Monday, January 15, 2018

Third Sunday OT B

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: Jonah 3:1-5,10  1 Corinthians 7:29-31  Mark 1:14-20

“This is the time of fulfillment.  The Kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel!”  Jesus’ first spoken words in Mark both proclaim the long-awaited arrival of God’s Kingdom and challenge all to repent and believe in this joyous good news.  As we struggle to discern God’s demanding call, each of us can pray in the words of the responsorial psalm: “Teach me your ways, O Lord” (Ps 25).
To understand the startling message of the first reading from Jonah, we must know something about this peculiar Biblical book.  It is a didactic short story (only four chapters), written as a challenge to the stereotypes of the Israelite prophetic tradition on the basis of God’s merciful action even to the hated foreign enemy.  Usually a prophet, however reluctantly, responds to his call, but invariably the chosen peoples of Israel and Judah refuse to listen to the prophet’s message.  But in the story of Jonah this situation is reversed.  When called to preach against the wicked and hated Assyrian city of Nineveh, Jonah flees by ship in the opposite direction.  Only after being cast into the sea and spending three days in the belly of a great fish, does he reluctantly perform his task.  In contrast to the reluctant prophet, the pagan Ninevites surprisingly respond to Jonah’s preaching with belief and immediate repentance, something both Israel and Judah repeatedly fail to do.  Although it took three days to go through Nineveh, after a single day of Jonah’s preaching the whole city repents in sack-cloth and ashes, and God relents in the punishment he threatened against it.
In the section following our reading, Jonah is angry with the Lord for showing mercy to the hated enemy city.  He leaves Nineveh and waits to see what will happen to it.  God challenges his blind hatred through the lesson of a gourd plant which he gives as shade to Jonah for only a single day.  When the plant dies, Jonah is angry and asks for death himself.  But God reminds him: “You are concerned over the plant which cost you no labor and which you did not raise; it came up in one night and in one night it perished.  And should I not be concerned over Nineveh, the great city, in which there are more than a hundred thousand persons who cannot distinguish their right hand from their left, not to mention many cattle?” (Jonah 4:10-11)                                                          
Upon first hearing, the second reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians seems out of step with a Christian commitment to responsible living in this world.  Filled with expectation of Jesus’ triumphant return, Paul seems to advocate ignoring our normal human obligations.  Although Paul’s rhetoric may jar our more practical sensibilities, he is emphasizing the radical demands of Christian living which must never completely identify worldly projects with God’s Kingdom.  Paul lived with an apocalyptic sense of urgency.  Jesus, the Messiah, had come and triumphed over sin and death through his cross and resurrection.  God’s renewal of the world has begun, and then Christ will return in triumph to complete the new creation.  Christians, living in the interim before Christ’s triumphant return, should live for the renewed kingdom of God, rather than this passing sinful world. “From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.”
The Gospel selection from Mark contrasts the momentous arrival of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ initial preaching with the rather humble beginnings of that kingdom in the call of four Galilean fishermen.  Mark has prepared us for this critical moment by his previous narrative.  John’s appearance in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy announcing the coming of God’s messenger (Mark 1:2-5).  John then foretold the coming of a “mightier one,” and Jesus came to be baptized.  At Jesus’ baptism the heavens were rent and God’s Spirit descended upon him, as a heavenly voice spoke to him: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (1:6-11).  The Spirit then drove Jesus into the wilderness to battle Satan with prayer and fasting for forty days and nights (1:12-13).  Now, as Jesus begins his mission, he proclaims God’s good news: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The kingdom of God is at hand.  Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  We might well expect that the world is about to end.  Instead, Mark follows this announcement with Jesus’ calling ordinary fishermen to accompany him on his mission of gathering people for the kingdom, like fisherman catching fish (see Jer 16:16).

This simple, straightforward story, however, presents the radical character of Christian discipleship. First of all, Jesus reverses the practices of discipleship in his day.  Ordinarily, the would-be scholar, interested in studying the Law, chose a rabbi as his teacher.  In contrast, Jesus takes the initiative in choosing his own followers by authoritatively commanding these ordinary workmen: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Secondly, Jesus’ call demands a break from “business as usual” so that Simon and Andrew “immediately abandon their nets” and become Jesus’ followers.  James and John also leave their father Zebedee and go off in Jesus’ company.  The arrival of God’s Kingdom in Jesus turns the world upside down and calls for a radical re-ordering of his followers’ lives.

