GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...and again this is familiar territory.
I know you know these verses, you’ve read them before, but let's hear them again, I'll make a few points and I will try to connect it with the Old Testament.
Luke 2:1 and following:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment, when Quirin'i-us was governor of Syria.
And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child.
Pause there for just a second. Notice the geographical shift here. They were up in the northern part of the Holy Land. Nazareth is in the North, it’s in the territory Galilee. But because of the census, they have to go to the South to the city of Bethlehem, which was the city of David. Why? Because Joseph belongs to the royal family of David, that is his ancestry, that is his heritage. So he goes to register where his family land and his family tribe and his family territory originates from. And that's how Mary ends up in Bethlehem for the birth of Christ. Which, by the way — just as a side note — it's pronounced ˈbeth-li-ˌHEM. I hear lots of people say ˈbeth-li-ˌHAM, but trust me there was no ham in Bethlehem, the Jews were not in the process of farming pigs. That will help you remember, there is no ham in Bethlehem. Now maybe they will omit that joke from the final tape and maybe they won’t, but we will see, we’ll leave that up to the editors. Okay, verse 6:
And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered.
And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.
And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ”Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” [or among “people of good will.”
You can translate it either way.]
This is beautiful, beautiful passage.
There is so much there we could talk about.
For our purposes here, given some time constraints, I just want to make a couple of quick points.
Number one, this whole text is structured and focused in order to reveal that Jesus is the Davidic king.
That he is the heir to the kingdom of David.
In other words, that he is the long awaited Messiah.
That's why Luke, two times, references the city of Bethlehem.
For example, if you go back to 1 Samuel 16, Bethlehem was the town of Jesse and the town of David's family.
So Luke’s emphasizing Bethlehem to show you that Jesus isn't just any kind of King, he is a Davidic king, he is an heir to the Davidic throne, a member of the Davidic family, because it was the kingdom of David that God had promised, back in the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 7, that it would last forever.
Yet, in the Old Testament, within a couple hundred years, the Kingdom of David is in shambles.
Within 500 years, a little over 500 years, it's been disbursed to the four winds with the Babylonian overthrow of the Jews in the exile at the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel in 587 B.C.
So if you're living in the first century A.D. and you’re a Jew and you see God promise David that his kingdom will last forever, it pretty much looks like He's failed, that God's promises have not come to pass, that He hasn't kept His word.
So when the angel appears and says “there's good news, unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord,” he is not just saying “oh, here is a king,” he is saying “the promises of God are coming to fulfillment from the Old Testament.”
So Jesus is the Davidic king, he's the Messiah, he is the anointed one.
But he is not just the Davidic king, he's also the divine king.
The angel says something interesting here.
He says “unto you is born this day a savior, who is Christ.”
That's the word for the anointed one, Christos
But he is not just Christ, he is Christ the Lord
, and the Greek word here for “the Lord” is Kyrios
We get the expression Kyrie, Eleison
from this (Lord, have mercy).
Kyrios is an interesting word because although in some contexts it can be used to refer to a figure of royalty, like a British Lord, a human being who has some power or authority over others, it also is the primary name for God in the Old Testament.
So if you read the Old Testament in Hebrew, you are going to see the name of God over and over again, thousands of times, as Yahweh
— that is a modern pronunciation, we are not exactly sure how it was pronounced – YHWH, the sacred name of God, the Lord.
But in the Greek Bible, the Old Testament, that gets translated as Kyrios
thousands of times.
So in order to understand the meaning, you have to look at the context.
And in this context, Luke appears to be revealing to us, especially after the virginal conception that Jesus isn't just the Christ, he is Christ, the Lord.
He's the divine Davidic king, he's the divine son of God, not just the son of David so to speak, not just the heir to the Davidic throne.
So he’s Christos
, the anointed one, the translation of the word Messiah, and he is Kyrios
, the translation of the Hebrew word for the Lord.
Now if you have any doubts about that emphasis whatsoever, you just go back to the Old Testament reading for today.
The Old Testament reading is from Isaiah 9 and, as you might have suspected by now if you've been following the Advent readings, it's another prophecy.
In this case it's very much a prophecy of the king of Israel.
But it's interesting because this King both looks like an earthly king but he also seems to be divine.
So let's look at Isaiah 9:2, the first reading:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
Thou hast multiplied the nation, thou hast increased its joy; they rejoice before thee as with joy at the harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as on the day of Mid'ian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
In other words, there is not going to be any war anymore.
Why, how could there possibly be an end to war?
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
If you're hearing Handel's Messiah
in your mind right now, that is because this is where he gets from, Isaiah chapter 9.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David, and over his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
What an amazing prophecy.
What do we make of that?
Well, if you look at that passage from Isaiah, again you can see the same two themes that you see in Luke.
On the one hand, it's a prophecy of a future Davidic king, a future King descended from David who will not just sit upon the throne of David but who will revive and restore the kingdom of David which God had promised will last for ever.
So on the one level its a human king, the Messiah.
On the other hand, there is that verse that sticks out there, where he says “Wonderful God…Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,” and he describes the king as mighty God.
