Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Nativity of Our Lord (Mass at Dawn)

Titus 3:4, 7 / Luke 2:15, 20

There is a moment in every party, in every performance, in every gathering of good cheer, when all of the frantic energy, all of the worries about how everything will turn out, all the rushing here and there so as not to miss out, comes to a stop. What we have long prepared to do or see, what we rushed eagerly to enjoy, has now come to pass, and so we pause. We sit, perhaps in silence, or perhaps with easy and effortless chatter. The intensity of the experienced is over, there is no doubt about that, but truth be told we don't miss it. We are not even thinking about it that way. We are aglow with the fresh memory of job well done, a meal happily eaten, a beautiful concert whose notes still ring in our ears. With nothing left to do, perhaps we sit and ponder, or perhaps we talk eagerly with others who have also enjoyed what we enjoyed. Still, one way or another, we know that the big moment is past, and we are all the better for it.

Our Gospel today recalls for us just such an experience. After the momentous events from nine months before with the virginal conception at the Annunciation, the unexpected joys of the Visitation, the trials of the journey to Bethlehem and the disappointments in finding lodging, the moment Mary and Joseph had long awaited had finally come to pass. After the fearful yet wonderful appearing of the angel of the Lord to the shepherds, the song of the multitude of the heavenly host, and the eager rushing to the manger, the shepherds have seen what the angel had promised. The moment, both long and recently awaited, had come, and the Word made flesh was manifest to the world. The moment had come, and now it had passed, leaving the Virgin Mother to ponder in her heart, the more gregarious shepherd to glorify and praise God with one another on their way back to the fields, once again to keep watch over their flocks by night.

The passing of that holy moment into the extended, if less dramatic moments of pondering, glorifying and praising, was not, for the Virgin and the shepherds, a cause for disappointment. They did not pine to return to the fearful moment of the angelic appearance in Nazareth or the nighttime fields, neither did they seek to hold time still at the moment of their first gazing on the holy child, frozen in time like a holiday creche. No, they gladly moved beyond the intensity of the moment to its prolongation in time, from the glorious cause to its happy and life-long, indeed life-giving effects. Now it was no longer the time to focus on what they needed to do to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Now was the time to receive the bounty of what the Lord had done, and would continue to do, for them.

This is likewise God's offer to us this Christmas morning. We have, perhaps, celebrated the birth of the Lord by observing its vigil, or by keeping ourselves awake like the shepherds at night, to greet the newborn King with our best echoes of angelic glory. Now, we begin Christmas Day, and the day, the season, and the year stretches out ahead of us. Do we try to bind our mind to those thrilling moments leading up to this day, our frantic if willingly self-imposed preparation for the celebration of this holy day? Will we want to fix ourselves in the heart of the Mass of the Nativity, leaving the pew only reluctantly? Or, dare we to let it all take effect, in silent pondering or in happy conversation, about what the Lord has done, is doing, and will continue to do in our lives?

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