Christ’s constant presence gives light to the darkness
December is the darkest month of the year. Its first 20 days are a progression into ever longer nights until the 21st of December, when we experience in the Northern Hemisphere the longest day of darkness of the year.
The Church reacts to this natural phenomenon by turning on full blast the spiritual lights of our faith. Each month normally has four or five major liturgies depending on the number of Sundays in that month. In December, the Church makes use of no less than 11 major liturgies. There are the four Sundays of Advent to start with. There are two Marian feasts by means of which the Church presents the light of grace that God promised us from the beginning. Of course, there are four distinct and magnificent liturgies of Christmas. And, finally, there is the feast of the Holy Family. All provide us divine light to overcome the lonely darkness of outer space filling our minds with fear.
Giving each one of these liturgies the attention they deserve would drive us well beyond the available space in this paper and the time you have to read. So, this article will focus on the four Sundays of Advent and how each of them demonstrates a different aspect of divine light dawning on the world. Then we’ll briefly describe some of the bright lights of the Christmas Day liturgies. But, first, we’ll begin with Mary, that constant star faithfully pointing us toward deeper relationship with her Son.
Her two December feasts are monumental for us in the new world. The Immaculate Conception is the feast of the patroness of our beloved country. Our Lady of Guadalupe is the feast of the Americas. In both of these feasts Mary is depicted as a true star. She is the bright light in a dark sky. As Adam and Eve faced the gloom of living their lives stuck in sinfulness, God gave mankind the hope of a woman whose son would crush the serpent’s head, thus destroying the darkness that threatens man’s souls. In the Gospel, we hear of Mary’s acceptance of that role as the virgin Mother of God. She becomes the most important Christmas star leading us constantly to her son, Jesus.
We celebrate one gigantic instance of Mary taking on her vocation of illuminating her Son in human history on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She comes in a robe of stars to a Native American. The readings of that day remind us of the sign in the Book of Revelation of the woman in the sky about to give birth. She is about to give birth to millions of new Christians throughout all the countries of the Western Hemisphere as she speaks endearingly to Juan Diego and opens his heart to the love of Christ.
These two Marian feasts provide us with enough light to make our way through a dark Earth to remain faithful until the dawn of the light of Christ at Christmas.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the four Sundays of Advent. In contrast to the darkness of December, these liturgies each present us with a different type of dawning. Our Messiah is coming. The light is getting stronger. As the first rays of the sun trickle over the horizon, so, through Sunday liturgies of Advent, we will experience the dawning of peace, justice, hope, and salvation.
On the first Sunday of Advent, we experience the dawning of peace. Isaiah raises our hope and expectation that peace is coming with the words engraved outside the United Nations headquarters, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks…one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again….O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” One can feel true joy as our Lord comes to put an end to all mankind’s conflicts.
Paul tells us to “throw away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” That is to say, this dawn does not come to us from the sky; but from within ourselves. We become heralds of a new age as we repel the darkness of the world, wearing the armor of light. The world becomes ever brighter as our numbers increase.
The Gospel is from the 24th chapter of Matthew. This is where the evangelist begins Jesus’ teaching on the last times. People go about their ordinary routine. It is like immediately before dawn, when the sky becomes ever so slightly brighter that you can hardly notice. However, it is dawn and those who know it’s coming become aware and awaken to the light. Others, in the words of the Gospel, “will have the thief come without notice and his house will be broken into.” The thief steals peace; one has to be prepared.
On the second Sunday of Advent, we experience the dawning of justice. Isaiah, again, sets the stage. “…He shall judge the poor with justice and decide aright for the land’s afflicted…. Justice shall be the band upon his waist, and faithfulness a belt around his hips. Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb.” The dawn of justice will be a time when both sides of a conflict will feel the triumph of justice. And, the light will shine.
Paul continues this train of thought as he writes to the Romans, May the “God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another….Welcome one another…as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Paul reveals to us that such an act of welcoming makes the glory of God shine brighter.
