25 December – Solemnity of the Nativity of our Lord (Midnight Mass)
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.
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,
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:
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.
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.
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.’
“…and dwelt amongst us…”
To say that the Christmas story is so well known is probably an understatement. It is probably safe to say that the greater part of humanity, Christian and otherwise, knows when Jesus was born. And yes, to them, it is probably just one big party. For Christians, the birthday of Jesus whilst also an occasion for celebration and gathering with loved ones, also centers on that momentous event in salvation history, when God became man in the form of the infant Jesus – in Emmanuel, God comes to be with us.
Some years back, it came to me that the birth of Jesus, besides being the incarnation of God as man, also encapsulates a number of other hugely significant revelations of faith that are so poignant and central to our Christian faith. In this sharing, I would like to share my reflection of two of these ‘revelations’.
The first centers on the theme of family – and this ties in to my reflection yesterday on the genealogy of Jesus.
On the night when Jesus was born, Mary also became a mother. And so too, Joseph became a father. And the three of them formed a brand new family. On the night when Jesus was born, God’s family on earth came to be. Just as the birth of baby Jesus created and completed the Holy Family, it created and completes all of us as part of God’s family — sons and daughters of the Father, sisters and brothers of the Son, united and held together by the bond of love which is the Spirit.
At the heart of this is the revelation that God our Father’s greatest desire and most urgent reminder to all of humanity, precisely through the human but holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, is simply but poignantly, that, we are family. We are His family. His children. He is our Father and he has nothing but overwhelming love for us as our father. And this is at the very heart of our faith. This is what it is all about – He is our Father, we are His children. He loves us. He wants us to be with him one day in eternal and blissful communion. And he sent His Son to redeem us and to show us the way back to the Father’s love for all his children.
The second theme I would like to reflect on is that of mission. Christ was born for one reason and one reason alone … to die. A little morbid to talk about dying on such a beautiful feast? Not if you understand that for Jesus, it is to die that we might be saved. No birth, no death on the cross, no salvation for all of us. Christmas was a necessary pre-condition in the eternal plan of the Father, in order that there would be an eventual Easter. A birth so serene and humble would be the pre-cursor of a Resurrection so glorious. The birth of Jesus was the second step of the salvation mission set out by the Father (the first step was Mary’s “yes” to Angel Gabriel).
And so, each and every one of us has also been given a mission by the Father, which is intended for us and us alone. This mission we have been given, which was already in the plan of the Father since before the beginning of time, is to be fulfilled only by us or otherwise remain uncompleted. Whether you are a religious, or as parents, tasked to give life to our spouses and children, or even in the ministries we do in church, as parents to give life and to be leaders of our families and in whatever work we feel called to in building the kingdom of God.
Indeed, Christmas is a celebration but far, far beyond the superficiality of merely party, family, food and friends. Instead, Christmas is one big momentous celebration of our Christian calling and vocation, purpose and mission. It was the day Christ was born into this world in answer to His calling by the Father, and to show us that all of us are also called to know the Father, to love the Father and to serve the Father. Perhaps this Christmas, in the silence and simplicity of Christmas at the manger, you begin to discover how you too can begin to truly live up to this mission and calling? How will You come to know, to love and to serve our Father?
Be silent this Christmas…perhaps you might hear the echo as Jesus affirms to us…“Yes .. I was born for this, I came into the world for this ” (John 18:37)
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: We adore you Lord Jesus, born to us that we may one day be saved. We adore you Lord Jesus, born to us in simplicity, peace and humility that we may find our way to you through simplicity, peace and humility. Help us to know what it fully means always, to walk in the fullness of being your child.
Thanksgiving: Father, we thank you for calling us into your family. Help us never forget how great a gift and privilege it is to call you Father and to know of your love for us.