Christmas (Mass During the Day)
December 25, 2015
Reading I: Isaiah 52:7-10
This magnificent passage from Second Isaiah is rather similar
to the Old Testament reading for the second Mass (Is 62:11-12),
and even closer to the enthronement psalms that form the responsorial
reading for all three Masses of Christmas.
The prophet announces
the return of YHWH to Zion in words
identical with those that scholars think were used at the new-year
festival: “Your God reigns.”
This proclamation is
described as bringing “good tidings.” The Hebrew
word for “good tidings” lies at the root of the New
Testament Greek term euangelion, or “gospel.”
took up this very text and applied it to his own apostolic
work of preaching the gospel in Rom 10:15, and it probably
influenced Jesus’ own formulation of his message of the kingdom
or reign of God.
The use of this passage in the liturgy today suggests yet another
application. It can be referred to the angelic proclamation
at the nativity. This is indeed a proclamation of good tidings,
a publication of salvation, an announcement of the beginning
of the dawn of God’s reign.
It is in the incarnation that the
Church sees the return of YHWH to Zion
and to Jerusalem to comfort his people (Is 40:1). Here the
Lord bares his arm
and the people see his salvation.
Responsorial Psalm: 98:1, 2-3, 3-4, 5-6
Selections from this psalm also appear on the twenty-eighth and thirty-third Sundays of the year in series C. This selection is also very
similar to the psalms used in the first and second Masses of this day and to the first reading of this Mass. Its applicability to Christmas is obvious.
Reading II: Hebrews 1:1-6
The letter to
the Hebrews is unique among the letters of the New Testament.
Although it clearly ends like a letter (Heb 13:22-25), it
does not begin like one. The author does not start with his
own name nor greet the people, as was customary. There is
no statement of the author’s name nor of those to whom he
is writing. Instead, he plunges immediately into his theological
exposition: “In many and various ways God spoke ... ”
Actually, Hebrews looks like a series of liturgical sermons
on a collection of Old Testament texts. In fact, the author
himself or the editor calls the work a “word of exhortation” (Heb
13:22) . The first of these sermons, whose exordium we have
here, uses a series of texts to establish Christ’s superiority
over the angels.
It is probable that the readers, presumably
Jewish Christians with syncretistic leanings, wanted to rank
Christ among a whole hierarchy of angelic mediators (see the
later Gnostic aeons; also Col 2:18) and thus deny the uniqueness
and finality of the revelation he brought.
The author prefaces his texts with what looks like an early
Christian hymn to Christ, similar in theme to the Johannine
prologue, which follows as the gospel for this Mass. The hymn
in Hebrews seems to be based on an earlier Jewish hymn to Wisdom.
existed with God from all eternity and was the agent of creation
and preservation. She manifests herself on earth
and then returns to heaven. In its Christian adaptation, the
hymn identifies Christ with Wisdom as the agent of creation
and preservation. He appears on earth.
Note that the whole
Christ-event is covered by the words “when he had made
purification for sins.” There is no explicit mention
of his incarnation or earthly life as in most of the other
hymns, although the author himself does add an allusion to
his entry into the world in Heb 6:6.
After his sojourn on earth,
Christ returns to heaven and is exalted to the right hand of
the Majesty on high, triumphant over the angels, who are here
conceived, as so often in early Christian mythology, as hostile
A further point to be noted about this hymn is that it sets
Christ’s revelation of God in Israel’s salvation history. The
same God who has now spoken “in the last days” (that
is, eschatologically) in his Son had spoken previously “in
many and various ways.” In the Greek, the word for “many” brings
out the fragmentary, partial character of the previous revelations.
This is a very important passage, for it relates the final
revelation of God in Christ to the Jewish religion, and by
analogy to other religions, too.
All religions contain fragmentary
and partial disclosures of God, and religion has its own distinctive
insight. But what was fragmentary and partial is now finally
and fully disclosed in Christ.
Here we have the biblical approach
to the question of the non-Christian religions, which has exercised
Christian thought so much since Vatican II: the claim that
the final revelation is given in Jesus Christ.
Of course, our
apprehensions are never final. The finality of the revelation
must not be confused with any particular Christian theology
or expression of the Christian religion, for all these are
still fragmentary in character. Our claim is for Christ, not
for our understanding of him.
This is not a piece of religious
imperialism or triumphalism. It follows directly from the eschatological
character of Christ’s revelation: God has spoken “in these
last days,” not merely through the prophets but through
his Son, the unique and final embodiment of his total self-disclosure.
Gospel: John 1:1-18 or 1:1-5, 9-14
It is fairly certain that the evangelist John did not himself
compose the hymn to the Logos, but that it existed prior to
his use of it. Yet, its origin is much in dispute.
that it came from Gnostic sources; some regard it as a Hellenistic-Jewish
hymn to Wisdom. It has even been suggested that it was a hymn
to John the Baptist, celebrated in the “baptist” circles
as the bearer of the final revelation of God.
It would then
have been adapted by the evangelist for Christian use by adding
a series of “footnotes” to the hymn: “He [the
Baptist] was not the light,” etc. It is interesting that
the short form of the Gospel drops precisely these parenthetical
Whatever its origin, the Johannine prologue sketches in the
eternal background of what happened in the ministry, life,
and death of Jesus. This whole ministry was the revelation
of the Word-made-flesh, the embodiment in a human life of the
totality of God’s self-communication to human beings. This
self-communication did not begin with the Christ-event; it
began with creation (see Heb 1:1-4).
God created the universe
in order to communicate himself to it in love. He communicated
himself to men and women throughout history. This he did especially,
though not exclusively, in Israel’s salvation history recorded
in the Old Testament.
As the prologue puts it: “the life
was the light of men. ... The true light that enlightens
every man was coming into the world.” The reception of
this revelation (here the evangelist has in mind the consequence
of the incarnation) gives men and women the power to become
children of God.
It is often debated just where John moves from the preexistent
Christ to the incarnate Christ. Clearly, he has done so by
Heb 1:14. Yet, the parentheses about the Baptist have the effect
of changing the earlier statements about the Logos into statements
about the Word-made-flesh. Thus, the whole Johannine prologue
is a commentary on the rest of John’s Gospel. The entire
life of Christ is the story of the Word-made-flesh.
Reginald H. Fuller
Copyright © 2006
by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville,
Minnesota. All rights reserved. Used by
permission from The Liturgical Press,
Collegeville, Minnesota 56321
Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today
Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 20-23.
you to Liturgical Press who makes
this page possible
more information about the 3rd edition (2006) of
the Lectionary click picture
Art by Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the
(A, B, and
Used by permission of Liturgy
Training Publications. This art may
be reproduced only by parishes who
purchase the collection in book or
CD-ROM form. For more information go