In the Gospel, Matthew takes us to the desert where John the Baptist prepares us to meet the dawn. For John, the key to justice is repentance. We must see things in an entirely different way and, thereby, produce good fruit.
On the third Sunday of Advent, we experience the dawning of hope. Once again, Isaiah presents the theme. “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not.” The opposite of fear is hope. Isaiah prophesies that those the Lord will ransom “will leap like a stag…crowned with everlasting joy.”
St. James, in the second reading counsels his readers to “be patient until the coming of the Lord.” The hope that comes from patience cures a complaining attitude and makes our hearts firm and our voices able to speak in the name of the Lord.
Matthew’s Gospel takes us back to the last days of John the Baptist. Even in prison John continues to send his disciples to Jesus. He remains filled with hope as he continues his mission. He commands them to ask Jesus if he is the one who is to come or not. Jesus tells them to see what he is doing. Looking, they see for themselves that Jesus is doing the work of the Messiah. The dawning of the Kingdom of God is, indeed, at hand.
On the fourth Sunday of Advent, we experience the dawning of salvation. For the fourth time Isaiah sets the scene. This time we are in the throne room of Ahaz, the king of Judah. Jerusalem is surrounded by an overwhelming enemy. Isaiah asks him to ask God for a sign. The king refuses. Still, Isaiah persists and gives him God’s sign, “the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” God is with us! Salvation is at hand. With the greatest army in the world ready to attack, salvation comes to Israel. The enemy did retreat. It was not because of those defending Jerusalem; but because the Lord saved them.
St. Paul identifies this salvation with Jesus Christ, who was established as the Son of God in power through his resurrection from the dead. Then, Paul addresses his readers in Rome as “the beloved of God called to be holy and called to belong to Jesus Christ.” There is the sound of joy in Paul’s letter. It is the joy of salvation dawning. Christ is near!
As one should expect for the last Sunday Gospel before Christmas, the Gospel is the story of Joseph receiving the message from an angel that Mary is to be the mother of Jesus, who “will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is the savior. The dawning of salvation is at hand. Despite the darkness and despite the evil into which humanity has fallen, the Son of God has come and the world is covered in light. The dawn has come!
Now we come to the four Masses of Christmas, namely the vigil Mass, midnight Mass, the Mass at dawn and the Mass during the day. Today, for the people of faith, darkness turns out to have been an illusion. The true reality is the brightness of the Son of God, born for us. He is our peace, our justice, our hope, and our salvation. Advent has proven true. The light is alive within us. All is bright.
As it was for Advent, the vigil Mass of Christmas begins with Isaiah proclaiming we are no more “forsaken” but “espoused.” We are the bride of Christ. Paul preaches in Antioch the good news that God has brought to Israel a Savior. The Gospel relates the genealogy of Jesus showing he was coming all this time. God has been with us. There was indeed a light dawning in this world.
The Mass during the night again begins with Isaiah proclaiming, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Therefore, we can now be eternally joyful. We have good news to share. “A child has been born to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests.” True peace has come. St. Paul translates these concepts into New Testament language, “the grace of God has appeared.” And the Gospel of Luke recalls the announcement of the birth of our Savior to the shepherds by angels. Forever, the glory of the Lord shall shine.
The Mass at dawn begins with Isaiah telling us the Lord God proclaims that our Savior comes! The people are redeemed. Paul, again, translates that into “Christian,” telling us that we have been justified by faith “through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he richly poured out on us through Jesus Christ, our Savior.” Luke’s Gospel follows the shepherds on Christmas night. They find the child and make known to Joseph and Mary what the angels told them about Jesus. “Then the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God.” So should we in the glory of the new day.”
Finally, we come to the Mass during the day. Wouldn’t you be disappointed if it didn’t begin with a passage from Isaiah? Sure enough, the prophetic eyes of Isaiah see the glory of the Lord. Accordingly, he accurately tells us to listen to the good news.
