St. Mary of the Angels
Christmas Dawn Mass
Isaiah 62.11-12; Titus 3.4-7; Luke 2.1-20 (both midnight and dawn gospels)
My brothers and sisters,
Every Tuesday evening during Advent about 25 of you gathered with Nancy, Wilson, and myself in the rectory chapel to reflect, pray, and share our faith on the coming of our Lord. Our theme for these four weeks of Advent was moving from night to day, from darkness to light.
Now, as we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, the Church proposes a similar rhythm: a Mass at midnight, a Mass at dawn, a Mass in the day. We
no longer celebrate these precise moments of midnight, dawn, and day, but the movement itself reminds us that we are approaching
a deep and special mystery which we need to approach carefully, step by step, as we move from darkness to light.
In the darkness of midnight there is much of this mystery which we do not see and will never see in
this life. As we come to dawn, we partly see as we glimpse the incomprehensible
fact that our transcendent God came in Jesus to be with us and live with us. We
just begin to see God’s great humility and God’s great love. But
the light of day really breaks upon us when we realize in wonder that the Jesus of Bethlehem is the same Jesus present to
us in the Eucharist and present in one another as we receive within us this Jesus, now risen Lord.
From midnight to dawn unto day. Perhaps, I can change
the image from the image of time to the image of rooms -- a series of three rooms which we pass through to arrive at this
great mystery, as scripture scholar, John Shea, proposes.
The first room is our culture. We approach Christmas from
our diverse ethnic backgrounds and, unfortunately, from our American consumer culture.
We become very busy with buying and wrapping, decorating and cooking. We
throng the malls, search for bargains, anguish about costs. And. lest the poor
be left out, some of you, labor to package and deliver food to the neighborhood poor.
For most of us, there is a gathering of family and friends. There is food
and drink and laughter, the opening of gifts, and, at the end of the day, a happy mess for tired hosts to clean up. This is the “culture” room.
And, don’t get me wrong: good and wholesome blessings take place in this room. Enjoy the giving and receiving, family and food, and the excited noise of children. But, remember, it is
only the first room!
The next room we come to is the “church” room. We
gather as a church community. We take time to come together to worship God, sing
his praises, and share his peace and promise of peace. We take time to express
our thanks and desires to God, to pray for one another, and especially, to welcome God into ourselves in the Eucharist. In this room we are like the shepherds, hearing the good news, discovering the good
news, and sharing the good news.
We need one another to pay fitting homage to our God in Jesus.
Still, as important and as essential this room is, it is only the second room.
Now, we come to the third room, which John Shea calls, the “mystical” room. Beyond the secular “culture” room and beyond the religious “church” room we need
to enter quietly the “mystical” room, that is, we need some silence and personal prayer time to do what Mary did:
ponder all these things in our hearts. And I presume that Joseph joined her in
the pondering. In a very simple way, our Tuesday night prayer group listened
to word and reflection, pondered in silence, and then shared, bi-lingually, the fruit of our heart and prayer. Even then, the silence is not enough. There might still be
a further word which God wants to say to us if we stay quietly long enough to hear it.
Twelfth century Dominican theologian, Meister Eckhart, expressed this way: What good does it do for
Jesus to have been born long ago in Bethlehem, if He is not born in our hearts today.
Only in our own silence and prayer can that birth take place for us as it did for Mary.
And, only in silence and prayer can we learn our place in the mystery, as Mary did.
In a week the new year will crash upon us and our energies will be called forth into work and ministry. But may we take this moment to celebrate exuberantly, to worship joyfully, and to
pray gratefully. The mystery is unfolding from midnight to dawn unto day, as
we move through the rooms of “culture” and “church” into that heart room called, “mystical.” There, we are most sure to find Jesus, our Lord and Savior. And, isn’t He the gift we most want this Christmas?