Sunday, 30 December 2018

Mass of the Day Christmas 2018

This is the last of the stational Masses as Christmas is the only day in the liturgical year to have four different liturgies associated with it. We ran the gamut of Matthew, Luke and are now finally settling on the Prologue of John. It is read twice in a year—now and also on the feast of St Sylvester on the 31st of Dec (only if it falls on a weekday). The third time on the 2nd Sunday of Christmas is no longer applicable for the Conference of Bishops in our region since the Solemnity of the Epiphany has been moved to a Sunday.

To recap the previous Masses homilies, Matthew’s genealogy seeks to prove the legitimacy of the True King of the Jews—Jesus the Christ. With so many quotations taken from the Old Testament, Matthew wants the reader to arrive at the conclusion that Jesus is the fulfilment of everything Scriptures have been foretelling. Luke’s narrative is much longer and he provides us with many of the prayers and hymns of praise of the Church’s liturgical prayer: The Magnificat of Mary, the Benedictus of Zechariah, the Nunc Dimittis of Simeon, the Gloria of the Angels and the first half of the Hail Mary which combines the greetings of the Angel Gabriel and Elizabeth. Since the Holy Spirit is mentioned seven times, He is the drive that directs the narration that Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world.

Finally, we have here the Prologue. Whilst both Matthew and Luke focused on the historical circumstances surrounding the Incarnation and the Birth of the Christ, John brings us back into the heart of the mystery of who God is. This is the account of God becoming Man: Verbo caro factum est. And yet, that is not the main message of John’s Gospel.

Yes, the context for the use of the Prologue is Christmas and it might seem to describe the Incarnation of God as man. But, the primary message of the Prologue is to be found in these verses.

He came to His own and His own people did not accept Him. But to those who did accept Him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in His name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God Himself. Jn 1: 11-13

The story of Christ’s birth is now the proverbial ball that has landed in our court. Yesterday I spoke of two themes—Christ is the Saviour of the world and His Church has this mission to bring the light of His salvation to the world. By virtue of our baptism, we become His light for those who are still waiting to dispel the cloud of ignorance from their minds and we are to be the Good News for those longing for the grace of the Gospel.

In short, the buck stops with us. Christmas, the feast of the birth of the Saviour calls for our decision. What shall it be? Whilst it is true that Christmas details the birth of the Saviour, the reality of His birth is not a neutral fact. His coming challenges us to accept or reject His message or the claim that He is truly the Son of God.

The thing about Christmas is that we have been celebrating it already and tomorrow most of the decorations will be taken down in the commercial world, in preparation for the next wave of sales for the coming major festival, that is Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day. We too might be led to thinking that Christmas is over but really, today is the start of the season and the 12 days of Christmas is counted from today. Tomorrow, the memorial of St Stephen the protomartyr gives us a glimpse of the fate awaiting those who have accepted to become children of God and three days later, the Holy Innocents lay down their lives for the only One who is truly Innocent.

The moment we accept Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour, as the Saviour of the world, the reckoning would have begun. For many of us, we will not be as privileged as St Stephen though I think many of us would prefer to decline the red crown of martyrdom, that is, we naturally shy away from the shedding of our blood. But mind you, the white crown of martyrdom is no less daunting or even less weightier than the red crown of martyrdom. Discipleship is either red or white or even both. Most of us are called to embrace white martyrdom.

You, your very self, your work, your family, your successes, your failures, your wealth, your poverty, your health, your illnesses are loci where the discipleship of Jesus becomes real. Hence, whatever and wherever, can He be the centre of your life? The ball is definitely in our court. The decision has to be made by us. If we say aye, are we willing to pay the price of Christmas? The answer “Yes” places us in the right place. Why? It is no coincidence that Bethlehem means the House of Bread. We often think that the first Eucharist took place in the Cenacle. Its origin goes back way before the Apostles found the Upper Room. The manger was the first ciborium and the cave was the aboriginal tabernacle. The body of the little baby lying in the manger is the same body that lies in our tabernacles all over the world. The only difference is that the same Body is now veiled under the appearance of Bread and Wine. Through His Body and Blood, He is able to give us His grace so that our YES of either white or red martyrdom can be strengthened. Come, Lord Jesus, come.