspiring and sobering — it should change everything.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at
Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
He is the author of What Pope Francis Really Said.