The Lord Is My Chef Noche Buena Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II Thursday, Mass at Christmas Eve, 24 December 2020 Isaiah 62:1-5 >><)))*> Acts 13:16-17, 22-25 >><)))*> Matthew 1:18-25
A blessed Merry Christmas to everyone!
One good thing with this ongoing pandemic is the retrieval and return to the basic meanings of our many traditions, rites and rituals in the Church, beginning with Lent and Easter last summer. The same thing is happening this Christmas Season when we have to accommodate more people amid our health protocols that we have revived the oft-neglected Vigil Mass of the Nativity of the Lord.
It is partly true that our December 25 celebration of Christ’s birth has something to do with the Christianization of some ancient pagan practices in Rome like the “sol invictus” or “invincible sun” introduced in 274 by Emperor Aurelius. When Emperor Constantine rose to power whose mother was Queen Helen or Sta. Elena of our Santacruzan fame, Christianity was finally accepted in Rome giving rise to the new religion and the Church. After the Peace of Constantine of 313, the feast of the Nativity of the Lord replaced the pagan celebration of the sun. Jesus is now seen as the fulfillment of the prophecy as “Sun of justice” (Mal. 3:20) while at the same time, we find in John 8:12 Christ calling himself as “the Light of the world”.
Eventually in Rome developed the three Masses of Christmas: the night Mass referred to as Midnight Mass even if it does not have to be at midnight adapted from the Christian tradition in Bethlehem of having night Mass on January 6, the Epiphany; during the fifth century, the Pope brought this to Rome after the Council of Ephesus but celebrated it on December 24 at the Church of St. Mary Major to stress the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. On Christmas Day before dawn, the Pope would go to the Church of Anastasia to celebrate Mass for the anniversary of the Greek colony in Rome where the reading was taken from Luke about the visit of the shepherds to the newborn baby Jesus before celebrating the Mass at St. Peter’s where the reading was taken this time from the Gospel according to John.
Vatican II deemed it right that aside from these three traditional Masses of Christmas to add the Vigil Mass in the afternoon or early evening of the 24th as it has always been customary to have a vigil on the eve of every great feast “to prolong the day” like what we have on Saturday afternoon when we celebrate the Sunday Mass. Unfortunately, the Vigil Mass of Christmas is rarely celebrated due to practical reasons we have the three traditional Masses.
Now we have it again for practical purposes – the very same reason it used to be skipped before – to accommodate the expected large number of people going to Mass every Christmas while we observe the health protocols against COVID-19 that has been rapidly spreading again lately with the season.
It is perhaps providential that we need to celebrate anew this Vigil Mass of Christmas as a beautiful reminder to us not only of the birth of Jesus Christ but also of our own coming and birth. St. John Paul II said in 1995 that “every birthday is a small Christmas because with the birth of every person comes Jesus Christ” (Evangelium Vitae).
Our genealogy in Jesus and birth from God
For the Vigil Mass, we heard again Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing the roots of our Lord and Savior from David and Abraham, the two most prominent people of Old Testament: it was to David that God promised from whom will come the eternal king while it was to Abraham who was given the promise of fatherhood to all nations (https://lordmychef.com/2020/12/16/the-problem-with-beginning/).
Recall in our reflection last December 17 how Matthew structured the genealogy of Jesus as well as the history of Israel around David by having three sets of 14 generations from Abraham to David, then from his son and successor Solomon to the Babylonian exile, and from their return to Israel to Christ’s coming.
But here is the more interesting part of the genealogy and history of Jesus by Matthew: with God’s sending of His Son Jesus Christ, there came a shift of focus in the structure of peoples and history from being centered on the imperfect King David to the perfect true King of the universe, Jesus Christ!
Whereas the world had to wait to three sets of fourteen generations to experience redemption and freedom, our lives are now centered and structured on Jesus Christ our eternal King with everyday a new beginning to rise again to new life.
See how from Christ’s day of birth, history became “His story” when our lives are all seen in relation to Him in the way we reckon time as “AD” for Anno Domini as Year of the Lord or “BC” for Before Christ. Lately, historians have preferred to use the initials CE for Christian Era or BCE for Before Christian Era but it is all the same with Jesus as point reference of history and time.
What does it mean to us today as we celebrate the Lord’s birth?
Christmas has given us our new origin with faith in Jesus Christ as our true genealogy for we are all birth from God our Father!
We remain as God’s first love
“You shall be called by anew name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord. No more shall men call you “Forsaken”, or your land “Desolate”, but you shall be called “My Delight”, and your land “Espoused”. For the Lord delights in you, and makes your land his spouse. As a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you.”Isaiah 62:2, 4-5
Our first reading tonight fits perfectly well Matthew’s story of how the birth of Jesus came about, telling us how the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream so he would marry her after explaining her pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit.
Every year in Simbang Gabi we reflect on this mission of Joseph to give the name “Jesus” to the child to be born by Mary (https://lordmychef.com/2020/12/16/our-origin-and-mission-in-jesus-christ-2/).
The giving of name in the Bible always means authority that is why God tasked the first man He created to name every creature in paradise. The same is true with our parents giving us names or sweethearts calling us with other names exclusively theirs only like terms of endearment.
But in this part of Isaiah’s prophecy, God once again is demonstrating His all-powerful creativity to give a new breath of life to Israel His chosen people long held in captivity now set to go free, no longer called Forsaken or Desolate but now My Delight and the land Espoused.
In giving His people with new names, God reasserts His taking “possession” of not only Israel but of us all. The original meaning of the word “to espouse” as in “Espoused” found in Is. 62:4 can’t really be translated directly but very close “to possess” which is what a spouse means, the partner being possessed by the other. But possession here is not selfish; in fact, it is more of giving and sharing as indicated by the imagery of wedding, of unity that leads to joy. Recall also how Pope Francis explained in his recent letter “Patris Corde” (With a Father’s Heart) what is to truly “possess” persons based on the virtue of chastity like St. Joseph (https://lordmychef.com/2020/12/17/loving-with-a-fathers-heart-like-st-joseph/).
Tonight on this Vigil Mass we are reminded how the Son of God Jesus Christ came to live among us to remind us and conclude as well God’s covenant with mankind that we are His first love, a love that never dies, a love He continues to renew in us daily.
Like Joseph who gave the name Jesus to the child born by Mary, may we keep in mind and heart that we are from God, that we are His, that we must continue to relate with Him no matter what is our status in life like those imperfect, weak and sinful men and women in Christ’s genealogy.
Let us rejoice this Christmas in our first love too, God, our one and only. Amen.
A blessed Christmas to you!