Saturday, December 24, 2016

2016 Christmas Eve Reflection

The Second Reading of the Feast of the Nativity--Mass During the Day:
Brothers and sisters:
In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways
to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the 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?
Or again:
I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?
And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world, he says:
Let all the angels of God worship him.

Hebrews 1:1-6
I had a bit of a problem for this year's Christmas Eve Reflection. I just simply didn't have a topic for the longest time. Then inspiration came. (Thank you, Holy Spirit.)

The past two years have seen the use of "lectio divina" on the two readings from St. Paul's letter to Titus found in the Christmas Masses. I continue in the same vein, this year using the passage from the opening of the letter to the Hebrews. While sentence structure may not allow for many short snippets, there will be ample opportunity to mine much insight.

"In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets." Even since Eden, when Adam and Eve disobeyed (did not hear) the word of God and His instruction, God has taken the initiative to re-call humanity to Him. The pre-prophetic time of  the Old Testament is replete with God speaking to the crowing of His creation, especially His encounters with Abraham and Moses, when covenant and Law were given to the Chosen People. Even the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel was another opportunity for listening. Then came the prophets, a more direct bearer of God's word. They spoke of the love of God, the need of repentance, and the promise of redemption. Even the prophet who bridged Old and New Testament, St. John the Baptist, continued to deliver this message. But their words were only an echo of the Word.

"In these last days." These words ring as true today as they did in the 1st. Century. While we live in the here and now, we are coming to end of time, whether our own death or the end of the world. Our salvation awaits us if we but just listen for and to the Word made Flesh.

"He has spoken to us through the Son." "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) To begin the fulfillment of the promise of redemption, God the Father sent into the world through the Holy Spirit, via the Blessed Virgin Mary, His only begotten Son, through Whom the world was made. It is His birth we celebrate today, in spite of the attempt the secular world to minimize, if not eliminate, this Word from our vocabulary.

And how the Second Person of the Trinity has spoken. We hear of  His Life, Death, and Resurrection as articulated by Him through the Evangelists. We continue to hear the Word through His Bride, the Church which He established. It was this Couple which brought us Sacred Scripture, so we could continue to listen to what He said. It is through His Bride the Sacramental Life He established is administered. As our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, spoke back over two millennia, He continues to speak to us today and until "the life of the world to come".

"Whom he made heir of all things."As Son, He is heir to all the Father has created. Through the Son, we have become co-heirs. We will share the Trinitarian Life, the Beatific Vision promised to us if only we heed the voice at His Baptism and Transfiguration and "listen to Him" and the Church whose authority is from Him.

"And through whom he created the universe." Not only is Jesus the rightful heir to what His Father has created, He helped created what is to become His. Recall the refrain in the creation story, "And God said." It is no coincidence St. John opened his Gospel with the same phrase which opened Genesis. The re-creation of the world had to be like its creation. The Word had to be spoken; "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."

"Who is the refulgence of his glory." Glory can only reflect glory; Light can only reflect light. As St. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, we only see dimly now. But even in that dimness, we see Him as He truly is.

"The very imprint of his being." Like Father, like Son. "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father." Of the same substance. People complained about the use of that word when the Roman Missal was more accurately translated in 2011. As Jesus said, "The Father and I are one." End of argument.

"And who sustains all things by his mighty word." We return to Genesis. God creates and sustains with His Word. That Word last infinitely and eternally. And that Word holds all in the palm of His hand. "Of the Father's love begotten, 'ere the world began to be."

"When he had accomplished purification from sins." There is no redemption without sacrifice. There is no re-birth without death. There is no Resurrection without a Nativity. There is no Easter without a Christmas. The Incarnate Word had to be born, become "like us in all things but sin" so as to reconcile us to the Father as the Father willed.

"He took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high." "He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty." Thus we complete the story of Jesus' earthly life in these brief sentences in the first half of this reading. He came, lived, died, rose, and ascended. He did the will of His Father.

"As far superior to the angels." How can the angels, created by God, be superior to Jesus, Who is God? That was Lucifer's downfall. That was ours. But unlike Satan, we have been redeemed. We only need to cooperate with the grace of God to make it happen.

"As the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs." Hearken to another Second Reading, this one from Palm Sunday:
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Phil. 2:8-11
Jesus--A variant of Joshua--God saves. Emmanuel--God is with us. This is the name the Christ Child inherited. This is the name which should be reverenced, as should His Real Presence. Have people forgotten that Jesus is God? I wonder about that at times. (And, just in case you think I don't practice what I preach, I do genuflect in front of the tabernacle as I pass it and bow my head when I hear the Holy Name.)

"For to which of the angels did God ever say:  You are my son; this day I have begotten you?" Does this sound vaguely familiar? It is the Introit for the Feast of the Nativity--Mass During the Night (Psalm 2:7). The announcing of the birth of our Savior bring not only joy to the world, but also awe, so much so the heavenly host were inspired to sing the first Gloria.

"Or again:  I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me?" From the First Reading of the Solemnity of St. Joseph (2 Samuel 7:14a), this confirms the house of David is to be the royal lineage. It is from this house St. Joseph came and thus "legitimizes" Jesus as a rightful heir to the throne. But is goes much deeper than that. The Kingdom of God has now come to earth and is to be established, which Christ as its Ruler.

"And again, when he leads the firstborn into the world." Is there not an echo of the Last Judgement in this phrase? Is there not also an echo of the admonition of St. James in his letter? Re-born by baptism, works sustained in faith, the new firstborn are those who are like Nicodemus, who heard the Word and acted upon it.

"He says:  Let all the angels of God worship him." Psalm 97:7b is referenced here. Creatures can only worship a Creator. Worshiping themselves is a form of idolatry, which an angel (or a human) loyal to God would never do. And being able to see God as He is (as we hope to do as well), they can do nothing but adore Him.

Tonight we adore Him, albeit veiled in flesh. But this is only so we can be "caught up in the love of God we cannot see." Our God is here. "Come and worship...Christ, the newborn King."

Hodie Christus natus est.

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