Thứ Bảy, 31 tháng 12, 2016

JANUARY 01, 2017 : THE OCTAVE DAY OF CHRISTMAS - SOLEMNITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD

The Octave Day of Christmas
Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God
Lectionary: 18

Reading 1NM 6:22-27
The LORD said to Moses: 
"Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: 
This is how you shall bless the Israelites.
Say to them:
The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and
give you peace!
So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, 
and I will bless them."
Responsorial PsalmPS 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8
R. (2a) May God bless us in his mercy.
May God have pity on us and bless us;
may he let his face shine upon us.
So may your way be known upon earth;
among all nations, your salvation.
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
May the nations be glad and exult
because you rule the peoples in equity;
the nations on the earth you guide.
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
May the peoples praise you, O God;
may all the peoples praise you!
May God bless us,
and may all the ends of the earth fear him!
R. May God bless us in his mercy.
Reading 2GAL 4:4-7
Brothers and sisters:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son,
born of a woman, born under the law, 
to ransom those under the law, 
so that we might receive adoption as sons.
As proof that you are sons, 
God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, 
crying out, "Abba, Father!"
So you are no longer a slave but a son, 
and if a son then also an heir, through God.


AlleluiaHEB 1:1-2
R. Alleluia, alleluia.
In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets;
in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.


GospelLK 2:16-21
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,
and the infant lying in the manger.
When they saw this,
they made known the message 
that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed
by what had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Then the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen, 
just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision,
he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel
before he was conceived in the womb.


Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God 
January 1


Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that passage. 

Introduction 

According to The Compact History of the Catholic Church by Alan Schreck, “The Bishop of Alexandria, Nestorius, denied that Mary could be called theotokos, meaning “God bearer” or Mother of God. He was part of a theological group called the school of Antioch, which did not want to risk any confusion between the divine and human. Calling Mary the Mother of God threatened to mix up God and man since Mary did not bring God into existence. However, another noted group called the school of Alexandria, led by the bishop of Alexandria, Cyril, saw no problem in calling Mary the Mother of God since this way of speaking safeguarded the unity of Jesus’ human and divine nature. The issue was settled in A.D. 431 by the Council of Ephesus, an ecumenical council of Catholic bishops which declared Nestorius wrong and affirmed the long-standing tradition of Christian prayer in which Mary was honored as Mother of God in his human nature, the mother of “God made man,” and not the mother of Jesus’ divine nature. Mary is the mother of a person Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully man. 

“This initial dispute concerning the natures of Christ gave rise to another controversy in the middle of the century. Without examining the political rivalry behind the scenes between the patriarch of Constantinople and the patriarch of Alexandria, there was a serious theological debate about whether Jesus possessed one nature as a person – the divine nature – or two distinct natures, divine and human. The resolution finally came at the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, which brought together and balanced the legitimate beliefs about Christ from the school of Antioch and the school of Alexandria. The council declared that Jesus exists in two natures, the divine and the human, which come together “without confusion or change, without division or separation to form the one undivided person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God incarnate.” Nestorius was deposed at the Council of Ephesus. 

Canon 4 of the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) says: “If any of the clergy apostatize and dare either privately or publicly to accept the [views] of Nestorius or the [views] of Calesticus, these too are deemed by the holy council to be deposed.” 

