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Friday, December 14, 2007

Dec. 24/25 Midnight Mass

By: Fr. Carlito Reyes
Professor of the New Testament
Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City, Philippines

Reading 1: Is 9:1-6
Responsorial Psalm:
Ps 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
R. (Lk 2:11) Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
Gospel: Lk 2:1-14

COMMENTARY

Peace on Earth.
The first reading for tonight announces that the people who walked in darkness has seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of doom a light has shown. If these lines are read in the context of the book of the prophet Isaiah, the time of darkness refers to the pre-exilic and exilic time of suffering and humiliation of Israel and the time of great light refers to the time of restoration and homecoming. If the lines are read in the context of Christmas, the time of darkness refers to the time before Christ and the time of great light refers to Christ’s birth. Hence, we have the B.C. and A.D. or what we nowadays call B.C.E. and C.E. Kings before Christ wanted their kingship to be the beginning of a new era. This is the reason why their calendars were dated according to their reigns, e.g. on the fifteenth year of . . . or the eleventh year of . . . The longer the years they add to their reigns, the greater their reigns are considered great. That means if they stay on their thrones for many years, they are able to maintain peace. This is what Pax Romana means. But of course, they remain on their thrones by eliminating those who would get in their way.

In contrast, the king we honor tonight really begins a new era that lasts, and a kingdom bigger than the Roman Empire. This is the reason why we and the angels are singing “Peace on Earth!” This replaces the Pax Romana! The Pax Romana is attained by killing those who oppose the rule of the emperor, but the “peace on earth” is given by a king who is willing to die for our sake. The Pax Romana is expanded by power and war, but the Pax Christi is expanded by love and non-violence. Violence belongs to the time of darkness, non-violence to the time of light. “For every boot trampled in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames,” says the first reading. Perhaps, this is one way for us to understand why during the Christmas season the military and the NPAs declare a cease-fire. Indeed, many of us long for the day when governments all over the world will spend the money for the poor rather for weapons of destruction. We should also pray for ourselves that we may be loving persons and not hostile ones.

Glory to God and Peace on Earth.
The angels sing a song that shows the unity of heaven and earth. It is a good song that should educate us not to over spiritualize Christmas. There are people who say that Santa Claus, Christmas trees, lavish foods and parties are out of place in the season. People who say these things think that we celebrate Christmas in the spirit of the world. But Christmas is about God becoming man! And many of our practices during the season are not paganistic but expressive of the great mystery we celebrate: God becoming human. Heaven and earth are united in Christmas.

The stars we display on our windows show that we want a celestial body to come down to earth. Similarly at midnight of Christmas we put a star or angel on top of our Christmas trees. Are they not symbols of heaven kissing earth? And Santa Claus? C.K. Chesterton, a famous author along the caliber of J.R.R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis, sees nothing wrong with Santa Claus when he writes:
Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave to it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.

Of course it is easier to explain our lavish serving of food. Bethlehem cane from two Hebrew words: “beth” means house and “lehem” means bread/food. If one puts them together Bethlehem means house of bread. Why should it be a problem to prepare rich food?

But the best symbol is the crèche. Barbara Brown Taylor says that a lot of people talk about life, a good life, using “up” words: “rising above anxiety,” “keeping our heads above water,” and “cheer up.” However, she asks us to look at the manger: there is no comfort there, no privacy, no neatness. And yet God is there, in the middle of the picture. Peace, love and joy are there! It is not only in the best of times but also in the worst of times that we can find God, peace, love, and joy! The picture of the manger teaches us that God is with us. It is not the God up there who answers our prayer by lifting us up, but the God who comes and lives with us. We cannot over spiritualize Christmas. Jesus is God and Human!

Merry Christmas!

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