The gospel readings for Christmas are tied to the Mass, e.g., Vigil, Night, Dawn, or Day, and come from the gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John. The readings are listed for ABC, rather than a single cycle, like we read during Advent, e.g., Luke’s gospel is the dominant gospel account in Cycle C this liturgical year. It and the Gospel of Matthew are the only two of the four which discuss the birth of Jesus. Luke has the shepherds and angels, Matthew has the magi and more about Joseph’s interactions with the angels.
For clarification, both the gospels according to Luke and Matthew have plenty of angels! However, one would expect the angels to interact with the key people in the story, like Mary and Joseph. The messengers of God interact with key people. What is unusual about our God and the account in Luke, is the angels proclaimed “glad tidings of great joy” to shepherds, at that time some of the lowliest members and most on the fringes of Jewish society. This is God’s very different take on who the key players are in God’s eyes and heart! This is one more exclamation point by God that salvation is for everybody! St Gregory of Nazianzus wrote that we are most made in the image of God when we love humans, preferentially the poor. This is one more example of God doing so!
Below are my notes and interpretations of Fr Dennis’ homily (Fr Dennis Dillon, SJ) from the 10AM Mass on December 25, 2017.
The poems Fr Dennis references in 2017 are:
It Happened One Christmas by Wendell Berry,
and the other Christmas homily poems that I have …
Christmas Light by May Sarton (Christmas Day 2016)
December by Gary Johnson (a favorite, used on Christmas Eve 2016)
Some additional poems for Christmas shared via the SALT Lectionary team:
The Work of Christmas by Howard Thurman
On the Mystery of the Incarnation by Denise Levertov
Christmas Poem by e.e. cummings
Making the House Ready for the Lord by Mary Oliver
In 2017, we reflected on —
- The Nativity Pageant and Mass are a celebration of the children of the world. The pageant and its fresh interpretation of the story by each year’s cast of children renews our faith. Fr Dennis wore the stole of children to honor all the children — those who are children by age, and those who are children at heart. Most importantly, he wore it to honor the One who came to be with us … as a babe!
- Why would the Trinity do this, this mystical incredible idea of the Incarnation? What was Jesus hoping to say with the Incarnation? Solidarity. Jesus of the Trinity became incarnate to share the vulnerability of a fertilized cell on to his last breath on the cross to be in total solidarity with us humans, God’s created. This form of solidarity means:
- His mercy comes from within, from his full humanity and divinity
- He felt himself at home with us in a very simple meal of bread and wine, and being divine could leave this expression with us in the Eucharist, so we can always be together in the Sacrament
- He became helpless, like we are helpless and vulnerable
- Because of Jesus’ mercy of Incarnation, we aren’t so helpless, and no one of us is ever alone.
- In today’s Collect Prayer for the Vigil Mass for the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas!), we pray that because of God we “share[e] in the divinity of Christ.” In other words, through the Incarnation, we are called to be divine, and the call itself as well as its manifestation is Grace, God’s Life within us, now. (rl: this reflection on grace helps me understand the gentle power of Tony de Mello, SJ’s spiritual exercise: Imagine God looking at you … and smiling.)
- He read Wendell Berry’s poem, Remembering That It Happened Once. Wendell Berry was a highly successful academic and teacher. After 25 years (in the late 1970s), he and his wife purchased a farm (eventually 117 acres) in Kentucky near his parents’ lands, and they have lived there ever since. He writes and submits all his poems written by hand.
- His poem captures the mystery of the Incarnation of God — the sweet spot of Holiness in relationship between God and us, and past and present (and future). “… and we are here / As we have never been before, / Sighted as not before, our place / Holy, although we knew it not.”
- Gary Johnson’s December is a familiar one, but fits so well with the reflection themes of the day (and was familiar to many by this time).