According to A Short History of the Catholic Church by Jose Orlandis, “By the first half of the 5th century the patriarchate of Alexandria had grown in power and many of its bishops took an active part in the internal affairs of the church of Constantinople itself. It also happened that after the death of St. Cyril extremist tendencies gained the upper hand in Alexandria. The Alexandrian theologians were unhappy about the Ephesus teaching on the two natures in the one person of Christ, due to their understanding two natures as being equivalent to two persons: they claimed that there was only one nature in Christ, because in the incarnation the human nature had been absorbed in the divine. When this doctrine – monophysitism – was preached in Constantinople by the archimandrite Eutyches, Flavian the patriarch deprived Eutyches of his office. The patriarch of Alexandria, Dioscorus, then intervened, with the support of Emperor Theodosius II. An unruly council was held at Ephesus (449) under the presidency of Dioscorus; the patriarch of Constantinople [Flavian] was deposed and exiled; a dogmatic letter sent to Flavian by the pope, by the hand of two papal legates, was prevented from being read, and the doctrine of the two natures in Christ was condemned. The pope, Leo the Great, gave this council a name which was passed into history – the ‘latrocinium [robber synod] of Ephesus.’” Flavian died on the way back to Constantinople as a result, it is said, of injuries received in the synod. 

As a result, Pope Leo excommunicated Dioscorus and with the cooperation of Theodosius II’s successor, Marcian, two years later (451) the Council of Chalcedon, an ecumenical council, nullified the decrees of the robber synod and, upholding Pope Leo’s position, expounded with admirable clarity the Catholic doctrine of the two natures in the one Divine Person of Christ. Pretty fast work for those days.

1st Reading - Numbers 6:22-27

Because of the golden calf, Israel’s ultimate disobedience of God, the family priesthood no longer existed. The firstborn son no longer functioned as priest for his family. Now, the only priests were to come from the tribe of Levi and the right of invoking Yahweh’s name upon the community was reserved to Aaron and his sons. Today we hear the first priestly blessing. 

22 The LORD said to Moses: 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons and tell them: This is how you shall bless the Israelites. Say to them: 24 The LORD bless you and keep you! 25 The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!

Give you glorious rewards, reflect His pleasure with you. 

26 The LORD look upon you kindly

In times of distress it was believed that God had “hidden His face” and abandoned His people. Recall that the Hebrew language had no words for abstractions so they were described in physical terms – resulting in beautiful word-pictures. 

and give you peace!

The Hebrew word for peace is shalom. The word has a much broader meaning than simply absence of conflict; it means wholeness, fulfillment, well being. 

27 So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them.” 

Leviticus 9:22-23 describes the first priestly blessing.

2nd Reading - Galatians 4:4-7

To begin to understand the context of today’s reading we must reflect upon the setting of the first reading. God’s people have rebelled and created the golden calf. As a result, they are not a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, God’s treasured possession (Exodus 19:5-6). Instead, they are a nation of servants/slaves. The firstborn of every womb belongs to God (Exodus 34:19-20), God cannot be approached without a sacrifice in order to demonstrate their servitude. Jesus’ death on the cross was the final bloody sacrifice of the Old Covenant and instituted the New Covenant by becoming the sacrificial meal which seals it. 

Let’s begin our study by looking at the three verses preceding today’s reading. “1What I am saying is that as long as the heir is a child, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2He is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father. 3So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world” [angels (Exodus 33:2-3)]. 

4 But when the fullness of time had come,

The time set by the Father (Galatians 4:2). The point in history when God’s saving intervention took place – human freedom came with Christ. 

God sent his Son,

Being “sent” had a very specific religious meaning in the early church. Apostellein means someone sent in the service of the kingdom with full authority grounded in God. 

born of a woman,

Jesus assumed the human condition for His mission. 

born under the law, 

Jesus submitted to circumcision, thus bearing the mark of the covenant. Since He was part of the covenant, He became capable of falling under its curse.

5 to ransom those under the law,

Institute the New Covenant. 

so that we might receive adoption.

No longer slaves, but children of God as Israel was before the golden calf 

6 As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a child,

The Old Covenant is fulfilled. God has forgiven and forgotten the golden calf – we can now call Him Abba (Father) rather than Master. 

and if a child then also an heir, through God. 

We can inherit God’s kingdom (Romans 8:14-17).

Gospel - Luke 2:16-21

We continue our Gospel reading from where we left off at the Midnight Mass for Christmas. Jesus has been born in Bethlehem and the angel has announced the event to the shepherds. 

