“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” These words end the gospel which we all know so well in our celebration of “Christmas”, the Mass to celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited Messiah.
But the Israelite hopes for the messiah, i.e., another savior like a King David, is celebrated by all Christians in even a fuller way: “for today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah AND LORD.” He is more than just another king like David, but one who shares divinity with Yahweh – truly God with us, “Emmanuel.”
In our times we celebrate this great feast as “the holidays” as we greet one another with “Have a happy holiday!” (I want to respond to that inclusive greeting with the query, “which holiday do you have in mind?) What is different in this feast is that we celebrate the love of God for us that He has sent his Son to take on our human nature in order to show us a way to salvation. In a word, we celebrate “Emmanuel” – God-with-us.
This moment of history is the ever-present form of unconditional love of God for us which we find “hidden” in our liturgy of the Mass. The gifts of bread and wine are presented to the priest at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Silently, the priest adds water to the wine with these words, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” What a wonderful Christmas reflection! And it is present in every Mass now even as we remember the event of twenty centuries ago.
What does this mean to me? This moment brings the historical event we celebrate today to our present day. As we become more Christ-like we take on the role of sharing in our messiah’s mission foretold in the first reading from Isaiah: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light … for the yoke that burdened them… will be burned as fuel for flames ….”
God’s gift to us in this love for us, this invitation to share with his Son in his mission among us “to bring good news to the poor … new sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free….” (Lk 4:18)
We celebrate this invitation in every Mass but it begins in the Christmas liturgy as we remember how God came among us – Emmanuel – to save us and show us the way.
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