If one follows the daily gospels throughout Advent, in one sense it takes the four gospels and extracts from them a chronological telling of the birth of the Messiah. This is especially true beginning on December 17th. That linear telling of the Nativity continues through the four different Masses of Christmas.Did you know there were four different sets of readings for Christmas?
- Christmas Vigil Mass: the reading is from the prologue of Matthew. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ,the son of David, the son of Abraham.Abraham became the father of Isaac…” A more literal translation would be “The book of the genesis of ….” Our Christmas celebrations begin with an origin story. It is a very interesting gospel passage, but admittedly, the faithful hope to hear a more familiar Christmas gospel.
- Christmas Mass during the Night (know popularly as Midnight Mass): The gospel is taken from Luke 2 in which we travel with Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem and are with the shepherds in the field when the Angel announced the birth of a Savior.
- Christmas Mass at Dawn: Again from Luke 2 as we accompany the shepherd to the manger where they encounter the Christ Child.
- Christmas Mass during the Day: This reading is taken from the prologue to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word…” Again, not a familiar Christmas narrative, but again an origin story that encompasses more than a family history (as does prologue of Matthew), but expresses a universal history.
The collection of readings tell a story and it is the final selection of the prologue of John (1:1-18) that speak of God’s revelation, of how he has explained himself to us. It is this that accounts for the extraordinary title that our author uses — “the Word.” Its best equivalent is “revelation.” As we humans reveal ourselves through what we say and, even more, by what we do (our body language), so God through the centuries has offered his own self-revelation through act and speech. The prologue details this. God revealed himself through creation (vv. 2–5), but also through his Old Testament word (vv. 10–13), that is, through his covenants, the Mosaic writings, the prophets, and the wisdom literature. Those who opened their eyes and believed in this ancient revelation became “children of God … born … of God” (vv. 12–13). Finally God has revealed himself to the utmost through the incarnation of the Word, in whom God’s glory, his presence, stands revealed as a sign of his enduring love (v. 14).
This is the meaning of Christmas – the enduring love of God that he would dwell with us.