Christmas Eve at Mississippi Abbey
Scripture Readings: Gal 4:4; Luke 1:67-79
We are very blessed to begin this new liturgical year with the infancy story of St. Luke. His gospel story of the birth of Jesus carries with it three implications for our relationship with God.
The first is that, as John the Baptist announced at his baptism of repentance, this birth heralds a new age of salvation. It was previously believed that salvation came from careful observance of the Mosaic Law. As we read last week, “[Zechariah & Elizabeth] were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly.” Now, as Luke tells us, the life of this infant will show us that faith in Him, as shown in a life of repentance and love, will make us receptive of salvation as a gratuitous gift of the Father. This is a new age!
Secondly, this new age will cause a reversal of fortune, a change in what we value and how much we value it. As we see in Mary’s Magnificat, the rich and powerful will be humbled and the poor and lowly will be exalted. First-born sons in those days were typically welcomed by minstrels who showed up to celebrate the birth. None showed up for this child. Instead a choir of angels appeared to shepherds (low on the social scale) and the angels sang “Glory to God in the highest.” When we say that there will be a change in what we value we are not saying temporal things are evil; only that they are temporary. We are saying that we will set our hope instead on what is eternal.
Thirdly, this reversal tells us that only those who humble themselves before God, who place their greatest hope in Him, will be exalted.
All this will happen because God’s love is total and self-emptying. We, made in His image and likeness, are missioned to replicate and reciprocate this self-emptying. Due to Original Sin we find a tension between this self-giving and selfishness. It is the Trinity that shows us this self-emptying: The Father is self-emptying because He gives us freedom. He renounced control over us so that we could use our freedom to love Him or to ignore Him and live for self.
The Son is self-emptying, as shown in Phil 2:5-11, because He assumed our human condition, though without the inclination to selfishness, and showed us how to use our freedom to love and obey the Father.
The Holy Spirit the Son gave to us is self-emptying because it is the faceless anonymity of the love of the Father and Son. So when we say that “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less”, we are remembering the humility of God.
Tonight we will see the humility of the newborn child who has come “”to set us free from the hand of our enemies (selfishness), free to worship Him without fear…all the days of our life.”
It will be gratuitously given rather than merited. It is indeed the birth of a new age. Tonight “Good News” is coming!
Christmas Eve at Mississippi Abbey
[Scripture Readings: 2 Sam 7:1-5, 8b-11, 16; Lk 1:67-79]
In this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy this is a fitting gospel to prepare us for tonight. Zechariah tells us “He has raised up for us a mighty savior who will free us from our foes … that, free from fear, we might serve Him all the days of our life in holiness and justice.” What are foes and fear about?
It is very significant that our Jubilee Year of Mercy began on the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. The first reading that day re-told the consequences of original sin: separation from God and often from each other. The enduring effect of the separation was self-centeredness expressed through disobedience and rivalry. Self-centeredness is our foe, the source of our fear that is the chief obstacle to serving God in holiness and justice all the days of our life.
Self-centered fear keeps us turned in on self. We are sensitive to hurts we've suffered that seem to have stolen our lives from us, twisted our free choice, and made it simply impossible to just set these hurts aside. We find ourselves begging for something we cannot produce ourselves. That something is mercy.
“Mercy” is what God shows us in response to this dilemma. “Mercy” is used twice in this Canticle to show its importance in the promised liberation: First, the purpose of the sending of a savior is to fulfill the promise “to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant” (v.72). Secondly, Zechariah's son will make known to His people their salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. Then the tender mercy, the loving-kindness, of our God will come upon us gradually, but most assuredly, like the dawn from on high. (v.78)
It is because of this mercy that the human heart can at last value truthfully. And tonight we'll find out why.