First Reading Isaiah 52:7–10
Psalm Psalm 98:1–6
Second Reading Hebrews 1:1–6
Gospel John 1:1–5, 9–14
Sing a new song to the Lord,
for he has done marvelous deeds.
His right hand and holy arm
have won the victory.
The Lord has made his victory known;
has revealed his triumph in the sight of the nations,
He has remembered his mercy and faithfulness
toward the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth;
break into song; sing praise.
Sing praise to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy to the King, the Lord.
Reading the Word
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the one bringing good news,
Announcing peace, bearing good news,
announcing salvation, saying to Zion,
“Your God is King!”
Listen! Your sentinels raise a cry,
together they shout for joy,
For they see directly, before their eyes,
the Lord’s return to Zion.
Break out together in song,
O ruins of Jerusalem!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations;
All the ends of the earth can see
the salvation of our God.
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.
When he had accomplished purification from sins,
he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
as far superior to the angels
as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
For to which of the angels did God ever say:
“You are my son; this day I have begotten you”?
“I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me”?
And again, when he leads the first-born into the world, he says:
“Let all the angels of God worship him.”
John 1:1–5, 9–14
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.
He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.
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.
Hearing the Word
“Our God is King!”
Our preparation for Christmas began with the first Sunday of Advent, when we reflected on the life orientation of believers. The Christmas season is about recognising, celebrating and reflecting on what God has accomplished for us; that which endows our life with purpose and meaning, and that which gives us the reason for orienting our life towards God as our sole purpose.
The three readings of the midday Mass of the Christmas Day celebrate God’s acts performed for the sake of the human family, which we can rightly call the heart of the Good News. We begin with the triumphant song of Isaiah whose grandeur can only be understood in relation to the context in which he pronounced the key phrase of the passage: “your God is King.” The Israelites, from the beginning of their existence as a nation, acknowledged and celebrated God as their true king. And yet, at times they were not loyal to their true king and suffered as a result of it. The part of Isaiah we read from today was written in the context of utter and unparalleled disaster in the nation’s long history. In 586 BC they were invaded by the Babylonians; the land and cities were utterly destroyed and majority of the people were taken into slavery. With their country under occupation, their beloved city of Jerusalem in ruins, and their Temple turned into a heap of ashes, the Israelites had little reason for celebrations. They had been in exile in Babylon for about 40 years, living on a vast, low-lying plain, between two rivers: the Tigris and the Euphrates. This was the heart of the Babylonian Empire. To the east of this location were the high mountainous regions of Zargos. It is from there that the news began to reach the enslaved people: the good news that a new power was rising to the east, the Persians. Under their leader Cyrus, the Persians eventually overpowered the Babylonians, ended the exile, and allowed the Israelites to return to their country. Their leader, Cyrus the Great, would even help in rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. Isaiah recognised that this new king, when restoring the Israelites to their land, acted with God’s prompting. Even though Cyrus was not an Israelite, he unknowingly executed God’s will. When Isaiah looked to the mountains in the east, he saw the messengers caring the good news of Cyrus’s approach. He knew that liberation was at hand. No wonder he called for the ruins of Jerusalem to break out into the song of rejoicing. The desolate ruins of the beloved city were about to witness and experience what God’s kingship truly means: restoration and salvation of his people.
The author of the second reading celebrates another manifestation of God’s kingship which expresses itself in God “speaking” the Good News: His Son. The writer begins his elaborate work called the letter to the Hebrews, with an indication of the way in which God delivered the Good News. This time the message of God’s salvation would not be brought by the heralds coming over the mountains from the East, it would be brought directly from the heavenly world by God’s very Son. With these words the author wants to emphasise that this Son of God is not merely somebody who resembles the Father. Like the Father, he is the creator and sustainer of the world. He shares the same identity (glory) of God Godself. Being the exact “imprint” of the Father, the Son is God himself. Should there be any doubt of the Son’s Divine identity the author re-emphasises that he is infinitely superior to the angels, the heavenly beings who inhabit the supernatural world. The author goes to great lengths to emphasise that the communication brought by Him is the perfect and fullest revelation of God Godself. The author also briefly indicates what the Son accomplished on earth: he purified God’s people from their sins. In his revelatory work the Son thus reunited the people with their God. This is yet another type of restoration, even more significant than the rebuilding of the earthly city of Jerusalem which Isaiah had celebrated.