Monday, January 8, 2018

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time B

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3-10,19  1 Corinthians 6:13-15  John 1:35-42

As the Church begins a short period of Ordinary Time between the end of the Christmas season and Lent, the Lectionary presents us with the mystery of God’s call, often mediated by others, but always leading to a personal encounter with the living God, who invites us in the words of Jesus: “Come and see.”  Our response should be the refrain for today’s responsorial psalm: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will” (Ps 40).
In the first reading Samuel’s call occurs in a time of darkness for Israel but results in the restoration of the light of God’s revelation.  At the end of the period of judges, the tribes of Israel had fallen into religious, moral and political-social chaos (see Judges 17-21).  Even the priestly family of Eli, which had charge of the ark at the Shiloh sanctuary, was corrupted by greed for sacrificial offerings and sexual immorality (see 1 Samuel 1-2).  In the opening lines of 1 Samuel 3 Eli’s physical blindness and sleep accentuate Israel’s deepening darkness.  Yet the lamp of God is not fully extinguished, as the young Samuel has been brought by Hannah, his pious mother, to serve in the temple of the Lord. “During the time young Samuel was minister to the Lord under Eli,a revelation of the Lord was uncommon and a vision infrequent. One day Eli was asleep in his usual place. His eyes had lately grown so weak that he could not see. The lamp of God was not yet extinguished, and Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was.” No wonder neither Samuel nor Eli initially understand that the Lord is calling the young boy.  Once Eli realizes that the Lord is beginning to speak again through Samuel, he instructs the youth to make himself open to the revelation with the words: “Speak, for you servant is listening.”  This generous response leads to the restoration of God’s word to Israel.  The reading concludes: “Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.”
During this early section of Ordinary Time in all three cycles of the Lectionary, the Church reads from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians.  In chapters 5-6 Paul is answering ethical problems that have divided the Corinthian community.   Many stem from irresponsible misinterpretations of Paul’s earlier preaching.  Some members were evidently justifying their behavior by saying, “All things are lawful to me . . .” (6:12).  This slogan may have been based on Paul’s own preaching that Christian faith had superseded the Mosaic law and its demands.  But Paul responds by insisting that “not all things are helpful” and that the Christian is not be a slave to a sinful life of immorality (6:12-13).                                                                                   
            The Gospel reading is John’s version of the disciples’ call.  In John’s theology, God’s call is often mediated by the testimony of another.  In this case, Andrew becomes Jesus’ disciple on the basis of John the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus is “the lamb of God.”  He in turn joyfully proclaims to his brother, Simon Peter: “we have found the Messiah!”  Human testimony is to lead would-be-believers to Jesus, who then addresses them personally and invites them to eternal life through full belief in him.  When Andrew begins to follow Jesus, the master turns and says, “What are you looking for,” Andrew already understands that Jesus is a teacher and therefore says, “Rabbi, where do you stay?”  In John’s Gospel the verb menein, “stay, live, abide,” is also used in various Christological passages to speak of the Son’s abiding in the Father (see the farewell discourse chs. 13-17).  When Jesus answers Andrew’s question with the words, “Come and see, he is inviting him into the loving relationship shared by the Father, Son, and Spirit (see 15:1-17).

            Jesus’ dialogue with Simon Peter gives him the special title “Cephas,” “Peter” (Rock).  At the end of the Gospel, the resurrected Jesus will commission Peter, the rock and shepherd, to feed his flock (21:15-17).  Peter will then learn that following Jesus, the one who will lay down his life for the life of the world, will also lead where he “does not want to go”: to his own heroic martyrdom , in imitation of his master: “Amen, amen I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself as you wanted; but when you have grown old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (21:18-19)

