domenica 24 dicembre 2017

«Apparuit gratia Dei»

We are celebrating the Vigil Mass of Christmas. Security reasons advised against celebrating the Mass during the Night; but, since the liturgical norms allow it, we have heard the readings of the Night Mass. I would like to highlight the contrasts present in these readings: it will help us to grasp the meaning of this celebration.

In the first reading we find a contrast between light and darkness: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.” Christmas is a feast of light. It is not by chance that we celebrate Christmas shortly after the winter solstice, when the days are drawing out: light prevails over darkness. On this day, the ancient Romans celebrated the Dies natalis Solis invicti, that is to say, the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun”. Christians transformed that pagan festival into the solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the “Sun of justice,” the light which conquers darkness.

In the second reading there is another contrast between grace and godlessness: “The grace of God has appeared (apparuit gratia Dei), saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires.” Saint Paul explains to us what Isaiah meant when he was saying that the people walked in darkness: they were godless; they lived in sin. They did not change their ways on their own initiative—because they realized that their ways were wrong—but rather because the grace of God appeared. The Catechism tells us what is grace: “Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (# 1996). With the birth of the Son of God, this grace, which was invisible, becomes visible, to save us and train us to reject godlessness and worldly desires.

In the gospel we encounter a different kind of contrast. At the beginning of the passage, Luke, who is a good historian, provides the historical coordinates of the birth of Jesus; so, he makes reference to the then emperor and governor, Caesar Augustus and Quirinius. On the one hand, we have the great of that time, who make their political decisions; on the other hand, we see two unknown and poor persons, who experience not a little trouble to execute those decisions. There is no room for them in the inn; the woman is with child, and is forced to give birth inside a cave and to lay the child in a manger. Nobody notices the event; only some shepherds go to visit those poor people, because alerted by an angel. It was the most important event of history, but it took place in obscurity, in poverty, in a far corner of the world. Only the poor, led by the grace of God, were able to perceive it.

If we, too, want to perceive this mysterious event, we should put ourselves in the same position as the shepherds, ready to listen to the angel and welcome his announcement: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ the Lord.”