Gospel Reflections

Feast of the Nativity Midnight

Luke 2:1-14

Feast Day Reflection by Sister Marion Cotty

Published: December 25, 2015


At midnight Mass for Christmas, the Gospel of Luke has two short passages: the birth of Mary’s firstborn Son, and the angel’s message to the shepherds. “Firstborn” refers to privileges: inheritance, consecration, and blessings. This does not mean that Mary gave birth to other sons. The Church teaches that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus.

In the first scene, Luke tells of a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled, and in this way, he locates the birth of Jesus in a time of peace, pax Augustus. Though scholars question the dating of the census and the timing of Quirinius’ governorship, the registration of citizens in their hometowns brings Joseph and Mary, his betrothed, from Nazareth of Galilee to Bethlehem, the city of David in Judea. While there, the time comes for Mary to deliver the Child in her womb; she gives birth to her Son, wraps him in swaddling clothes, and lays him in a manger because there was no room in the inn. Peace and poverty are themes in Luke’s Gospel which are poignant then and even now.

In the second scene of that evening long ago, the lifting up of the poor continues with the Lord’s message of the angel to the shepherds. “Do not be afraid, for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy, that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Luke sees Jesus as Savior, the One who saves humanity from sin and alienation from God. The Hebrew Messiah, “the anointed” in Greek is “Christos.”  Luke’s most frequent title for Jesus is Lord, signifying both dominion and transcendence over all human life.

Suddenly a multitude of the heavenly host appear with the angels singing: "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." Another translation of this message is “peace, good will toward men.” This translation is from the Byzantine tradition and is acceptable, but “on whom his favor rests” is from the Western and Alexandrian traditions. This is the preferred translation and probably more acceptable today. Luke’s narration will continue in Masses at dawn and during Christmas day. Lord Jesus, you are here. Help us to repent of sin and to resist evil with your nonviolent Love.

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