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Epiphany

Epiphany A B C

Readings: Isaiah 60:1‑6   Ephesians 3:2‑3,5‑6  Matthew 2:1‑12

Beginning with the call of Abraham, God's plan for salvation history extends his blessing from Israel to all the nations (Gen 12:1‑3).  Today we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, the manifestation of God's salvation to all peoples.  In the words of the responsorial psalm, we pray: "Lord, every nation on earth will adore you" (Ps 72:11).
The Isaiah reading looks forward to the time when nations will walk by the light of God's blessing shed upon Jerusalem.   Speaking to exiles recently returned from Babylon, the prophet  commands them to see their efforts to rebuild Jerusalem's walls and Temple as the beginnings of the epiphany of the Lord's light and glory piercing through the darkness of the whole earth. “Nations shall walk by your light,/ and kings by your shining radiance/. . . . For the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you,/ the wealth of nations shall be brought to you/ . . . All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense,/ and proclaiming the praises of the Lord”  (Is 60:3,5‑6).
Ephesians announces the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy by proclaiming “that the Gentiles are now coheirs with the Jews, members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the preaching of the gospel."  Paul had to fight for the Gentiles’ right to be part of the new Messianic community without the duty of becoming observant Jews.  According to Paul, Jesus' death and resurrection is the saving event, long anticipated by the prophets, which has opened the way for the Gentiles to become members of the people of God.  This good news also calls Christians to a new way of living together in a love, rooted in Christ's own love for us.  Our epiphany prayer for one another should be Paul's. “I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner-self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you may be rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:14‑19).

Matthew's story of the adoration of the magi foreshadows that the Gentiles will receive the gospel. Many of the details of the Epiphany story‑‑ the character of Herod, the mysterious star, the magi‑‑ have their background in the traditions of the Old Testament. Herod's character is modeled on previous wicked kings who attempt to thwart God's promises, only to bring them to fulfillment.  Like the Pharaoh in versions of the Exodus story, Herod becomes "greatly troubled" by the birth of "the newborn king of the Jews" and attempts to kill the child by ordering the massacre of the infant boys in Bethlehem.  As a result Jesus, as God's son, must descend into Egypt, like his ancestors, and then be called out in fulfillment of Hosea's prophecy: "Out of Egypt I have called my son" (Hos 11:1; Mt 2:13‑23).
The star that the magi follow is also associated with an Old Testament story about another king who tried unsuccessfully to frustrate God's plan.  When the Moabite king Balak confronts the Israelites in their march through the wilderness, he summons Balaam, a pagan seer (a magus), to curse them, but he can only pronounce blessing on God's people (see Numbers 22‑24).   Among the blessings is the foreshadowing of a Messiah arising like "a star" out of Jacob. “There shall come a man out of Israel's seed,/ and he shall rule many nations/. . . . I see him, but not now;/ I behold him, but not close;/ a star shall rise from Jacob,/ and a man (scepter) shall come forth from Israel” (Num 24:7,17‑‑partially from Greek Septuagint).     

In contrast to Herod, the magi are sincere Gentiles who cooperate with God's plan and, in fulfillment of the Isaiah text, come to "walk by (Israel's) light."  Although they only have the astrological revelation provided by nature, the magi humbly come to Israel seeking fuller knowledge of where the child is to be born so that they may do him homage.  When they learn from the Scriptures that the Messiah is to be born in Bethlehem, they continue their journey, again guided by the star.  And when they see the child with Mary his mother, they respond with joy and in homage offer their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Holy Family B


Holy Family B

Readings: Sirach 3:2-6,12-14  Colossians 3:12-21  Luke 2:22-40

During the Christmas season the Church celebrates the Incarnation by dwelling on various aspects of this mystery.  Holy Family Sunday reminds us that Jesus was both called to a unique saving mission by his Father but also fully shared our experience of living in a family with all its joy, confusion, pain and mystery.  As we struggle with the obligations of our commitments to God and family, let us pray in faith the words of this Sunday’s responsorial psalm: “Happy are those who fear the Lord and walk in his ways” (Ps 128).
The Sirach reading is a wisdom instruction based on the commandment to honor father and mother (Ex 20:12; Deut 5:16).  This obligation is about caring for elderly parents when their health and minds fail. “My son, take care of your father when he is old;/ . . .  Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him;/ revile him not in the fullness of your strength” (Sir 3:12-13).
According to Sirach, care for elderly parents will be reciprocated by God.  “He who honors his father atones for sins;/ he stores up riches who reveres his mother” (3:3).
Paul’s instructions to the Colossians put family obligations in a Christian context.  Christians are to divest themselves of their old lives of sin (see Col 3:5-9) and clothe themselves with Christian virtues: heartfelt mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and especially love “which binds the rest together and makes them perfect” (3:12-14).  They are to pray in joyous thankfulness to God the Father, as their words and actions are done “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Paul concludes with specific words for each member of the family.  Wives are to be submissive to their husbands; husbands are to love their wives and avoid any bitterness toward them; children are to obey their parents; fathers are not to nag their children “lest they lose heart.”

