Christmas Eve Mass: the Word becomes flesh

THE GOSPEL (night mass: Lk 2, 1-14)

In those days there appeared an edict from the Emperor Augustus, ordering the census of all the land – this first census took place when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all were going to be registered, each in his home town. Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, towards Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem. He was indeed of the house and line of David. He had come to be registered with Marie, who had been granted to him in marriage and who was pregnant. Now, while they were there, the time for her to give birth was fulfilled. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; she swaddled him and laid him in a manger, as there was no room for them in the common room. In the same region, there were shepherds who lived outdoors and spent the night in the fields to guard their flocks. The angel of the Lord came before them, and the glory of the Lord enveloped them with his light. They were seized with great fear. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news, which will be of great joy to all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you who is the Christ, the Lord. And here is the sign that is given to you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly, there was with the angel an innumerable heavenly troop, who praised God saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men whom He loves.” »

Other readings: Is 9, 1-6; Ps 95 (96); Tt 2, 11-14.


Out of pity, no doubt, for our fatigue, the liturgy of the midnight mass allows us to hear only part of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus. Let’s take the time to read it in full. The story is constructed in four panels: the first five verses evoke the census carried out in the empire and the forced displacement of Joseph and his wife to Bethlehem. Two verses (6 and 7), soberly relate the birth of the child. Then the gaze turns towards the sky and seven verses (8 to 14) solemnly present to us the theophany offered to the shepherds. Finally the gaze returns to earth and we follow the course of the shepherds until they meet the child and return to work.

After this look at the whole, let’s contemplate each panel. The background is first the whole world, then part of this world, Syria (what we call the Middle East), then by a zoom effect the attention is focused on two small regions, Galilee and Judea and finally to Bethlehem. At the level of the characters, the same zoom movement: from the tallest, the emperor, we move on to a local politician, Quirinius, then to two insignificant inhabitants, Joseph and Mary and finally the gaze stops on a stomach where a child: the last word in the paragraph is “pregnant”. It is in this very concrete world, dominated by the law of the strongest, in a precise geopolitical context, that God incarnates. No question here of legend or enchanting tale that helps us get out of reality. God does not flee the world, he incarnates himself in it. But in this world the essential is invisible to the eyes. The king is not who you think!


A baby like any other: when the time comes he is born, we swaddle him and put him to bed. Luke’s sobriety reminds us that the great works of God are also done in the most banal daily life and remain discreet: it is not in the crowd that he enters the world as an influencer, but apart, in a stable, lying in a manger. The detail is not insignificant: in the “house of bread” (Bethlehem) is born the one who will say “take and eat”.

Another paradox, another surprise: the announcement of the event that remained unnoticed by the world is reserved for shepherds, an infrequent “periphery” which is visited by the celestial army en masse! The angels are there to reveal the unimaginable joy: today the Saviour, Christ the Lord, was born. How to recognize it? All you have to do is find a swaddled baby lying in a manger. The repetition of these words attracts attention: is there really nothing else to see on this first Christmas?… Neither garland nor Christmas tree, not even a donkey and an ox. But a Gift, yes!

The child (in-fans) does not speak yet, but the shepherds talk a lot: among themselves first to decide to go and have a look, then to Joseph and Mary to share with them the “heaven’s point of view” on what happened to them, then to all those who hear them to announce what has been revealed to them, and finally they leave singing. It is only a question of words in this paragraph, words to share, listen to and sing: the Word becomes flesh! Four attitudes to welcome it: to meditate in one’s heart, like Mary, to announce and praise like the shepherds, to be astonished like the listeners.


Holy Spirit, arouse wonder in my heart! I would like to receive the surprise of Christmas afresh: this tiny God, this God buried in banality, this God with the face of the poor, this God offered as a gift.

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Christmas Eve Mass: the Word becomes flesh

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