The magnificent opening lines of the Gospel of John extend the theme of the second reading, spelling out in detail the effects of God’s Son coming into the world. This time we do not need to wonder who this Son is exactly; the author unambiguously identifies him as Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17). As in the second reading, John the Evangelist begins with the emphasis that Jesus is one with God, co-creator and sustainer of everything that is. He follows with details of his mission in the world: Jesus is the light. As the light, in his person Jesus reveals God. To make God visible is the essence of his mission and the purpose of his coming into the world (Jn 1:18). To disclose the invisible God, Jesus, the divine being himself, becomes “flesh”, something that can be seen and directly experienced by human beings. The good news that the Gospel celebrates is that God has descended into human flesh in order that humanity, without doubt or hesitancy, can know and understand God and God’s ways. The rest of the Gospel of John will present various ways in which Jesus manifested God through his words and actions. The most significant part of that disclosure of God can be seen in Jesus’s sacrificial death. Before his passion he said: “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends …” (Jn 15:13-14). Offering his life for the salvation of humanity, Jesus in the best way illustrated that truth about God which Isaiah had celebrated 500 years earlier: “your God is King.” God is the kind of king willing to offer himself for the people he calls friends. In his life and his body Jesus demonstrated that God as the King will stop at nothing to bring salvation to his people.
The heart of the good news celebrated at Christmas, and so clearly presented by John the Evangelist, is that we have the King who himself came down to earth in a human body, in order to bring us to union with him, and thus give us eternal life. Isaiah saw the promise of it in a vision of restored Jerusalem, and the author of Hebrews proclaimed it describing God’s ultimate communication with the world through his Son. When Christians celebrate Christmas they declare that their God is indeed the King singing out those wonderful words of Psalm 98: “Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has done marvelous deeds.”
Listening to the Word of God
One of the characteristics of our leaders today is that they are distant and far from us. For example, they are always accompanied by bodyguards and even when they travel by car there is a motorcade and procession of cars in front and behind them. Wealth, prestige and power define rulers of our time. Even the homes they live in are closely guarded, and only a few can come in and out freely. Of course, there are reasons for having security but one thing that is lost is the connections with ordinary people, those who are under their leadership. Since this is the dominant form of leadership that we know today, it is hard to imagine that there is another type of leadership that is completely different. Because we hear and know the Christmas story so well it is easy to miss the point about the type of ruler and king that is being given to us by God. Instead of coming with all the ceremony and show of power and wealth, the king we are given is born where no person, even the poorest of the poor, would dream of being born, that is in a stable – dirty and smelling of dung and filled with the grunting of cows. In this low estate the king that God has given to us in Jesus goes beyond the poorest of the poor to include all who are vulnerable, marginalized, despised and poor. Yet in this state, the richest and wisest persons came to honour Jesus at his birth because they recognized his kingship even in the midst of a stable – far from the pomp and palaces of that time. These highly esteemed visitors gave up everything to find Jesus and honour him as king, the one sent by God to be himself human in complete identification with all of humanity. For the Creator of the Universe to come down in the person of Jesus in order to reach out to all persons, to enter into the human experience of daily life, to suffer and stand up for truth in a world of oppressive powers and powerful leaders, was an incredible humiliation and the highest form of love. Christmas is about a different kind of leadership, one that fully identifies through sacrifice and self-giving with humanity, in order to redeem and bring true freedom which comes through following the paths of God. As we respond to the invitation of Christmas to follow Jesus and embody his ways, we become different to the world in all we do and are. If we are leaders, we identify ourselves with those we lead as servants; as women, men, young and old we live our lives in solidarity with those who suffer in anyway, so that we bring the good news of the kingdom of God to them. It is a kingdom that is so radically different from everything we know and experience daily, that even those who lived during the time of Jesus could not recognize the coming of God in him.
“The one who loves an unsightly person is the one who makes him beautiful”
God chose to identify with us through Jesus. There are people in our family, neighbourhood, community, country and world that are difficult to identify with and be in solidarity with. Name those persons and groups and ask why it is that you struggle to identify with them.
Response to God
Thanksgiving and worship. Even though we were far from God and sinners, yet through Jesus God came down to meet and redeem us. We have a God who is like no ruler that we know, One who comes down to where we are, loves and transforms us to be beautiful just as the Ugandan proverb states. Praise be to you Oh Loving God!
Response to your World
I will choose one person or group that I struggle with, and take one step to identify myself with them in love because of what God has done. In places where I lead, I will adopt the example of Jesus in being humble and serving in love.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
Prayer of St Francis of Assisi