Luke’s account of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple both celebrates the surprisingly joyful fulfillment of Israel’s messianic expectations but also ominously foreshadows that this messianic child will know opposition, rejection and suffering.  Like the pious Zechariah and Elizabeth (Lk 1:6), Jesus’ parents fulfill the Jewish law by presenting Mary for purification (cf. Lev 12:2-8) and dedicating Jesus their first-born son (Ex 13:2,12).  The centerpiece of the scene is Simeon’s prayer.  As a representative of the poor of Israel who await the kingdom of God’s justice, the elderly Simeon is moved by the Holy Spirit to take Jesus in his arms and proclaim the fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel of the Savior who will be “a revealing light to the Gentiles.” “Now, Master, you can dismiss your servant in peace;/ you have fulfilled your word. For my eyes have witnessed your saving deed/ displayed for all the peoples to see:/ A revealing light to the Gentiles,/ the glory of your people Israel.” But Simeon’s prophetic vision also foreshadows the divisive character of Jesus’ ministry.  After blessing the marveling parents, the prophet informs Mary his mother: “This child is destined to be the downfall and the rise of many in Israel, a sign that will be opposed– and you yourself shall be pierced with a sword–so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare.”  Jesus’ proclamation of the Father’s forgiving love will divide Israel between those who repentantly accept this message and those who self-righteously refuse it (cf. Lk 7:18-50).  We later learn that Mary’s own blessedness will also involve the challenge of following God’s call when Jesus himself announces that true blessedness “is hearing the word of God and observing it” (see Lk 1:38-45; 8:20-21; 11:27-28).

Monday, December 18, 2017

Advent IV

4th Sunday of Advent B

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-5,8-11,16   Romans 16:25-27   Luke 1:26-38

As the Feast of Christmas approaches, the readings for the final Sunday of Advent present us with the mystery and scandal of God’s plan for our salvation in Jesus.  The divine purpose does not proceed according to human ambitions and calculations.  Although Nathan’s prophecy to David and Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary may lead us to expect a powerful Messiah who will bring peace by ruling in splendor “from the throne of David his father,” we have hints in the readings that God’s will often overturns human expectations.  David is not allowed to build the glorious house (temple) of his dreams; instead the Lord will build a house (dynasty) for him.  God’s fulfillment of “the mystery hidden for many ages” is first revealed to Mary, a lowly virgin from the insignificant town of Nazareth in the obscure region of Galilee.  As Mary obediently submits herself to the Lord’s impossible plan for the birth of the Messiah, we may already expect that her child’s rule is not going to conform to the standards of earthly power and prestige.  Let us praise the Lord for his mysterious ways in the lyrics of our responsorial psalm: “Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 89).
Nathan’s prophecy in 2 Samuel 7 is a culminating point in both Israel’s history and David’s own life.  The Lord has finally given Israel and David “rest” from all their enemies. After Saul’s death, the Lord guided David in uniting Judah and Israel, defeating the Philistines, and centralizing the nation by establishing Jerusalem as the capital where he placed the ark in a tent shrine (see 2 Samuel 1-6).  Now David, who has already built himself a splendid palace of cedar, proposes to the prophet Nathan that he wishes to build a “house of cedar” (i.e. a temple) for the ark.  At first, Nathan encourages David in his ambitions, but that night the prophet learns that the Lord’s plan does not depend upon David’s limited vision.  A mysterious divine purpose has been operative since David was taken as a shepherd boy to be commander of God’s people, and it ultimately will culminate in God’s giving Israel peace from its enemies and the establishment of a lasting house (i.e. dynasty) for David.  The editors of 2 Samuel 7, using the royal ideology of the Solomonic period, envision Solomon’s reign as a partial fulfillment of this promise.  He is the son who “will build a house for my name” (2 Sam 7:13; 1 Kings 5-9), but even they also recognize that neither David nor Solomon, for all their glory, were the complete realization of Nathan’s prophecy; both kings bring tragedy upon themselves and their people by their sins in the latter stages of their reigns (see 2 Samuel 11-20; 1 Kings 2 and 1 Kings 11-12).  With the fall of the Davidic monarchy, Nathan’s promise became the basis for Davidic messianic hopes, as are found in our responsorial Psalm.
Romans 16:25-27 is a doxology, praising God who is able to strengthen the Christian community in the gospel which has now been revealed to the Gentiles through Paul’s preaching.  It emphasizes the hidden mystery of God’s plan, which completes the message of the prophets and is now revealed to all nations. This plan for salvation, now open to the Gentiles, is not manifest according to human timetables, but “at the command of the eternal God.”

