Christmas Eve: The Nativity of Our Lord
Lectionary readings for December 24, 2011: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all…” Titus 2:11
Christmas Eve signals the beginning of the feast of the Nativity—the celebration of God with us. Advent, the season of waiting, is coming to a close as we behold the culmination of our waiting. We pass from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day celebrating the Incarnation—God with us in the flesh!—a celebration that will continue for twelve more days, until the feast of the epiphany.
During these days, we celebrate one of the great mysteries of our faith, the mystery of humanity and divinity becoming one. The early church theologians stressed that the Incarnation should not be seen as condescension, as the” descent” of God to man, but as the lifting up of humanity into the divine life. “The Incarnation makes it possible for the redeemed life to be lived out in this flesh, on this ordinary earth. The Nativity ennobles the lowliest aspects of everyday life: God chose to be born in a stable, with animals and shepherds as his first visitors. In this lies the power of the Incarnation; the humblest things are most exalted.”[i]
For the rest of the world, the Christmas season is over at the end of Christmas Day and there is nothing left to do but dig out, clean up, and make our post-season exchanges and returns. But for Christians, the celebration is just beginning. God with us! In the flesh! Elevating every aspect of our human existence as a place of spiritual possibility and divine visitation! This is the best thing that’s ever happened to us; it is the gift that keeps on giving! Thanks be to God.
for giving yourself to the world
not in the powerful and extraordinary,
but in weakness and the familiar:
in a baby: in bread and wine.
for offering, at journey’s end, a new beginning;
for setting, in the poverty of a stable,
the richest jewel of your love;
for revealing, in a particular place,
your light for all nations.
for bringing us to Bethlehem, House of Bread,
where the empty are filled,
and the filled are emptied;
where the poor find riches,
and the rich recognize their poverty;
where all who kneel and hold out their hands
are unstintingly fed.
Kate Compston, Bread for Tomorrow
[i] God with Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe, eds. (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007), p. 125.
©Ruth Haley Barton, 2011. Feel free to share this article using the buttons below; please do not reproduce and distribute without permission.
Ruth Haley Barton (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder of the Transforming Center. A teacher, spiritual director, and retreat leader, she is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups (June 2012) and Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.
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“…where the empty are filled,
and the filled are emptied…”
POWERFUL! That’s the Gospel!
I am not familiar with the 12 days of epiphany. For some of us who feel unfulfilled, dissatisfied and overwhelmed in this season are now looking forward to the celebration of God with us. Thank you for this inspiration
It’s actually the twelve days of the Christmas season which culminates in Epiphany (which means showing forth) which commemorates the arrival of the wise men at the manger. Rather than the waiting that characterizes Advent we now celebrate the presence of Christ with us in twelve days following the birth. It truly is something to look forward to.