Reflections on Christmas Mass at Dawn

12-24-2017Pastoral ReflectionsRev. Brian F. Manning

Did you realize that there are three special Masses that are celebrated with the Feast of Christmas? They are very thematic to the time of night or day. If we were a monastic institution, then all three Masses would be celebrated for us and with us. Each Mass has a special theme and it is connected to the great divine mystery of the God who became Flesh and dwelt among us, namely the Birth of Jesus Christ, truly God and truly human.

The Mass at Night offers the soft light of quiet intimacy: the gentle light of single flickering candle. The Mass at Dawn lets in more light: the light that surrounds us as the light of the rising sun. The Mass during the Day is simply majestic and splendid as we are fully awake at this time in bright daylight and able to proclaim with a loud voice that "He is born." For this brief Pastoral Reflection, however, we will focus on the Christmas Mass at Dawn, imagining the sun rising from darkness and bringing us the Light of the New Born King. We will be like the shepherds who are awake during the night and witness the rising of the sun.

As throughout the world and time, the sun rises in the east. On Christmas morn it again rises in the East in Bethlehem and ends the darkness and shadows of night. This increasing light brings us the newness of the Birth of Jesus Christ. This new light illumines a world that is now radically changed. In our second reading which is Paul's Letter to Titus, a new day has come to us. Our first reading is a special hymn of thanksgiving. We are indeed grateful to our God who has bent down to save us because of his love and mercy.

We learn in our Gospel that the lowly shepherds are favored by God. The scripture passage makes clear to one and all that these shepherds are the first bearers of the good news. They are the first evangelists, the first proclaimers of God's merciful salvation.

As a result, we ask these important questions: What did the shepherds see? What did they understand? What did they tell to the surprised world? These hill folk perceived and grasped what the angels had announced. They made haste to a manger in a cave, a place they knew, and saw something entirely new. They saw a child, exactly as the angels had said.

This narrative of the Gospel according to Luke says even more. The evangelist insists on the whole, deep truth of Jesus' birth and life, death and resurrection. For Luke, the shepherds are symbols of God's people of good will about whom the angels sang. Realize that lowly shepherds who saw also understood. They grasped that this infant was the one the angels proclaimed. These men were the recipients of God's grace and mercy.

Note that other than the brief discussion among the shepherds, the Gospels are silent about the shepherds' report to all of the surrounding people. We fill in this silence with our own hopes and dreams. We dream of a God who bends down and is close to us. We dream of unlimited forgiveness. We dream of a God who looks upon us with eyes of love and mercy, though, in fact, we are confused by our own unworthiness. We dream that peace will come to all people of good will. We dream of a love that forgets our frailty and flaws and also forgives our wrongdoings.

The Incarnation of Jesus shatters the darkness of our limitations. Our God is lavish and wildly generous, and the shepherds had the grace to see and understand and also the strength and courage to go and tell.

In the gatherings of family and friends in the coming week, may the Joy, Hope and Peace of Christ the New Born King surround you and all those you hold close in your heart.