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Monday, December 22, 2014

Readings for Christmas Day: Christmas isn’t about celebrating the Birth of Jesus


Yes, I know that's quite a provocative title and I did toy with Christmas isn't primarily about celebrating the Birth of Jesus, but you can see which one I settled for.


Now, don’t get me wrong, Jesus’ birth is a significant part of Christmas, which is why we focus on it on Christmas Eve, but it’s not the primary point. This can be seen in the Gospel reading for Christmas day, which in most lectionaries, is John 1:1–18. This passage nowhere mentions Jesus' birth account but instead is an account of the eternal generation of Christ and the advent of His light in the world. The accompanying Hebrews reading this year, serves to highlight this. Christmas is not simply Jesus’ birthday, but a remembrance and celebration of the incarnation.  In this sense Christmas is a sacrament: a visible sign of an invisible thing. It is a time in which we remember the highest outward sign of the inward grace God offers to the world. God  gives expression of his love in the universal language of flesh and blood, and offers the world a grace that communicates the totality of human existence – humanity itself.


The focus on incarnation rather than birthday calls us to remember that we are called to be incarnational people, people who are the very presence of Christ in the world now. Teresa of Avila's well known quote sums this up:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”


Here are the readings for Christmas Day:
Isaiah 52:7–10
How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
    who bring good tidings,
    who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
    “Your God reigns!”
 Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
    together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
    they will see it with their own eyes.
 Burst into songs of joy together,
    you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
 The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
    in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
    the salvation of our God.

Psalm 98
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    for he has done marvelous things;
his right hand and his holy arm
    have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known
    and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
    and his faithfulness to Israel;
all the ends of the earth have seen
    the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth,
    burst into jubilant song with music;
make music to the Lord with the harp,
    with the harp and the sound of singing,
with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn—
    shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea resound, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
    let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the Lord,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples with equity.


Hebrews 1:1–4 (5–12)
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.


John 1:1–14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

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