25 December, Midnight Mass – Love and Sacrifice

Dec 25 – Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord

The name “Christmas” was derived from Old English: “Cristes Maesse”, Christ’s Mass. It is a celebration of the anniversary of the birth of our Lord. In the earliest days of the Church there was no such feast; the Saviour’s birth was commemorated with the Epiphany by the Greek and other Eastern Churches.

The first mention of the feast, then kept on May 20, was made by Clement of Alexandria in the year 200. The Latin Church began in the year 300 to observe it on Dec 25, though there is no certainty that our Lord was born on that day.

Priests have, on this day, the privilege of saying three Masses, at midnight; daybreak, and morning. This was originally reserved for the pope alone; beginning about the fourth century, he celebrated a midnight Mass in the Lateran Basilica (in which according to tradition, the manger of Bethlehem is preserved), a second in the church of St. Anastasia, whose feast comes on Dec 25, and a third at the Vatican Basilica.

Many peculiar customs of the day are the outcome of the pagan celebrations of the January calends. The Christmas tree, of which the first known mention was made in 1605 at Strasbourg, was introduced into France and England in 1840. The feast is a holy day of obligation, preceded by the preparatory season of Advent and by a special vigil; should it fall on a Friday it abrogates the law of abstinence.

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Isaiah 9:1-7

The people that walked in darkness
has seen a great light;
on those who live in a land of deep shadow
a light has shone.
You have made their gladness greater,
you have made their joy increase;
they rejoice in your presence
as men rejoice at harvest time,
as men are happy when they are dividing the spoils.

For the yoke that was weighing on him,
the barb across his shoulders,
the rod of his oppressor,
these you break as on the day of Midian.

For all the footgear of battle,
every cloak rolled in blood,
is burnt,
and consumed by fire.

For there is a child born for us,
a son given to us
and dominion is laid on his shoulders;
and this is the name they give him:
Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God,
Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace.
Wide is his dominion
in a peace that has no end,
for the throne of David
and for his royal power,
which he establishes and makes secure
in justice and integrity.
From this time onwards and for ever,
the jealous love of the Lord of Hosts will do this.

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Titus 2:11-14

God’s grace has been revealed, and it has made salvation possible for the whole human race and taught us that what we have to do is to give up everything that does not lead to God, and all our worldly ambitions; we must be self-restrained and live good and religious lives here in this present world, while we are waiting in hope for the blessing which will come with the Appearing of the glory of our great God and saviour Christ Jesus. He sacrificed himself for us in order to set us free from all wickedness and to purify a people so that it could be his very own and would have no ambition except to do good.

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Luke 2:1-14

Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken. This census – the first – took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to his own town to be registered. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and travelled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem, since he was of David’s House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn.

In the countryside close by there were shepherds who lived in the fields and took it in turns to watch their flocks during the night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing:

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace to men who enjoy his favour.’

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The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.

Each holiday season, the people at my parish organize something called ‘Adopt A Family’ for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The program matches us with lower-income families, to help them with financing family dinners and gifts for their children. While the intentions of the program are noble, I often get discouraged by some of the requests I see on wishlists. This year, I was matched with a single mother and her spoiled 11-yr old son. She asked for warm blankets and a new iron. He wanted the latest Beats 2 headphones and a pair of fancy Jordan basketball shoes. What must the conversation be like in their household? It made me reflect on the meaning of Christmas. When parents struggle to make ends meet, yet children have unreasonable demands, the meaning of Christmas is overshadowed by the weight of unmet expectations and resentment on both sides. As a parent, how do you cope with that?

I think of Mary and the demands that were made of her as she travelled with Joseph to Bethlehem. It can’t be much fun being pregnant and stressed out from traveling. Behind the candlelit romance of the nativity scene, we forget that Jesus’ birth was nothing short of traumatic for his mother. The manger would have smelled. It would have been cold. She would have been exhausted, but she just kept going.

A parent’s love transcends all suffering. That’s a universal truth. We see that even in this dubious age of conspicuous consumption. A mother will work two jobs just to provide her child the luxuries she can’t afford. Why? Because the ultimate expression of love is sacrifice as Mary, and Christ, showed us. This season, as parents, there will be times when we will grit our teeth with frustration from the unreasonable demands that are made of us. Giving, like love requires sacrifice, but sometimes we give with doubt and resentment in our hearts. Let’s not let our anger stop us from experiencing the true meaning of Christmas. Like Mary, or the mother of that spoiled 11-yr old, God will find us where we are and give us the resources – financial, spiritual, emotional and physical – to see us through. Have faith that there will be deliverance into the light, even for those of us who are beleaguered parents.

(Today’s Oxygen by Sharon Soo)

Prayer: We pray for all families who struggle with providing for their children this season.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the individuals who sacrificed to give us better lives, even when we were too spoiled and self-absorbed to fully appreciate their efforts.

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