The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Mass During the Night
Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
Psalm 95: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13
Titus 2: 11-14
“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” (Is 9:2).
Following the ancient tradition of the Church
you prepared your encounter with the Light
by means of a night vigil of psalmody and reading.
The Word heard became the Word held;
the Word held became the Word offered;
and the Word offered becomes, in this nocturnal Eucharist,
a Light, no longer beheld from without, but blazing within.
“Did not our hearts burn within us
while he talked to us on the road?” (Lk 24:32).
In the sacred liturgy, as in the mystical life,
there are no abrupt arrivals.
The nocturnal journey is indispensable.
Night’s dark mantle veils God’s mysterious work.
One cannot approach the Light
except by passing through the darkness.
In this holy night of Christ’s birth,
as in the brightest and holiest of all nights,
the great and solemn night of his resurrection,
there is a passover, a transitus,
a movement out of darkness
into the marvelous light (1 P 2:9)of the Father
shining on the face of the Son (2 Cor 4:6).
The passage from darkness to light is not sudden and violent;
in the liturgy, as in the cosmos itself,
the process cannot be foreshortened nor hastened.
Night lasts as long as it lasts.
The light of dawn fills the sky at precisely the right moment
and not a moment sooner.
It takes time to wake up.
Even now, the Church is an indulgent mother
giving us time to wipe the sleep from our eyes,
to stretch our limbs,
and to adjust to the radiant splendour of the mystery.
A little while ago, you heard the voice of Saint Leo,
jubilant and majestic.
“You have been rescued from the power of darkness,
and have been transferred
to the light of God” (Sermon I Nativity, 1-3).
Our wondering eyes were not yet adjusted\
to the newness of the light
when quietly and softly
the Son himself began to sing
the mystery of his life with the Father in the Holy Spirit:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son,
today I have begotten you’” (Ps 2:7).
The night grew brighter still with the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).
Saint Paul beheld the growing radiance
and cried out to Titus and to us,
“The grace of God has appeared
for the salvation of all men” (Tit 2:11).
The grace of God!
The Greek word is so rich as to defy a single translation.
It is His beauty, His loveliness, His kindness,
His free gift, His favour, His joy!
The beauty, the loveliness, the kindness,
the free gift, the favour, the joy of God
have appeared for the salvation of all men.
By the beauty of the Infant Christ we are made beautiful;
by the loveliness of the Infant Christ we are made lovable;
by the purity of the Infant Christ we are made pure;
by the kindness of the Infant Christ
we who had grown stony–hearted are softened;
by the free gift of the Infant Christ we who were enslaved are set free;
by the outstretched arms of the Infant Christ
we who were cast out have been gathered in;
by the laughter of the Infant Christ we who were sons and daughters of gloom
have been merrily marked with the seal of unending gladness.
This is the mystery that makes “the night as bright as the day” (Ps 138:12).
This is the mystery by which we are “redeemed from all iniquity” (Tit 2:14).
This is the mystery accomplished by “the zeal of the Lord of hosts” (Is 9:7) precisely for “the salvation of all men” (Tit 2:11).
The birth of Gesù Bambino is the long-awaited appearing of the grace of God in human flesh for the healing of all men,
and especially of grown–ups become serious and sophisticated,
or harried and hard,
or miserable and mirthless.
Let Gesù Bambino smile at you tonight.
His divine smile works wonders in the soul.
The grace of God appears bright and radiant,
shining on a face like our own,
on the face of a Baby whose name is “Mighty God” (Is 9:6).
Here the awesome has become homely,
the terrible familiar,
the immense touchingly small.
The night common to us all
gives way to the Light common to us all.
Saint Leo told us that no one is excluded,
no one kept at a distance, no one refused.
Sinners mingle with saints, and Gentiles with Jews.
The poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind (Lk 14:13)
sing a new song (Ps 95:1)
because Him to whom they could not go
has humbled Himself to come to them.
To us, to each of us and to us all,
as to the shepherds keeping watch in the field by night (Lk 2:8)
the Lord has sent his angels:
David in his psalms,
Isaiah in his prophecies,
Paul in his teaching,
and Luke in his gospel.
The glory of the Lord shines around us,
even as it shone around them (Lk 2:9).
We are enveloped, not in the dim shroud of the night,
but in the brightness of the King of Heaven
come down from the stars.
And over our heads a multitude of angels dance and thrill and soar,
praising God for the appearance of this Child in the midst of men.
This is the mystery that sends us now
to the altar of our God-given sacrifice.
This is the mystery that compels us to lift up our hearts,
to set them in heights once reserved to angel hosts.
Who can withhold thanks in this most blessed night?
Saint Leo has already summoned us to Eucharist:
“My beloved, let us offer thanksgiving to God the Father,
through his Son, in the Holy Spirit” (Sermon I Nativity, 1-3).
The Eucharist is glory to God in the highest;
the Eucharist is peace on earth.
Behold! Glory has been “wrapped in swaddling clothes”
and peace has been “laid in a manger” (Lk 2:12).
Even more, Glory has taken on the taste of bread,
and peace is in the holy chalice
for “the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Is 9:7),
even this. Amen.