A Reading from the Book of Isaiah (9:2-7)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts
will do this.
1 Sing to the Lord a new song; *
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.
2 Sing to the Lord and bless his Name; *
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations *
and his wonders among all peoples.
4 For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised; *
he is more to be feared than all gods.
5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
but it is the Lord who made the heavens.
6 Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!
7 Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples; *
ascribe to the Lord honor and power.
8 Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name; *
bring offerings and come into his courts.
9 Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; *
let the whole earth tremble before him.
10 Tell it out among the nations: “The Lord is King! *
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
let the field be joyful and all that is therein.
12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout
for joy before the Lord when he comes, *
when he comes to judge the earth.
13 He will judge the world with righteousness *
and the peoples with his truth.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to Titus (2:11-14)
The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke (2:1-20)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
It was just an ordinary night in Bethlehem. The shops had closed. Families had shared whatever food they had. Parents had barred the doors of their homes against any would-be intruders.
It was just an ordinary night except, of course, for those families to whom children were being born. Near the market, a young couple welcomed their first-born into the world; they named her Miriam in honor of the prophet who had joined her brother, Moses, in singing God’s praises at the Exodus. Across town, in a house next to the village well, another couple welcomed a baby boy; they called him Zacchaeus, recalling one of the officers who had helped to free Jerusalem from their Syrian overlords a century and a half earlier. There were also visitors in town that night. A Canaanite couple from Tyre in Lebanon was there on business, and the woman gave birth to a little girl, whom they called Nikkal after the Canaanite goddess of the orchards. A Roman soldier and his wife welcomed a son whom they called Julius, in honor of the great general and emperor. And, out at the edge of town, in a back room where a local family kept their prized animals, a young couple from Nazareth in Galilee celebrated the birth of a son whom they named Jesus: a variation of the name Joshua, the great leader who had brought their ancestors into the Promised Land.
None of these families knew the others. None of them realized the bond of that shared night and place of their birth. And none of the first four had any idea of the profound impact that the fifth child, lying in a manger, would have on their lives. But a greater power, the one who had birthed the earth and the sea and the stars, knew that their lives would remain interdependent on one another and that the fifth child would bring new life and hope to the other four.
The first four children had been born into fairly promising circumstances. Their families, while not wealthy by any means, had the connections and the backgrounds and the resources to provide for them and to see that they, too, would grow up to have reasonably comfortable and productive lives.
But the fifth newborn, Jesus, was not quite so fortunate. According to Luke’s narrative, his parents were temporarily homeless: a major struggle then just as it is now. Those who knew the family remembered the day of their wedding: the date when Joseph had taken Mary into his home; and they realized that from that day until the day of his birth, the months did not quite add up to nine; so all through his life and even beyond, there would be rumors that he was illegitimate. Then, according to Matthew’s account, he and his parents had become refugees, fleeing to Egypt, certainly without any official documentation since they were trying to escape from those who would have had to give them those documents. Homeless, illegitimate, and an undocumented immigrant – not a promising start in life either then or now. How could people ever respect somebody like that? What good could ever possibly come from somebody like that?
The years went by, and all the children grew up: not at all a sure thing in those days. Miriam participated in her family’s prosperous business, raising fruit in their orchards and selling it to buyers both near and far. Zacchaeus went to work for the Roman governor, collecting taxes on that same produce, and on whatever else he could. Nikkal’s family returned to Tyre, where they operated their market, selling some of that same fruit that they had brought from the Bethlehem area. And Julius followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Roman army, eventually rising to the rank of centurion, where he oversaw the order that enabled the others’ trades and lives to continue under Roman domination. Even though they had never met, their livelihoods and their lives were dependent on all the others.
As for Jesus, his family eventually returned to Nazareth, where he learned his father’s trade and became a carpenter – at least until the day when, much to his family’s dismay, he left his home and his job to follow a teacher known as John the Baptizer and then to become a traveling teacher and healer himself.
Miriam’s life seemed to be going well until the day that she found herself separated from her family because of what the priests judged to be leprosy: the same disease that had afflicted her namesake; in desperation, she soon found herself with nine others, calling after the teacher from Galilee: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Lk 16:13) Zacchaeus lived a prosperous life but found himself cut off from his neighbors who ostracized him, not because of any disease, but because of the work that he did, until one day that same teacher called to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down [from that tree]; for I must stay at your house today.” (Lk 19:5) Nikkal married and gave birth to a daughter who, several years later, began suffering terribly; the anguished mother encountered that same teacher and healer and insisted: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Mt 15:22) And Julius, now stationed in Capernaum, had a trusted servant who had been paralyzed and was at the point of death; he, too, came to Jesus: “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible distress.” (Mt 8:6) In God’s mysterious plan, their lives had brought all four of them to Jesus: the one who had begun life in such unpromising circumstances.
Even though they had never met one another, all of them lived lives that depended, in one way or another, on all the others. And, by God’s grace, the first four of them came to recognize the presence and the life-giving power of God in the one who had been born into the least promising circumstances: the one whom many people, maybe most people, had simply disregarded and ignored, the one who was last and least.
Christmas is a time for family. Those of us who are blessed with families with whom we can share these days tend to become increasingly aware, at this time of year, of how much they mean to us. But Christmas can also be a time for us to reconsider the notion of family: to broaden that concept and the way that we use that term. It can be a time to recognize anew our greater family, the human family, and to recognize the many ways in which each of us is dependent on all the others.
And Christmas might also be a time for us to recognize, with a deeper sense of humility, how much we all depend also on those who are the last and least. For it seems that it is in them that God does some of God’s greatest work: from the elderly, childless Abraham and Sarah whom Paul (Rm 4:19) describes as being “as good as dead,” to a disorganized band of slaves in Egypt, to a group of defeated and seemingly hopeless exiles in Babylon, to a seemingly homeless, illegitimate, undocumented immigrant who spent his first night lying in a manger. Yet it was there and in them that God began some of God’s most marvelous and life-giving work. Maybe, just maybe, it is in other people like them that God still does.