16 So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph,

The shepherds respond eagerly to the message. 

and the infant lying in the manger.

The sign the angel had given them. Recall that a manger is a feeding trough, a food box; which introduces the Eucharistic theme (sustenance of His people). The sign does not just attest the angel’s truthfulness, it bears out and exemplifies the message that Jesus is Savior (verse 11) “A savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord”. 

17 When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. 18 All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

The shepherds told others, including Mary and Joseph, about the good news, which is complimentary to that announced to Mary in Luke 1:31-33; by Mary in Luke 1:46-55; and by Zechariah in Luke 1:68-79. 

19 And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

Mary does not capture the full significance of God’s action in Jesus immediately. Mary’s journey of faith is shown in Luke 8:19-21; 11:27-29; and Acts 1:14. Mary is the model believer. 

20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them. 21 When eight days were completed for his circumcision,

The covenant with Abraham required circumcision at the age of 8 days (Genesis 17:12). Baptism now replaces circumcision (Colossians 2:11-12) and puts the mark of the covenant on the soul rather than the flesh.

he was named Jesus, 

“Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” This name is the Greek version of the Hebrew Yeshua (Joshua). For the Jews of Jesus’ time His name alone would indicate His mission. Like Joshua (Moses’ successor who led the Israelites into the promised land), Jesus will be the instrument of God’s saving action among His people. 

the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 

The name is given in Luke 1:31. According to The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, “In biblical thought a name is not a mere label of identification; it is an expression of the essential of its bearer. A man’s name recalls his character ... Hence to know the name of God is to know God as He had revealed Himself.” 



Meditation: "He was called Jesus"
What's the significance of a name? For the Jewish people the giving of a name had great importance. When a name was given it represented what that person should be in the future. An unknown name meant that someone could not be completely known. To not acknowledge someone's name meant both denial of the person, destruction of their personality, and change in their destiny. A person's name expressed the reality of his or her being at its deepest level. A Jewish male child was named at the time of circumcision, eight days after birth. This rite was instituted by God as an outward sign to single out those who belonged to the chosen people (Genesis 17:10-12). It was a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his posterity.
Jesus - the eternal Son of God who was born of a woman to become our Savior
In fulfilment of this precept, Mary's newborn child is given the name Jesus on the eighth day according to the Jewish custom. Joseph and Mary gave the name Jesus because that is the name given by God's messenger before Jesus was conceived in Mary's womb (Luke 1:31, Matthew 1:21). This name signifies Jesus' identity and his mission. The literal Hebrew means the Lord saves. Since God alone can forgive sins and free us from death, it is God who, in Jesus his eternal Son became a man to offer up his life as the atoning sacrifice to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The son that Mary bore is both God and man - the "Word who was God" (John 1:1) and who "became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). That is why Mary is not only called the mother of the Christ (the Greek word for Messiah in Hebrew) but also the mother of God or Theotokos in Greek which literally means "God bearer."
Jesus - the name above every other name
In the birth and naming of this child we see the wondrous design and plan of God in giving us a Savior who would bring us grace (the gift of God's favor), mercy, and freedom from the power of sin and the fear of death. The name Jesus signifies that the very name of God is present in the person of his Son who became man for our salvation. Peter the Apostle exclaimed that there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved (Acts 2:12). In the name of Jesus demons flee, cripples walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised. His name is exalted far above every other name (Philippians 2:9-11).
The name Jesus is at the heart of all Christian prayer. It is through and in Jesus that we pray to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Many Christians have died with one word on their lips, the name of Jesus. Do you exalt the name of Jesus and pray with confidence in his name?
"Lord Jesus Christ, I exalt your name above every other name. For in you I have pardon, mercy, grace and victory over sin and death. You humbled yourself for my sake and for the sake of all sinners by sharing in our humanity and by dying on the cross. Help me to always praise your holy name and to live for your greater glory."
Daily Quote from the early church fathersBy Christ's faith, hope, and love we are purified, by Bede the Venerable, 672-735 A.D.
"He therefore received in the flesh the circumcision decreed by the law, although he appeared in the flesh absolutely without any blemish of pollution. He who came in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3) - not in sinful flesh - did not turn away from the remedy by which sinful flesh was ordinarily made clean. Similarly, not because of necessity but for the sake of example, he also submitted to the water of baptism, by which he wanted the people of the new law of grace to be washed from the stain of sins...
"The reason 'the child who was born to us, the son who was given to us ' (Isaiah 9:6), received the name Jesus (that is, 'Savior') does not need explanation in order to be understood by us, but we need eager and vigilant zeal so that we too may be saved by sharing in his name. Indeed, we read how the angel interprets the name of Jesus: 'He will save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1:21). And without a doubt we believe and hope that the one who saves us from sins is not failing to save us also from the corruptions which happen because of sins, and from death itself, as the psalmist testifies when he says, 'Who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases' (Psalm 103:3). Indeed, with the pardoning of all of our iniquities, all our diseases will be completely healed when, with the appearance of the glory of the resurrection, our last enemy, death, will be destroyed... We read that circumcision was done with knives made of rock (Joshua 5:2), and the rock was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). And by Christ's faith, hope and love the hearts of the good are purified not only in baptism but furthermore in every devout action. This daily circumcision of ours (that is, the continual cleansing of our heart) does not cease from always celebrating the sacrament of the eighth day. 
(excerpt from HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 1.11)

