The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): Night. Dec. 24, 2023

 The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas): Night. Dec. 24, 2023

Isaiah 9: 1-6; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-14


Theme: Jesus is the Light who Comes to Overcome the Darkness that Envelops us

This night makes us recall that glorious night when the Blessed Virgin Mary bore for the world the Messiah whom Joseph his legal father named Jesus by the recommendation of the angel of the Lord. (Matthew 1: 21). We who prepared our hearts and our families during Advent, and like Joseph, we who accepted to take the Virgin Mary with the child Jesus in her womb into our hearts and families, now as a result, our savior is born in our hearts and families. Isaiah, in our first reading, foretold his names: Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, and Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6). The angel of the Lord, in our Gospel, exhorts us to fear no more because this child who is born in us is Christ and Lord. (Luke 2: 10-11). From now on, since we let Jesus be born in our hearts and families, Saint Paul in tonight’s second reading calls to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age until the second coming of our Lord at the end of time. (Titus 2: 13-14).

Isaiah’s prophecy in our first reading is part of the dialogue that Isaiah undertook with Ahaz, the king of Judah (See Isaiah 7-9). Today’s passage can be interpreted in its context of the eighth-century BC situation in which Isaiah speaks about the freedom of the Northern tribes of Israel from Assyrian occupation at the time of the great king Hezekiah, son of Ahaz. The people of Israel managed to survive a period of oppression, and now they enjoy a new life of liberation. Isaiah describes them as people who are journeying out of a time of “darkness” into “great light”. God brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing. Their rejoicing is compared to the joyful celebration during an abundant harvest when the people divide spoils. (v. 3). The author identifies Assyria as the “yoke”, “pole”, and “rod” that burdened the people during the oppression. Isaiah compares Israel’s victory over their oppressors to the “day of Midian,” alluding to the time when Gideon successfully defeated the Midianites. (See Judges 7: 15-25).

After describing the powerful victory of the people of Israel, Isaiah directs his prophecy toward the foretelling of the Messiah. “For a child is born to us, a son is given us, upon his shoulder dominion rests.” (v. 6). In his conversation with King Ahaz in Isaiah 7: 14, he said that this Messiah would be named “Emmanuel”. Here he lines up different names: “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (v.6). Note that in Hebrew, the name signifies the essence of the person. “The Wonder Counselor” and “Prince of Peace” are King Solomon’s titles. This means that this “Son-Messiah” will stand in Solomon’s place. The titles of “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” are divine. They indicate that this “Son” will be more than a mere human being. King Hezekiah who brought the people of Israel to freedom from Assyrian oppression was a mere human being. Here, Isaiah is prophesying a divine man on David’s throne. So, these words of Isaiah transcend this immediate context of the eighth-century BC and become the vision for a future child who will be God himself present among his people. This prophecy is fulfilled tonight in this solemnity of the nativity of Emmanuel, the Prince of Peace.

The Evangelist Luke commences his account of the Lord’s birth with particular attention to secular historical details that pose a historical problem. For instance, he tells us that Quirinus was the Governor of Syria at the time of Jesus’ birth while various historians attest that Quirinius was not made governor of Syria until A.D. 6 when he took control of Judea at the expulsion of Herod’s son Archelaus. Despite all historical issues with the dating and names found in this passage, the important point of Luke’s theological intention is to tell us that the True Prince of Peace, Jesus, came to the world during the Pax Romana when the Gentile world looked to Augustus Caesar as the prince of peace. To make this point, the author of the third Gospel uses historical facts (such as the census) and remolds them to suit his theological aim, just as ancient historians would do.

After the historical facts in which he demonstrates that Jesus is the Prince of Peace (not Augustus Caesar), Luke’s next preoccupation is to prove that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises (especially those of the prophet Isaiah we heard in the first readings of last and tonight Sundays). Notice the fulfillment of all the references to the Davidic covenant: Jesus is born in Bethlehem which is David’s birthplace; Joseph the husband of Mary and Jesus’ legal adopted father who is of the house and family of David; the presence of shepherds who remind us of David the shepherd.

Another theological point that Luke teaches us here is to be found in these details: The child is born in “Bethlehem” and laid in a “manger”. Note that the name “Bethlehem” literally means “House of Bread”, and a “manger” (in French, mangeoire, the verb is manger which means to eat) is the place where the sheep eat. Here Luke wants to tell his readers that Jesus who is the Bread of Life is born in the “House of Bread” and laid in a “feeding place”.  Our local Church, Our Lady Star of the Sea, is the “Bethlehem”, the “House of the Bread of Life” where himself Jesus “the Bread of Life” is born and laid on this altar, our “manger”, the place where we receive him in the Communion.

Mary and Joseph did not find a suitable place for the birth of their firstborn son. For four weeks during Advent, You and I have been preparing ourselves to offer Mary suitable places in our hearts and families.  Making our hearts and families available for Christ to be born in means that we accept to cooperate with God in his plan to save the world as Mary and Joseph did. So, the newborn Jesus transforms each one of us to become “another him” to save the people where we live. First, we become the “Bethlehem” (the “House of Bread of Life”). We are called to offer our hospitality to the people who are in need. May our Christian lives be “a Bethlehem” for the people where they feel safe. Second, we become the “Bread of Life” for others. Some people are hungry (physically and spiritually) around us and overseas. We are called to provide them with food that can sustain their physical and spiritual lives. Third, we become the “feeding place” (manger). The way the “manger” serves as the place where the sheep come to get food, our Christian lives should serve as the inspirational source for those who feel weak physically, morally, and spiritually.

Matthew says that the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, the glory of the Lord shone around them, and he announced to them the good news of great joy that will be for all people. (vv. 9-12). Note that shepherds were the poorest people in society. They did not own land or sheep. They work for hire. God chooses the poor shepherds to be the first ones to know about his coming. He makes the shepherds his ambassadors to the world, announcing a message of his birth. Jesus calls each one of us to be his ambassadors where we live, bearing this message of “good news of great joy” to everyone.

Matthew ends this passage telling us that the multitude of the heavenly host with the angel was praising God singing: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (vv. 13-14). Notice, these are the same words that we use in our “Glory to God” song that we sing in Masses before the opening prayer. When we sing this song, we join the heavenly host with angels and praise God together. This is a very important song. Please whenever we sing it, let us sing it with reverence.

Jesus is born. God took our human flesh and dwells now among us. We have made our hearts and families become the “Bethlehem” and the “manager” for the “Bread of Life”. Now it is time, as St. Paul exhorts us in our second reading, to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age as we await his second coming at the end of time with hope. Remember that you and I are chosen to be God’s ambassadors wherever we live announcing this good news of great joy to everyone starting in our families, Church, and neighborhood. Amen.

Merry Christmas 2023 and Happy New Year 2024!

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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