Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel! For he has visited his people and set them free. He has raised for us a strong deliverer from the house of his servant David.
Luke 1. 68 – 9.
READINGS FOR THE DAY
II Samuel 7.1 - 5, 8 -12,1 4, 16; Psalm 89. 2 – 5, 27 - 9; Luke 1. 67 - 79.
Both the Old and New Testament readings foretell the coming of a ruler from the house of David who would be God’s chosen one. Nathan, the prophet, assured King David that his house will rule for ever through the Anointed One, while Zachariah prophesied that this ruler from the house of David will set His people free from all oppression, for which his son John will prepare the way. David had been the favoured king of the Lord in Israel, but this descendant of David would be so highly favoured by God that His rule would last for ever. Unlike David’s kingdom which was divided and then disintegrated by both the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions, this kingdom would never fall. Under this ruler there would always be justice, unlike in David’s own life when justice and honour erred at times as in the case of Uriah.
In one of his essays on A Coming Christ in Advent Raymond Brown revealed how Zachariah’s song, what we know as the Benedicitus, (the canticle said/sung at the Morning Office) is probably a combination of hymns of praise sung by Jewish Christians from their own Scriptural tradition. The first strophe (1. 68 - 71) reflects today’s reading from Samuel of the messianic anticipation from the house of David while the second (1. 72 – 73) reflects the connection with Abraham and the covenant. Together they represent the Prophets and the Law. These strophes we might call a pre-Lucan source that is interspersed with Lucan material that introduces John the Baptist role in the process of salvation ( vv. 76 – 7) and which in turn links with the later ministry of the Baptist (7. 27 – 8). The canticle closes with a conclusion (vv. 78 – 9). This canticle makes it very clear that salvation comes not from John but from his cousin, Jesus. John’s vocation is to prepare the way for His coming. Indeed the Johannine Gospel sums it so well, “I am not that light but came to bear witness of that light;” and “I must decrease but he must increase” (Jn. 1. 8, 3.30).
The Benedicitus hymn also manifests how King David was very special to the Jewish people. His rule was always looked upon as the golden age in Israel’s history. There was no other to equal David in his service and faithfulness to Yahweh, and so when the Jews lived in exile they longed for a return to the days of King David. They believed that only a ruler like David could deliver them from their distress and desolation.
Yet when the Son of David is born in Bethlehem, perhaps the home of Joseph through whom Christ claimed this lineage, his birth went unheralded by its citizens. We know only too well from the Christmas narratives of how Jesus came to be born in a stable/cave and of how the only recognition to Him, apart from the angelic choirs of heaven, was from some lowly shepherds. This ignominious beginning was but a foretaste of how His own people who, although they longed for the promised Messiah, would either ignore or condemn Him and His public ministry. Apart from the tumultuous welcome given to Him, the Son of David on Palm Sunday, He found little favour in Israel. He was never to know the popularity of King David, even though He spoke with “authority” of a ruler. Indeed it was such “authority” that made the Jewish leaders feel threatened by Him; so threatened were they, that in the end they sought His death as they never understood by “whose authority” He spoke and did His works, and the reality of His kingdom.
Unlike King David whose rule was of this world and which one day would end, the Son of David’s rule is of another world, the spiritual, and of this rule there is no end; His kingdom will last for all eternity. If we examine the criteria for Christ's rule we shall discover how different they are from his forefather. Essentially the ruler must be a servant to his people. Thus it is humility, poverty, peace and love, and not arrogance, wealth, oppression and ruthlessness which are the marks of such a king. Even Pilate when examining Jesus knew that He and His kingdom were not of this world.
This Christ, born of David’s line, beckons us this Christmas to be subjects of His heavenly kingdom. He desires us more than anything to forsake that worldly kingdom we have within, established by our seeking possessions, position and prestige. He cries out for us to seek the values of His kingdom and to be ruled by Him. Let us hear the small Child’s voice who is born “in David’s town this day” to be our Saviour and Lord.
On this day too our thoughts invariably stray to that modest of all ladies who in her willing response to the message gave us such an example of discipleship. The great mystery of her conception of the blessed Saviour gives us a fitting preparation as we await Midnight Mass when we celebrate the Word made flesh.
O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
for neither before thee was any like thee,
nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel at me?
The thing which you behold is a divine mystery.
Or as one of the strophes from Matins in the Orthodox tradition proclaim.
Why, Mary, do you marvel?
Why are you astounded
At what is in you?
Because, says the Virgin,
I have born in time the eternal Son
Could there be more appropriate words for meditation as we approach this most holy time?
O Son of David, born to be King of the Virgin Mary fill me with humility, love, peace and meekness that I may be a worthy subject in your kingdom. Amen.
On this most holy of all nights when "the Awakener came down to awaken us from the slumber of sin", let me keep vigil so I may truly welcome Him who brings light.
On this most holy of all nights when the Serenity One came down to give us peace, let me keep vigil so I may truly welcome Him who brings goodwill.
On this most holy of all nights when the Humble One came down to cast off our pride, let me keep vigil so I may truly welcome Him who brings humility.
On this most holy of all nights when the Rich One came down to fill us with grace, let me keep vigil so I may truly welcome Him who brings life.
On this most holy of all nights when the Sweet One came down to fill us with all virtues, let me keep vigil so I may truly welcome Him who brings joy.