SOLEMNITY OF MARY, THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD
SUNDAY, JANUARY 1, LUKE 2:16-21

The Octave Day of the Nativity of the Lord
(Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7)

KEY VERSE: "And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (v 19).
TO KNOW: Mary and Joseph obeyed the law of Rome by going to Bethlehem to register for the census. They obeyed the religious law of Israel by having their child circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (Lv 12:3). In this ceremony, the child entered into the life of the Jewish community and received his name: Jesus (Hebrew: Yeshua, "Yahweh saves"). Jesus' mother Mary was the model disciple who received the Word of God with faith, and pondered its meaning in her heart (Lk 2:19). The Church regards Mary as the "new Eve," whose "offspring" Jesus Christ, the one "born of a woman" (Gal 4:4), who was destined to defeat the Evil One.
TO LOVE: In what ways will I follow Mary's example of prayer and service in this New Year?
TO SERVE: Mary, Mother of God, teach me to ponder within my heart all that God has done for us through Jesus your son.
NOTE: When Did Mary's Title "Mother Of God" Originate?
At the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE, the Church gave Mary the title “Theotokos” meaning "God-bearer." This Marian title is really a Christological statement, which affirms that the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, was born into history as fully human, and is truly 'God with us'. The tradition reaches to our own day. Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church includes Mary’s role in a chapter on the Church, referring to Mary as the “Mother of God” 12 times. Because she cooperated in our redemption by bringing forth God's Son to redeem the world, she was also proclaimed the "Mother of the Church" (Pope Paul VI, 1964). Since Mary conceived Jesus, true man and true God, she is truly the mother of the Incarnate Jesus, and therefore, the Mother of God, and the mother of all who believe in her Son.

NEW YEAR'S DAY, JANUARY 1

The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. The Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon (the first visible crescent) after the Vernal Equinox (first day of spring). The Romans continued to observe the new year in late March, but their calendar was tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon was out of synchronization with the sun. In order to set the calendar right, Julius Caesar, in 46 BC, established what has come to be known as the Julian Calendar. It established January 1 as the new year. In various New Year's Eve customs, Father Time's image is used as the personification of the previous year (or "the Old Year"), who "hands over" the duties of time to the Baby New Year. The poet Robert Burns translated the old Scottish dialect "Auld Lang Syne" to mean 'Old Long Ago' in his poem about love and friendship in times past.

