The Nativity of the Lord (Mass at Midnight)
(Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14)
Historians do more than record the events of the past. More importantly, they tell the significance of those events. They put the events in context by relating them to other occurrences of the time. They also give the meaning of the events to both the people of their time and the historians’ own times. Of the four evangelists no one is more self-consciously an historian than Luke. His historical consciousness is readily seen as he narrates the event of Jesus’ birth.
Luke begins his story by contextualizing Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in their time. Caesar Augustus was ruling what seemed to be the whole world. He had brought peace to the empire after almost a hundred years of civil strife. The great poet Virgil considered Augustus the epitome of the virtuous ruler. Luke hints that Jesus will become an ever more glorious ruler. He relates how the angels are singing in the heavens when Jesus is born. "’Glory to God in the highest,’” they proclaim, “’and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’"
We live in a world of continued conflict and often enough war. The great powers – Russia, China, and the United States – show off their military might. Civil wars in smaller nations like Yemen, Sudan, and Syria ravage populations. Some ask: if Jesus is the great peace-maker, why does the world still experience such turmoil? Our response will not satisfy every troubled heart, but it does fit our experience. Jesus has brought a modicum of peace to the world. He healed the enmity between Jews and Gentiles in antiquity, and his teachings continue to give pause to warring hearts. He also moves us interiorly to reconcile with our enemies, our neighbors, and God. His birth, which we celebrate with joy today, represents the beginning of eternal peace.