With an aura of solemn wonder and joy, Luke’s annunciation narrative describes the beginning of the fulfillment of the long-awaited time of salvation.  In the style of birth stories in the Old Testament, the angel Gabriel announces Jesus’ birth and destiny to Mary, as he had previously done for John the Baptist to the doubting Zechariah (see Lk 1:5-23).  The scene is filled with improbabilities.  The site is Nazareth in Galilee; there has been no Davidic court in Jerusalem for almost 600 years.  The recipient is a virgin, who is “deeply troubled” by the angel’s greeting and later has to ask, “How can this be since I do not know man?”  Rather than normal human conception, the child will be conceived by the power of the Most High, and the confirming sign that Mary’s baby is indeed to be called Son of God is that her kinswoman Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age.  In language reminiscent of the annunciation of Isaac’s birth to Abraham and Sarah (see Genesis 18), Gabriel ends by affirming “nothing is impossible to God.”  In contrast to the incredulous Zechariah and her laughing and doubting ancestress Sarah, Mary acquiesces to the mysterious divine plan. “I am the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Christmas Midnight

Christmas Midnight A B C

Readings: Isaiah 9:1-6  Titus 2:11-14  Luke 2:1-14

            The readings for Christmas at midnight proclaim the joyous, yet humble, arrival of Jesus as the light of the world.  He comes to bring peace to all and calls Christians to live temperate and just lives as they await his return in glory.  Let us rejoice as we hear the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds: “’Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.’”
Isaiah’s messianic oracle expresses the hope for a king in the Davidic line who will bring peace in the aftermath of an Assyrian invasion of Israel.  The prophet prefaces his description of the king’s just rule by praising the Lord for delivering the nation from the Assyrian yoke.  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;/ Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone./ You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing./ For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder,/ And the rod of their taskmaster/ You have smashed, as on the day of Midian.”  Isaiah believes this liberation is only the initial act of a two part drama.  He expects that “the zeal of the Lord of hosts” will raise to the Davidic throne a king who will rule with wisdom, power, paternal care and peace.  Although Jesus did not assume a worldly throne, we Christians believe he is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s oracle though his life, preaching, death and resurrection, and return in glory (see Peter’s sermon in Acts 2).  Jesus has begun the Kingdom of God that will ultimately triumph in the peace and justice Isaiah so urgently awaited.
The Titus reading presents us with the whole mystery of salvation: the appearance of God’s grace in Christ’s offering salvation to all, the challenge of the Christian life, and our hope for the final appearance of God’s glory and our savior Jesus Christ.  Even on the feast of Christmas, the Church does not lose sight of the demands of our renewed life and the urgent expectation of the second coming.  As the letter to Titus proclaims, all have been cleansed and redeemed in Christ, but we still wait in hope, as did Isaiah, for the appearance of the full glory of God’s kingdom.  In the interim, we are called to reject godless ways and to live temperately and justly.
Luke’s beautiful nativity story is best understood in relation to the major themes of his gospel, especially his insistence that Jesus is a universal savior, who was prophesied in the Scriptures and will overturn worldly expectations for greatness.  This universality is most explicit in the angel’s greeting to the shepherds which is the center piece of his entire narrative. “’I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.’”

By dating Jesus’ birth in the reign of Caesar Augustus, Luke contrasts the powerful Roman emperor with the lowly Jesus who is born as an exile.  Luke’s initial readers were aware that Augustus had inaugurated the Pax Romana and that many entertained messianic expectations about his rule.  For Luke, however, Jesus’ humble birth is the joyous beginning of the long-awaited fulfillment of God’s promises of salvation in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Salvation and peace will not come from the emperor who has the power to order a census of the whole world, but from Jesus whose parents must obey the emperor’s commands.
Luke’s special emphasis on the fact that Jesus has come for the lowly is evident in the role of the shepherds.  In Jewish tradition, they were considered disreputable and their testimony was invalid.  Yet in Luke’s account they receive the initial annunciation of Jesus’ birth and even function as evangelists.  When they proceed to Bethlehem, they witness the truth of the angel’s message and then make it known to others.  Likewise, when they return, they glorify and praise God “for all they have heard and seen.”

