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Readings for the Nativity of the Lord (Liturgy of the Day)

 

1. Isaiah 52, 7-10

  • How beautiful are the feet and how beautiful the passage I pronounce today.  The messenger is approaching on foot, nearly breathless from shouting the news all along the way.  With each step the excitement grows in the holy city until the message can be panted in full throat: Your God is king!  I can build from a gentle start, as I catch sight of the courier upon the mountains, and lead to the climax.
  • The Nativity story is a gospel story.  So is the news, good news, glad tidings, about The Lord restoring Zion.  Where there were only ruins (from hurricanes or wars of conquest) there is now rebirth. 
  • I am especially joyful today.  I fit this reading with Jesus because Jesus is the chosen son of Israel, the faithful one, the bearer of good news par excellence.  And this message resounds to all the ends of the earth not as a sign of a single triumphant return in a remote corner of the Mediterranean, but as a voice and a promise of deliverance and meaning for everyone.  We must ask forgiveness for the times we have blocked the spread of this word by our intolerance, violence, hatred.
  • Climax: Your God is king!  We have heard many examples, from Second and Third Isaiah, of the identification of God’s glory with the people’s prosperity. 
  • Message for our assembly: Can we catch the spirit of excitement?  Is it contagious?  Is this the place in which our Christmas joy is rekindled?  And if not within the church, where?
  • I will challenge myself: to paint a verbal picture of the exhausted but happy messenger and the city that waits to hear the message, and to save my energy for the final promise about the ends of the earth.  After the proclamation, we will break out together in song with the chosen people in Psalm 98.

 

 

2. Hebrews 1, 1-6

  • Hebrews begins with a new revelation: God has spoken to us through the Son.  This sounds like the language of birth, of beginnings. 
  • I hear formulas of a coronation: You are my son. I will be a father to him.  Now it sounds more like inheritance than like birth.  This Nativity is much more than one babe’s birth in a time and place so forgotten that history does not record the exact day or year. 
  • In fact I do not hear much about the human Jesus at all.  His name is not mentioned in any of the readings today!  All these authors are searching for ways to explain in words his divine nature, his place in the plan of God.  They speak of identification with God: refulgence of his glory, imprint of his being, sustainer of all things, taking his seat at the right hand of God. 
  • There are a lot of references to angels.  In every case they are at the service of this Son, who is as far superior to the angels as his name (Son) is more excellent than theirs.  In my mind I will think of good and evil spirits of all kinds, the collective powers lionized in the iron laws of economics, the Realpolitik of our statesmen, even the uncontrollable nuclear juggernaut.  And then I will subject all of them to Christ: Let all the angels of God worship him.  That decisive ‘all’ in my voice will comprehend every time and place.  Will they hear my faith?
  • This may be the clearest example in history in which the realization has exceeded the promise, in which the reality has surpassed the dream and the hope of our ancestors through the prophets.
  • In the spirit of Hebrews we celebrate not a mere beginning but the whole lifetime of self-offering: He had accomplished purification from sins. 
  • Central point: Like Jesus the Servant of God (Philippians), the Word of God (John) or the Image of the invisible God (Colossians), today Jesus is the Son.
  • The message for our assembly: All the attributes of Jesus Christ that we affirm in our creeds have meaning for us.
  • I will challenge myself: To speak out with full authority the words (including the uncommon ‘refulgence’) that identify Jesus with God.

 

 

Gospel. John 1, 1-18

  • The Gospel of John begins with a hymn to the Word of God who was in the beginning with God.  Let me capture the lyrical poetry, this great act of faith in the deeper meaning of the universe.  All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be.  There’s another affirmation of the Creed that we profess in the Eucharist.
  • He is light as well, light of the human race, the light that shines in the darkness which the darkness has not overcome.  Light always accompanies the ones empowered to become children of God.  Light even accompanies the world though the world did not know him.  I will try to give some sense of that brilliance in the inflections of my voice.
  • And now the Word takes on our flesh, our transitory nature, the feature that is in constant decay.  The evangelist calls this appearance the glory as of the Father’s only Son, the revelation of the Father.  This is the mystery of faith that the church has called Incarnation. 
  • According to John, our role in the mystery of salvation is to believe in Jesus.  All might believe through him.  He empowered those who believe in his name, which includes ourselves, this very day.  John uses other words, too: know, accept, see, to describe the ways that we become hospitable to the Word.  He hides them in the midst of the long hymn but I will not let my listeners miss them.
  • Climax: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  Here is the link to Christmas.  But continue to the conclusion, because God comes for our salvation: And we saw his glory, full of grace and truth. 
  • Message for our assembly: Here is what God is doing.  Here is the message of Christmas.  Do we recognize the coming and presence of the Word among us? 
  • I will challenge myself: To read with understanding, showing the progression of the Word from the Father’s side to our side.  Readings like this one are challenging, but after several run-throughs I will be up for the occasion.

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