WORLD DAY OF PEACE, JANUARY 1

The World Day of Peace of the Roman Catholic Church is a day dedicated to peace, held on 1 January, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It was introduced in 1967 by Paul VI, inspired by the encyclical Pacem in Terris of John XXIII and with reference to his own encyclical Populorum Progressio. The day was first observed on 1 January 1968. The theme for Pope Francis' World Day of Peace message for 2017 is: “Non-Violence: a Style of Politics for Peace.” In his 2017 Message for the World Day of Peace, Pope Francis urges us to practice active nonviolence and work to prevent conflict by addressing its causes, building relationships, and facilitating healing and restoration.

Sunday 1 January 2017

Sun 1st. Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.
Numbers 6:22-27. May God bless us in his mercy—Ps 66(67):2-3, 5-6, 8. Galatians 4:4-7. Luke 2:16-21.

Readings

The smell of the sheep.

The shepherds are an essential element in any nativity scene. Often depicted as innocent boys with lambs, in reality they would have been smelly and tough workers often armed in order to protect their flocks from marauders of varying sorts. Their presence is symbolic of Jesus' future role as the shepherd of his people and his willingness to dwell among them, taking on the smell of the sheep even to the extent of laying down his life for them.

SOLEMNITY OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

The title “Mother of God” goes back to the third or fourth century, but the Greek term Theotokos (“The God-bearer”) was officially consecrated as Catholic doctrine at the Council of Ephesus in 431, thus becoming the first Marian dogma. At the end of the Council of Ephesus, crowds of people marched through the streets shouting: “Praised be the Theotokos!”
This Catholic doctrine is based on the doctrine of Incarnation, as expressed by St. Paul: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4).
In its chapter on Mary’s role in the Church, Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution “Lumen Gentium” (“Light of the People”) calls Mary “Mother of God” 12 times.
On this day the Catholic Church also celebrates the World Day of Peace, a tradition established by Pope Paul VI and confirmed by Pope John Paul II.

LECTIO DIVINA: SOLEMNITY OF THE MOTHER OF GOD
Lectio Divina: 
 Sunday, January 1, 2017

Visit of the Shepherds to Jesus and his Mother
The marginalised are God’s favourites

Luke 2,16-21 

1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.

2. Reading
a) A key to the reading: 
The reason for Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem was the census imposed by Rome’s emperor (Lk 2:1-7). Periodically, the Roman authorities decreed these censuses in the various regions of their immense empire. It was a matter of registering people and knowing how many had to pay taxes. The rich paid taxes on land and goods. The poor paid for the number of children they had. Sometimes the tax was more than 50% of a person’s income.
In Luke’s Gospel we note a significant difference between the birth of Jesus and that of John the Baptist. John is born at home, in his land, in the midst of parents and neighbours and is welcomed by all (Lk 1:57-58). Jesus is born unknown, away from his surroundings of family and neighbours and far from his land. “There was no room in the inn.” He had to be left in a manger (Lk 2:7).
Let us try to place and comment on our text (Lk 2:16-21) in the wider context of the visit of the shepherds (Lk 2:8-21). As we read, let us try to pay attention to the following: What surprises do we find and what contrasts appear in this text?

b) A division of the text to help us in our reading: 
Luke 2:8-9: The shepherds in the field, the first persons invited
Luke 2:10-12: The first announcement of the Good News is made to the shepherds
Luke 2:13-14: The praise of the angels
Luke 2:15-18: The shepherds go to Bethlehem and tell of their vision of the angels
Luke 2:19-20: Mary’s attitude and that of the shepherds concerning these events
Luke 2:21: The circumcision of the child Jesus

c) Text:
In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the
watches of the night. An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, 'Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.' And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours. Now it happened that when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.' So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds said to them. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told. When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.