Now in the New American Bible, which we use in the lectionary, the translation there is a little off because it says he shall be called God-Hero.
It is not a completely inaccurate translation of the Hebrew.
The Hebrew word is El gibor. El
means God and gibor
does mean mighty or strong, but it puts the emphasis in a way that is not as clear in the English.
This is a king who is mighty, and somehow appears to be God.
He has the qualities of divinity, and from ancient times the Church saw in this prophecy a literal fulfillment in the incarnation of Jesus.
He isn’t just mighty like God, he actually is God, he is the divine son of God.
So that's the readings from Midnight Mass and there is one last point that I would like to make.
What about the readings for Midnight Mass in the living tradition?
Well there is so much commentary on the account of the birth of Jesus in Luke — if you look at the writings of the Church Fathers — one of my favorite spiritual applications that they draw out from the account of the birth of Jesus in Luke is the imagery of Jesus wrapped in his swaddling clothes and laid in a manger at Bethlehem.
If you recall for a second, the manger was a food trough for the animals to eat from.
Sometimes you will hear songs or people today say that Jesus was born in a manger.
He was not born in a manger, a manger is a food trough.
He was born in a cave or in some kind of stable, but he is laid in the food trough, in the manger, by Mary to give him a little bed.
So many of the Church Fathers saw in the imagery of Jesus, the infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, a kind of prophecy of two events.
First, swaddling clothes point forward to his shroud that his body would be wrapped in after the crucifixion.
If you know ancient practices or if you are familiar with this, when they would wrap a baby in swaddling clothes, they would wrap it in bands of cloth very tightly to keep the body together, so it almost looks like a little shroud for the baby.
So the Fathers saw that swaddling clothes as pointing forward to the passion, death and burial of Jesus, but they also saw the manger as a prefiguration of the fact that in dying, Christ would become food for the whole world.
So it's a prefiguration of the Eucharist, that Christ, the babe in Bethlehem, is food for the whole world.
If you have any doubts about that, they pointed out that the name of the very city in Hebrew, Bethlehem
, means house of bread. Beth
means house and lehem
So Jesus, the bread of life, is born in the house of bread and laid in a manger to be bread for the life of the world.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
[Paul] came to Antioch of Pisid′ia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:
“Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it.
And then it skips down to verse 22:
And when he had removed [King Saul], he raised up David to be their king; of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
Alright, so let’s pause there with this second reading from the vigil Mass. Why does the Church choose this reading for the vigil Mass of the feast of Christmas?
In essence, I think it’s because it’s a nice summary of everything that we’ve been looking at during the season of Advent. So if you recall, during Advent season (the first Sunday of Advent), we begin by looking at the message of the coming of Christ, the parousia
of Jesus, and then we begin quickly to back up to His first parousia
, His first coming and the preparation for that coming that we hear from in the ministry of St. John the Baptist—his public proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of God and not just the coming of the kingdom of God, but of the coming of one after him, who would be greater than him, and whose sandals he is not worthy to untie...who (as Paul identifies here) is the Savior, the Messiah from the house of David.
Now, I think for most of us, when we think about the coming of the Messiah, we just think about the idea of a long awaited Messianic king who comes to bring salvation to the people of Israel. And that’s, of course, absolutely right. But notice that one line there in Paul’s speech at Antioch that jumps out—that God says:
...I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart…
...and from his posterity, God will bring Israel a Savior. So throughout the Advent season, many of you may have actually had a Jesse tree in your home. And the idea of the Jesse tree is rooted in a prophecy from the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 11) that describes the coming of the Messiah as a shoot sprouting from the branch of Jesse’s tree, which has been cut down and it’s become a stump.
And so what Paul is saying here in his speech to the people at Antioch is that that long awaited shoot from the stump of Jesse, that Messianic branch from the tree of David, by which the kingdom of God will be established, and for which the people of Israel were waiting, is Jesus of Nazareth. He is the long awaited Savior. And as Savior and as king, He has to come—this is very important—He can’t just come from anywhere. He has to come from the family and the stock of Jesse, who was the father of King David.
By definition, if you look at the prophets, over and over again, the future king who goes on to be called the Messiah, the mashiach
, is not just any kind of king. He’s not a king from the tribe of Benjamin like Saul was. He is a king from the tribe of Judah, from the family and the house of David, from the royal family.
So one of the things that early Christians in going about preaching the good news of Christmas, especially if they’re in places like Paul is here, in Antioch where there’s a large Jewish community. He goes into the synagogue. That’s the Jewish community within Antioch. One of the first things that Christian evangelists had to establish was not just that Jesus was the Messiah, but that He was from the house of David, that He was part of the royal family. Because if He wasn’t from the royal family, He couldn’t be the true king of Israel.
So at this feast of the vigil Mass of Christmas, what Paul is doing is giving the kérugma
, the proclamation, the good news that Jesus of Nazareth—the one who was pre-announced by John the Baptist and then who fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah—is in fact the Savior of the people of Israel. He is in fact the long awaited Messiah from the house of David. He’s the shoot from the stump of Jesse’s tree.
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