"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
December 25, 2011: Nativity of the Lord
• Isaiah 9:1-6
Synopsis: The solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord is one of most important feasts of the year, second only to Easter. Its importance is indicated by the fact that it’s celebrated with four different Masses, each with its own set of readings. Since midnight Mass is probably the most popular Mass, we will use those readings for our reflections here.
Isaiah ministered in Jerusalem in the eighth century B.C. during a time of national crisis. He had witnessed the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by Assyria and watched its armies advance on Jerusalem. The destruction of the northern kingdom had plunged the people into darkness and despair. In spite of the dangers Isaiah foresees a time when light will once again shine throughout the land. The nation would once again be led by the ideal king who would vanquish Israel’s enemies, unite the kingdom, establish peace and govern with justice. This ideal king was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The second reading speaks of both the first and second coming of Christ, thus linking Advent and Christmas. Titus first reminds us that “the grace of God has appeared!” and then exhorts us to “reject godless ways and worldly desires … as we await the blessed hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ.” The infancy narrative in Luke’s Gospel includes the familiar image of a stable (see Isa 1:3), shepherds watching their flock and a choir of angels. The fact that shepherds were the first recipients of the Gospel is in keeping with Luke’s concern for the poor and lowly upon whom God’s favor rests.
Key verse: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” (Lk 1:14).
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Jesus was born in a humble stable, into a poor family. Simple shepherds were the first witnesses to this event. In this poverty heaven’s glory was made manifest. To become a child in relation to God is the condition for entering the kingdom. For this, we must humble ourselves and become little. Only when Christ is formed in us will the mystery of Christmas be fulfilled in us” (Nos. 525-526).
Pope Benedict XVI: “What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth. ‘To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’ The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly ‘God with us’” (Homily, Christmas 2009)
Application: At Christmas we not only celebrate the Nativity of our Lord, an event of the past, but more importantly we affirm the reality of the Incarnation in which “the word became flesh” and dwells with us even now. God has chosen to associate himself most especially with the poor and lowly of the world.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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