3. A moment of prayerful silence 
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions 
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What did you like best in this text? Why?
b) What surprises and contrasts do you find in this text?
c) How does the text teach us that the little ones are great in heaven and the poorest on earth?
d) What is Mary’s attitude and that of the shepherds concerning the mystery of God just revealed to them?
e) What is the message Luke wants to communicate to us through these details?

5. For those who wish to go deeper into the theme
a) The context of then and of today: 
The text of the feast of the Mother of God (Lk 2:16-21) is part of the broader description of the birth of Jesus (Lk 2,1-7) and of the visit of the shepherds (Lk 2:8-21). The angel had announced the birth of the Saviour and gave a sign of recognition: “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!” They were expecting the Saviour of a whole people and they were to recognise him in a newborn child, poor, who lies close to two animals! What a great surprise!
God’s plan is fulfilled in an unexpected way, full of surprise. This happens today too. A poor child is the Saviour of the people! Can you believe this?
b) A commentary on the text: 
Luke 2:8-9: The first invited persons
The shepherds were marginalised people, not greatly appreciated. They lived together with the animals, separate from the rest of humanity. Because of their constant contact with animals, they were considered impure. No one would have ever invited them to visit a newly born baby. But it is precisely to these shepherds that the Angel of the Lord appears to pass on the great news of the birth of Jesus. Seeing the vision of the angels, they are full of fear.
Luke 2:10-12: The first announcement of the Good News
Luke 2:13-14: The praise of the angels: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours
A multitude of angels appears descending from heaven. It is heaven that bends itself towards the earth. The parts of this verse summarise God’s project, his plan. The first part tells us what happens in the world up there: Glory to God in the highest heaven. The second part tells us what will happen in the world here below: On earth peace for those he favours! If people could experience what it means to be favoured by God, everything would be different and peace would dwell on earth. And this would be to the greater glory of God who dwells in the highest!

Luke 2:15-18: The shepherds go to Bethlehem and tell of their vision of the angels
The Word of God is no longer a sound produced by the mouth. It is above all an event! The shepherds literally say: “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us”. In Hebrew, the expression DABAR may mean both word and thing (event), generated by the word. The word of God is a creative force. It fulfils what it says. At creation God said: “Let there be light, and there was light!” (Gen 1:3). The word of the angel to the shepherds is the event of the birth of Jesus.

Luke 2:19-20: Mary’s attitude and that of the shepherds concerning these events
Luke immediately adds that, "Mary treasured all these things (events) and pondered them in her heart". These are two ways of perceiving and welcoming the Word of God: (i) The shepherds get up to see the events and verify the sign given by the angel, and then, they go back to their flocks glorifying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard. (ii) Mary, on the other hand, carefully keeps all these events in her mind and meditates on them in her heart. To meditate on things in one’s heart means to ruminate them and throw light on them in the light of the Word of God so as to understand better their full significance for life.

Luke 2:21: The circumcision and Name of Jesus
According to the norms of the law, the child Jesus is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (cf. Gen 17:12). Circumcision was a sign of belonging to the people. It gave the person an identity. On such an occasion each child received his name (cf. Lk 1:59-63). The child receives the name of Jesus that had been given him by the angel before his conception. The angel had said to Joseph that the name of the child had to be Jesus “he is the one who is to save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The name of Jesus is the same as Joshua, and means God will save. Another name that will gradually be given to Jesus is Christ, which means Anointed or Messiah. Jesus is the awaited Messiah. A third name is that of Emmanuel, which means God with us (Mt 1:23). The complete name is Jesus Christ Emmanuel!

c) Further information:

Mary in Luke’s Gospel

i) The role of the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel:
These are two rather well known but less deeply understood chapters. Luke writes them in imitation of the Old Testament. It is as though these two chapters were the last of the Old Testament so as to open the door for the coming of the New Testament. In these chapters, Luke creates an atmosphere of softness and praise. From beginning to end the mercy of God is sung, God who finally comes to fulfil his promises. Luke shows us how Jesus fulfils the Old Testament and begins the New Testament. And he does so in favour of the poor, the anawim, those who knew how to wait for his coming: Elisabeth, Zachary, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna and the shepherds. That is why the first two chapters are history but not in the sense that we today give to history. They were more like a mirror where those, for whom they were written, the Christians converted from paganism, could discover who Jesus was and how he had come to fulfil the prophecies of the Old Testament, satisfying the deepest aspirations of the human heart. These chapters were also a mirror of the events that were taking place within the communities in Luke’s time. The communities originating from paganism will be born of the communities of converted Jews. But these were different. The New did not correspond to what the Old Testament imagined and expected. It was "the sign of contradiction" (Lk 2:34), and caused tensions and was the source of much suffering. In Mary’s attitude, Luke presents a model of how the communities could react to and persevere in the New.

ii) A key to the reading:
In these two chapters Luke presents Mary as model for the life of the community. The key is given to us in the episode where the woman in the crowd praises the mother of Jesus. Jesus modifies the praise and says: “More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:27-28). Herein lies the greatness of Mary. It is in the world where Mary knows how to relate to the Word of God that the communities contemplate the more correct way of relating to the Word of God: welcoming it, incarnating it, living it, deepening it, reflecting on it, giving it birth and making it grow, allowing oneself to be overpowered by it even when one does not understand it or when one suffers because of it. This is the vision underlying the two texts of chapters 1 and 2 of Luke’s Gospel, which speak of Mary, the mother of Jesus.

iii) An application of the key to the texts:
1. Luke 1:26-38: The Annunciation: "Let it happen to me as you have said!"
Opening one’s self so that the Word of God may be welcomed and incarnated.
2. Luca 1:39-45: The Visitation: "Blessed is she who believed!"
Recognising the Word of God in the events of life.
3. Luke 1:46-56: The Magnificat: “The Almighty has done great things for me!”
A subversive and resistance hymn of hope.
4. Luke 2:1-20: The Birth: "She treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
There was no room for them. The marginalised welcome the Word.
5. Luke 2:21-32: The Presentation: "My eyes have seen the salvation!"
Years of life purify the eyes.
6. Luke 2:33-38: Simeon and Anna: "A sword will pierce your soul"
Being a Christian means being a sign of contradiction.
7. Luke 2:39-52: At twelve years: " Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
They did not understand the Word of God addressed to them!

iv) The contrasts that stand out in our text:
1. In the darkness of the night a light shines (2:8-9).
2. The world up there, heaven, seems to embrace our world here below (2:13).
3. The greatness of God manifests itself in the weakness of a child (2:7).
4. The glory of God is made present in a manger, close to animals (2:16).
5. Fear is generated by the sudden apparition of an angel and is changed into joy (2:9-10).
6. Those completely marginalised are the first invited (2:8).
7. The shepherds recognise God present in a child (2:20).

6. Praying with the Psalm 23 (22)

“Yahweh is my shepherd!”
Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.

Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.

You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come.

7. Final Prayer 

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
The first thing the angel says is: Do not be afraid! The second is: Joy to be shared by the whole people! The third is: Today! Then the angel gives three names to indicate who Jesus is: Saviour, Christ and Lord! Saviour is the one who frees all people from all ties! The authorities in those days liked to use the title Saviour. They attributed the title of Soter to themselves. Christ means anointed or messiah. In the Old Testament this was the title given to kings and prophets. It was also the title of the future Messiah who would fulfil the promises made by God to his people. This means that newly born child, who lies in a manger, has come to fulfil the hopes of the people. Lord was the name given to God himself! Here we have the three greatest titles imaginable. From this announcement of the birth of Jesus as Saviour, Christ and Lord, can you imagine anyone with a higher standing? And angel says to you: “Be careful! I give you this sign of recognition: you will meet a child in a manger, in the midst of poor people!” Would you believe him? God’s ways are not our ways!