As happens every so often, this year Christmas Day coincides with a Sunday. This is a happy coincidence, but it also is a bit of a headache in terms of writing a Sunday Scripture column! We have four different Christmas Masses (the Vigil Mass, the Mass During the Night, the Dawn Mass and the Mass During the Day) with four different Gospels; to say nothing of all the other readings that go with each Mass. What to do? A (hopefully) helpful solution is to provide a brief reflection on each of the Gospels; rather like four photographs or snapshots. Each Gospel can bring out different aspects of the richness that is the Christmas mystery and so focus and deepen our prayer and action in this joyful season.

The given Gospel for the Vigil Mass is that of St. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1-25), although one may use the shorter form and miss out all those names and generations. It may seem an odd choice of text, especially as most people at the Vigil Mass (often including many children) will be expecting to hear the well-known account of Jesus’ birth in a stable. That being said, this Gospel does provide us with some important insights into Christmas. For one thing, it shows a sense of continuity and history. We are all fascinated with our history and many people spend a great deal of time researching their genealogy. We want to know about our roots and where we come from, not least to help us understand who we are now. Furthermore, in the time of Jesus, and even today in many cultures, one’s family or tribe is crucial in establishing one’s deep identity and place.

This is why St. Matthew begins his Gospel with Jesus’ genealogy. He wants to show how Jesus “has a history,” who Jesus is, and how he fulfills the prophecies and expectations stretching back many generations. Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, but he is also “son of Abraham and son of David.” We can notice too that not all names in the genealogy are what one might call reputable. Jesus comes from a mixed bunch of people, but then he also comes to save a very mixed bunch of people too!

The Gospel for Mass During the Night, or the “Midnight Mass” (Luke 2:1-14) is dear to so many of us: Joseph and Mary looking for a place to stay, the birth of Jesus in a manger, and the choir of angels appearing to the shepherds. As so many commentators have noted, this Gospel shows God’s great love for us in being born into difficult circumstances and poverty. This was the motive of St. Francis of Assisi, when in 1221, in a town called Greccio in Italy, he created the first Christmas crèche. It is an invitation for us, as we hear this Gospel or look upon a Christmas crèche, to imitate that poverty and humility and to see our absolute need for God’s love and mercy.

The Gospel (Luke 2:15-20) for those early risers on Christmas Day who go to a “Mass at Dawn,” furnishes another aspect of this great Christmas mystery. It picks up where the Midnight Mass Gospel ended. The shepherds go to see the Holy Family and then they rush off to tell everyone about who this newborn child is. Rather like the first witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, one might think that God could have chosen better witnesses or messengers than ordinary shepherds. As many point out, shepherds were rather on the margins of society. But that is exactly what God decided to do. We can rejoice that the shepherds were faithful messengers and went to share the good news (even in the middle of the night!). The obvious lesson for us is that we too must listen for God’s messages to us and then be his messengers, regardless of whether we feel qualified, or able, or not.

Last, but by no means least, we have the Gospel for Mass During the Day. This Gospel is so different: The Prologue to St. John’s Gospel (John 1:1-18). It is like a poem or meditation about Jesus as the Word of God and the Word made flesh. It is also an invitation and reminder for us to let Jesus Christ, the Word of God, guide every aspect of our life. After all, we ritualize this with a gesture, every time we hear the Gospel at Mass. We sign our forehead, our lips and our breast as we say “Glory to you, O Lord.” It is a sign that God’s Word will always be in our mind, on our lips and in our heart. May this not be an empty gesture for us!

The season of Christmas provides a wonderful opportunity to pause, to reflect, to pray and then to resolve to give more to our God who came to us, and still abides with us, every second of our lives. Perhaps we can finish this reflection by quoting Pope Francis: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to let Him encounter them … no one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”