The Church’s first scripture for Mass today is an excerpt from the Book of Samuel. The story you heard from the Book of Samuel recounts David’s plans to build a monumental temple to the Lord God, plans which God refuses to accept or bless. David will not build a temple for the Lord God. Instead, the Lord will, in accord with his own plans, build a temple for himself.
The temple the Lord God plans to build will not be a temple of wood and stone, but of flesh and blood. The Lord God’s temple will be the body of Christ’s human nature, and through the temple of Christ’s body, the Lord God will place his divine life and presence among his people and within his creation.
The great solemnity of Christmas is about the revelation of the temple the Lord God planned to build for himself from even before the creation of the world. The earthly temple, which would be built by the son of David, Solomon, would only be a foreshadowing of the heavenly temple that the Son of God, Jesus Christ, builds and reveals in his own body.
The temple of Christ’s Body that is revealed at his birth has not disappeared from reality, but endures in the Church, which is really and truly Christ’s body living and present in the world. Christ invites us to enter into the sanctuary of his body through the Mass. The Mass is the temple worship of Jesus Christ. It is in the Mass that we not only enter into Christ’s divine presence, but he invites us to share communion with his divine presence by adoring and receiving the mystical sacrament of his Body and Blood- the Eucharist.
Thus, also, we can better understand why the worship of Christmas day cannot just be a holiday pageant or some customary things that we accomplish privately at home. Instead, in order to celebrate the revelation of God’s temple in the Body of the Lord Jesus, we make our way to Mass, where the temple of the Body of the Lord Jesus really and truly is. Christmas can only be what Christ intends for the day to be if we participate in the Christ-Mass- the temple worship of Jesus Christ.
Today’s testimony from the Gospel of Luke presents the song of Zechariah, a song that celebrates the birth of his son, John, who we know as John the Baptist.
The Gospel of Luke begins with the great drama of the strange circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist, a drama that begins in the sanctuary of the temple. Zechariah was a priest of the Israelites, as would be his son, John.
Yet John would abandon his service as priest of the earthly temple so as to be the servant of the heavenly temple- Christ the Lord.
In Christ, John saw the plan of God fulfilled- God dwelled with humanity and humanity dwelled with God. The earthly temple gestured towards with revelation, while the Body of Jesus Christ brought the revelation to its fulfillment.
And all this, is of course, the mystery of Christmas revealed! The holy birth at Bethlehem is not merely the birth of a prophet or teacher, social activist or spiritual guru. The revelation of the Christ Child is the revelation of God, who in Christ has accepted a human nature and lived a real, human life.
It is this revelation that we are given, in the words of Zechariah, “knowledge of salvation for the forgiveness of our sins”. And it is in the Holy Child of Bethlehem that we receive “the tender compassion of our God”, whose divine light breaks upon a world darkened by sin and death- a light that guides our paths into the ways of peace.