Other details of Luke’s story make symbolic allusion to Jesus as the unexpected fulfillment of the Scriptures.  The swaddling clothes recall a saying associated with King Solomon who says: “I was nurtured in swaddling clothes, with every care./  No king has known any other beginning of existence” (Wis 7:4-5).  Despite the lowly circumstances of Jesus’ birth, he is already a king like the great Solomon.  The manger (feeding trough) also has more that literal significance.  Isaiah had criticized his generation’s failure to understand the Lord in the following oracle: “An ox knows its owner,/ and an ass its master’s manger./  But Israel does not know, my people has not understood” (Is 1:2-3).  In contrast to the senseless people of Isaiah’s time, the humble shepherds, representative of a renewed people of God, go in haste to the infant lying in the manger who is food for the world.  Setting aside our pride, let us follow the shepherds to adore the Christ-child.

Mass at Dawn

Christmas Mass at Dawn A B C

Readings: Isaiah 62:11-12      Titus 3:4-7       Luke 2:15-20

            The Christmas Mass at dawn has a special character.  It is meant to be celebrated only at or near dawn because its theme is Christ the sun of justice and the light to the nations.  The words of the responsorial psalm best express the uniqueness of this special liturgy. R. “A light will shine on this day: the Lord is born for us./ The Lord is king; let the earth rejoice;/ let the many isles be glad./ The heavens proclaim his justice,/ and all the peoples see his glory./ Light dawns for the just;/ and gladness, for the upright of heart./ Be glad in the Lord, you just,/ and give thanks to his holy name” (Ps 97:1, 6, 11-12).
            The Isaiah reading is from the conclusion of a larger song (Is 62:1-12) which celebrates the restoration of Jerusalem, or Zion, after the Babylonian exile.  Combining images associated with Jewish wedding customs and the celebration of the grain and grape harvest at the joyous feast of Tabernacles, the prophet envisions daughter Zion being visited by her savior God who remarries his forsaken bride and repopulates the once abandoned city. “Say to daughter Zion, your savior comes!/ Here is his reward with him,/ his recompense before him./ They shall be called the holy people,/ the redeemed of the Lord,/ and you shall be called ‘Frequented,’/ a city that is not forsaken.”
            The short reading from Titus is a succinct summary of the central tenants of Paul’s gospel.  Like the reading from Titus for the Mass at Midnight, it is a joyful proclamation of the full Christian mystery. In the course of reminding Titus that Christians are to be responsible citizens, the Pauline author speaks of the change effected in them by the coming of Christ and their baptism.  Formerly, he says, “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, deluded, slaves to various desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful ourselves and hating one another” (3:5).  But now through “the kindness and generous love of God our savior” and without any merit on our part, we have been saved “through the bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” that was poured out on us “through Jesus Christ our savior.”  The next section insists that this transforming “bath of rebirth” should make Christians “devote themselves to good works.”
            The Gospel reading for the Mass at Dawn is the continuation of the Gospel for the Mass at Midnight.  The shepherds, most unlikely candidates for God’s revelation, become the first apostles of the Christian message.  They decide to go to David’s city to verify the message that the angels have given them.  “’Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’”  When they find “Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger,” just as the angels had announced, they understand “what had been told them concerning this child,” namely that he is destined to be “a savior . . . the Messiah and Lord.”  Not content with keeping this news as a private revelation, the shepherds report it to others, and we are told “all who heard of it were amazed.”  As the shepherds return, they glorify and praise God “for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.”

            Mary’s reaction is singled out and distinguished from the others.  Luke notes that she “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”  The verb translated “reflected” is dielogizeto which is also used by Luke to describe Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s initial greeting in the annunciation scene (1:29) and later her response to Jesus’ saying that he must be in his Father’s house in the story of his remaining behind in the Temple at the Passover festival when he was age twelve (2:51).  It has the sense of intense deep thought which returns to the subject time and again.  In Luke’s theology Mary is a model of discipleship.  She hears God’s word, reflects deeply upon it, and then acts in accord with it.  This is most clear in her acceptance of Gabriel’s message at the annunciation where she responds by saying, “’Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word’” (1:38).  Later in the Gospel, Jesus also says, “’My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it’” (8:21).