From my sin of pride, O Christ Child free me;
From my sin of anger, O Christ Child release me;
From my sin of envy, O Christ Child deliver me;
From my sin of greed, the Christ Child spare me;
From my sin of indifference, the Child Child heal me.
We praise and adore You for Your wondrous birth.
We praise and adore You for Your gift of love.
We praise and adore You for Your gift of reconciliation.
We praise and adore You for Your gift of freedom.
We praise and adore You for Your gift of peace.
We praise and adore You for Your gift of harmony.
O holy Child of Bethlehem enter my heart this night and fill it with love, compassion and gentleness.
O radiant Star of Bethlehem shine in my heart this night and fill it with bright beams to cast out all darkness.
O lowly Manger of Bethlehem abide in my heart this night and fill it with all meekness and purity.
Love came down at Christmas;
Love all lovely; Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.
Worship we the Godhead;
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
But wherewith for sacred sign?
Love shall be our token,
Love be Yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men;
Love for plea and gift and sign.
O Lord You emptied Yourself of all Your glory and power to be born as a Babe at Bethlehem in order to bring Life, Light and Truth into the world, let me empty myself of all kinds of selfishness so that You this Christmastide may also be born in my heart and make it Your dwelling place also. Amen.
O come let us adore Him! O come let adore Him! O come let us adore Him! Christ the Lord! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
The genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.
AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH
He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them he gave power to become the sons and daughters of God, even to them who believe on his name. … And the Word became flesh; and dwelt amongst us.
The great mystery of the Incarnation is unveiled in the prologue of the Johannine Gospel. As this event is the most startling and salvific in history, for centuries Christians have recited daily, sometimes thrice daily, the Angleus that rings out the most important happening in our world. We have only to recall that all historical events and dating since then are referred to as “Anno Domini” to be prompted of its premier place in history. Furthermore for centuries the Prologue as the Last Gospel was recited at the end of every Mass.
So it is little wonder that today’s psalm opens with that wonderful declaration, “Sing a new song unto the Lord.” Christmas day indeed heralds in a “new song”, a new day, a new beginning, a new everything for Christ’s birth marks the end of the old and the beginning of the new. No longer does the old Adam reign but the New: disobedience dislodged by obedience, pride by humility, injustice by justice, darkness by light and death by life. In one of his nativity hymns Ephrem expressed the message of Christmas like this:
Travail Adam on the woman brought, that from him had come forth.
She today her travail ransomed, who to her a Saviour bare!
To Eve our mother birth a man gave, who had had no birth himself.
How much more should Eve's daughter be believed to have borne a Child without a man!
The virgin earth she bare that Adam that was head over the earth!
The Virgin bare today the Adam that was Head over the heavens.
The staff of Aaron it budded and the dry wood yielded fruit!
Its mystery is cleared up today, for virgin womb a Child has borne!
When the Archangel Gabriel informed Mary of her child’s name, she was told He was given that as He would save His people from their sins. Thus the greatest news on hodie is that He bruised “in us the serpent’s head” and saved us from our sins. The Caroline Divine, Richard Stuart, preached that Christ came “to heal the hearts of men”. The wonder of this is:
It pleased [God] ... that the same nature which caused our fall, should work our restoration that as we lost ourselves by presuming of men to become as gods; so the means of our recovery should be this alone, God Himself must become man. Hence the Word took flesh and Christ was made in all things like to His brethren.
When Christ came as the second Adam, He came with grace to counter the malediction of the first Adam. Without that grace we can never throw off completely the old Adam; Christ’s whole life was one of sanctification to show us in Him we too can live that life. As Newman emphasised Christ was “the offspring of the old race, yet the beginning of the new creation of God”.
As we need grace to live the Christian life, the Incarnation gives a sacramental outlook on all life, not only through the sacraments but also in all creation. The Incarnation is also the beginning of the Church. “The Church is in Christ as Eve was in Adam”, and so it is “framed out of the very flesh, the very wounded and bleeding side of the Son of Man.” Hence “the Church of Christ [is] ... His Body mystical.” We who are “members of His ... Church” receive “His presence ... [which is] a true actual influence of grace whereby ... [we] live according to [His] godliness.”
Yet Christmas also teaches us that sanctification is never separated from the ordinariness of everyday life. Christ came into this world to demonstrate that prayer and work, contemplation and creativity, receiving the Heavenly food and caring for the poor and helpless envelop each other. We cannot escape the messiness of life and those we want to shun; if we do we shall never find and know Christ.
God acted, leaping down from His “royal throne in heaven” in the silence of the night to come into our midst. “The Lord, before His Incarnation, let man experience all the bitterness of sin; all his powerlessness to eradicate it; and when all longed for a deliverer, then He appeared the all wise, and all powerful healer and helper.” From darkness once again comes light; this light will illuminate everyone and everything. Nothing will be able to escape this light because it is the Babe lying in the manger who is also the Light of the world through which all is judged.
Gracious God as we worship the Holy Infant at Midnight Mass let our hearts be full of thanks, joy and love for Love incarnate. Such love enables us to aspire to our full potential as Christ’s sister or brother, and to travel towards our native home. All darkness is dispersed by the Light who is now amongst us.
On this most blessed night let my heart rejoice in God my Saviour for he has done great things for me. Glory be to God in the highest and peace on earth to all peoples. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!