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You Matter: First Meditation
God Will Never Give Up on You
- Time and Eternity Touch
- From Throne to Cradle
- You Search Me and You Know Me
Time and Eternity Touch
One powerful feeling animates the ancient prayers and readings for the Christmas Mass at Midnight: joyful amazement.
The angels are so amazed that they fill the midnight sky with their heavenly glory — they can’t hold back their celebration as they announce their “good news of great joy”!
The shepherds are frozen with amazement as the sky erupts with angelic celebration.
The Prophet Isaiah
The prophet Isaiah, who foresees this amazing moment centuries before in the First Reading, is so amazed that he pours out a super-abundant litany of joyful praise to describe the promised Savior: “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”
What is the cause of this joyful amazement that floods Christmas night? What would you say the cause is? How would you describe it? We need to ask ourselves this question, especially if we find that our own amazement has become dulled over the years.
The amazement comes from something that is quintessentially Christian.
It comes from one of the things that make Christianity absolutely unique in the vast menagerie of world religions. It comes from the shocking realization that:
God chose to come to our rescue, God didn’t give up on us,
God didn’t stay aloof from us in our foolishness, our sinful rebellion, and our miserable pettiness,
God himself decided to invade this “land of gloom” (Isaiah 9:1), just for our sake,
God has not only come into our lives, but, as St. Paul puts it in the Second Reading, he actually “gave himself for us, to deliver us” (Titus 2:14).
You see, we can’t save ourselves.
If there’s one thing the history of the world, and the history of each of our individual lives, tells us, it’s that. Salvation — the deep, existential fulfillment we yearn for now and forever — doesn’t come from us, from our efforts to be good enough, from our clever discovery of some kind of secret knowledge or technique, or from our lucky encounter with a whimsical divinity or a winning lottery ticket. No. Salvation comes from God. It happened on God’s initiative. We didn’t deserve it; we had no right to it; but he did it. That’s what’s so amazing.
The birth of Jesus Christ is the entrance of eternity into time, of the divine into the human; it is God bursting through all the barriers that we put up to keep him out, sneaking back into our shattered world by becoming one of us. It is God proving that he really does love us, that we really do matter to him after all — each one of us, because this is what love does: it finds a way.
That’s what the opening antiphon of the Christmas Mass during the night — the first of the three Christmas Masses — celebrates when it says:
Let us all rejoice in the Lord, for our Savior has been born in the world. Today true peace has come down to us from heaven.
From Throne to Cradle
This amazing initiative of God is illustrated beautifully in the mosaic above the high altar of one of the first churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, built in the fifth century.
The center of the mosaic decorating the triumphal arch directly above the altar depicts a royal, imperial throne. Obviously, it’s the throne of the King of Heaven. But there’s something funny about this throne: it’s empty. The King of Heaven has left his heavenly throne; he has traded it in for a much different seat — a little manger jerry-rigged into a cradle.
The symbolic meaning of the mosaic takes on special weight inside the Church of St. Mary Major, because of the special relic kept there.
A pious tradition holds that pieces of the manger Mary used as a cradle for the baby Jesus were preserved and venerated by the early Christians, and that eventually some of them made their way to Rome and are still kept reverently in this very church, under the high altar, under the image of the empty throne.
From glorious heavenly throne to humble, dirty, earthly manger.
Only God could have done that, and only a God who loves us sinful humans so much that he will never, never give up on us. We could never have reached up to heaven’s throne from our earthly mangers in order to snatch salvation for ourselves. God had to do it; he had to take the initiative. He did, he still does, and he always will — it’s undeniable proof that, to him, we matter.
You Search Me and You Know Me
Everything Jesus did in his earthly life was done for all of humanity, and for each individual person. Everything Jesus did in his earthly life reveals the pattern of how he acts in the lives of each of his followers. The Catechism assures us of this:
All Christ’s riches ‘are for every individual and are everybody’s property.’
– CCC 519
Christmas is no exception. Jesus came for each of us on that cold night in Bethlehem. And every day, Jesus still comes down from his heavenly throne in order to enter into the Bethlehems of our hearts — through the Eucharist.
Take a few minutes to let yourself be amazed once again by the staggering reality of Christmas, present at every Mass.
Savor this unchangeable truth: that God didn’t give up on you, that he came with his glorious grace, to be your Savior, your Wonder-Counselor, your God-Hero, your Father-forever.
To give expression to your own joyful amazement, you may want to include Psalm 96 in your prayer — the Psalm proclaimed during this Midnight Mass.
If for some reason you find it hard to let that truth sink in, you may want to turn to Psalm 139 and read it over slowly, prayerfully, letting the Holy Spirit convince you more than ever that God is always thinking of you, always with you, always loving you.
Questions for Personal Reflection or Group Discussion
- 1 In my relationship with God, have I ever felt the “joyful amazement” that characterizes this First Mass? What triggered it and what was it like? What did I learn from it?
- 2 How deeply do I feel the need for Jesus to be my Savior? How do I express that felt need? What elements in my life tend to dampen that feeling?
- 3 If I were with Mary and Joseph in the stable-cave at Bethlehem, what would I say to them? What would I say to Jesus? What would they say to me?
Biblical Passages to Help Your Meditation
Sing to the LORD a new song;
sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.
Tell his glory among the nations;
among all peoples, his marvelous deeds.
For great is the LORD and highly to be praised, to be feared above all gods.
For the gods of the nations are idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and power go before him; power and grandeur are in his holy place.
Give to the LORD, you families of nations, give to the LORD glory and might;
give to the LORD the glory due his name! Bring gifts and enter his courts;
bow down to the LORD, splendid in holiness. Tremble before him, all the earth;
declare among the nations: The LORD is king.
The world will surely stand fast, never to be shaken. He rules the peoples with fairness.
Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them. Then let all the trees of the forest rejoice before the LORD who comes,
who comes to govern the earth, To govern the world with justice and the peoples with faithfulness.
– Psalm 96
(For the leader. A psalm of David.)
LORD, you have probed me, you know me:
you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all.
Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach.
Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast.
If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me, and night shall be my light”—
Darkness is not dark for you, and night shines as the day. Darkness and light are but one.
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works!
My very self you know. My bones are not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.
How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the sands; when I complete them, still you are with me. When you would destroy the wicked, O God,
the bloodthirsty depart from me! Your foes who conspire a plot against you are exalted in vain.
Do I not hate, LORD, those who hate you?
Those who rise against you, do I not loathe?
With fierce hatred I hate them, enemies I count as my own.
Probe me, God, know my heart; try me, know my thoughts.
See if there is a wicked path in me; lead me along an ancient path.
– Psalm 139