We are redeemed and comforted and saved. We have nothing left to do but rejoice, sing, and shout for joy. Darkness is no more. Then comes the Letter to the Hebrews reminding us that God’s Word is now complete because now it comes directly from the Son of God. Christ is now at the right hand of the Father. Salvation is complete. And, finally, the mighty prologue of John’s Gospel comes to put the final touch to the Liturgy of the Word for Christmas. “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
May you all have a bright Christmas!
Sunday, Dec. 1: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122:1-9; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44
Monday, Dec. 2: Isaiah 4:2-6; Psalm 122:1-9; Matthew 8:5-11
Tuesday, Dec. 3: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Luke 10:21-24
Wednesday, Dec. 4: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalm 23:1-6; Matthew 15:29-37
Thursday, Dec. 5: Isaiah 26:1-6; Psalm 118:1, 8-9, 19-21, 25-27; Matthew 7:21, 24-27
Friday, Dec. 6: Isaiah 29:17-24; Psalm 27:1, 4, 13-14; Matthew 9:27-31
Saturday, Dec. 7: Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26; Psalm 147:1-6; Matthew 9:35–10:1 and 10:5-8
Sunday, Dec. 8: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12
Monday, Dec. 9: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Psalm 98:1-4; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38
Tuesday, Dec. 10: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13; Matthew 18:12-14
Wednesday, Dec. 11: Isaiah 40:25-31; Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10; Matthew 11:28-30
Thursday, Dec. 12: Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Zechariah 2:14-17; Judith 13:18-19; Luke 1:26-38
Friday, Dec. 13: Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalm 1:1-4, 6; Matthew 11:16-19
Saturday, Dec. 14: Sirach 48:1-4, 9-11; Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; Matthew 17:9-13
Sunday, Dec. 15: Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Psalm 146:6-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Monday, Dec. 16: Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17; Psalm 25:4-9; Matthew 21:23-27
Tuesday, Dec. 17: Genesis 49:2, 8-10; Psalm 72:1-4, 7-8, 17; Matthew 1:1-17
Wednesday, Dec. 18: Jeremiah 23:5-8; Psalm 72:1-2, 12-13, 18-19; Matthew 1:18-25
Thursday, Dec. 19: Judges 13:2-7, 24-25; Psalm 71:3-6, 16-17; Luke 1:5-25
Friday, Dec. 20: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24:1-6; Luke 1:26-38
Saturday, Dec. 21: Song of Songs 2:8-14; Psalm 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21; Luke 1:39-45
Sunday, Dec. 22: Isaiah 7:10-14; Psalm 24:1-6; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-24
Monday, Dec. 23: Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24; Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 14; Luke 1:57-66
Tuesday, Dec. 24: 2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29; Luke 1:67-79; Solemnity, Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord, Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89:4-5, 16-17, 27, 29; Acts 13:16-17, 22-25; Matthew 1:1-25
Wednesday, Dec. 25: Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord (Christmas Day): (midnight) Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96:1-3, 11-13; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14; (dawn) Isaiah 62:11-12; Psalm 97:1, 6, 11-12; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:15-20; (day) Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98:1-6; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18
Thursday, Dec. 26: Acts 6:8-10 and 7:54-59; Psalm 31:3-4, 6, 8, 16-17; Matthew 10:17-22
Friday, Dec. 27: 1 John 1:1-4; Psalm 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12; John 20:1-8
Saturday, Dec. 28: 1 John 1:5–2:2; Psalm 124:2-5, 7-8; Matthew 2:13-18
Sunday, Dec. 29: Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128:1-5; Colossians 3:12-21; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
Monday, Dec. 30: 1 John 2:12-17; Psalm 96:7-10; Luke 2:36-40
Tuesday, Dec. 31: 1 John 2:18-21; Psalm 96:1-2, 11-13; John 1:1-18
Father Brando is the pastor of St. Mary Parish in Gatlinburg.