Ask your presider to tell your listeners (or tell them yourself):

Christmas Midnight Mass, December 25

Before the first reading:

The prophet Isaiah addresses a people gloomy because they've been divided and conquered. He encourages them with the promise that God will give a new king, descended from the great ancient king David, who will drive out their enemies and unite them. They will praise this king with grand titles.

After the psalm, before the second reading:

This reading is about the next coming of Jesus, at the end of time. It explains how the prior coming of Jesus enabled us to prepare for the next.

[The familiar gospel passage needs no introduction.]

First Reading, Isaiah 9: 1-6

The Historical Situation: In the late eighth century B.C.E., God's people in the promised land had become divided into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah. Assyria was the dominant power in the region, and lay especially heavily on the northern kingdom. Concerned about both kingdoms, Isaiah prophesies relief for both in this way: A new king will come to the throne in the southern kingdom, Judah, and will see to the reunion of the north and south and the expulsion of the Assyrians from the north. The king whom Isaiah had in mind is, interestingly, Hezekiah, the successor of King Ahaz whom we heard about on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year A.

So the people once in darkness are the dwellers in Israel oppressed by Assyria. The child/son born to us is the new king in Jerusalem in Judah. He inherits the throne of David (whose glorious reign roughly four centuries earlier was still the source of national pride and hope). Royal titles verging on the divine were normal for such kings at the time.

Proclaiming It: There is much here deserving careful proclamation. Don't make it run together but divide it, by three pronounced pauses, into four sections, thus:

Proclaiming It: Here's a way to prepare for this reading that might be appropriate to your situation. Think of your proclamation in the context in which these Notes were first edited: late 2001 in a nation at war with global terrorists. That nation still sees itself walking in a kind of darkness, and looks forward to deliverance and peace. But unlike Isaiah and ancient Judah, you will almost certainly be proclaiming this prophecy in a nation decidedly secular, and you would not dream of calling even the greatest of future national leaders "God-hero," etc. But that's the way Isaiah believed God was at work in the world. You'll have to work to put yourself in the prophet's frame of mind, but try to convey his enthusiasm for the prospect.

Second Reading, Titus 2:11-14

Our Liturgical Setting: This reading is an interesting choice for Christmas midnight mass, for it focuses on the other coming of Jesus, at the end of time, and on the changes that we are called to make in our lives. So its theological plainness and moral starkness make it a worthy counterpoint to the sentimentality that dominates Christmas. (If there will be an enthronement of the Bambino in the manger at your parish before midnight mass, then this reading deserves all the more emphasis.)

Proclaiming It: Your country's edition of the Lectionary may render this as one very long sentence. That won't do rhetorically. Even though the sentence doesn't end there, insert pauses after "worldly desires," after "devoutly in this age," and after "savior Jesus Christ." Lector Joe Gerhard of New Haven, Connecticut, USA, suggests "raise the pitch of your voice slightly at the end of each phrase. A slight rise in pitch makes it clear that there is still more to come, allowing you to insert pauses, yet still maintain the sense of a single, albeit run-on, sentence." And Edna Boyette of Gainesville, Florida, USA, suggests "that the Lector establish a good eye contact with the congregation delivering the Word as if his/her own." Both ideas seem very smart to me, and I thank Edna and Joe for writing. Your suggestions (about any day's readings) are welcome, too. Please use the Disqus comment box below.

 
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Links to other smart commentaries on this week's readings

Credit for the picture at the top:

Postal services in many countries issue special stamps for the Christmas season. The United States Postal Service issued this stamp in 2009, with this press release.

Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.

This page updated November 6, 2016