To the angels belongs the night – man comes to fullness of life as he encounters the Day. And, in the dawning between them are those simple shepherds who were made fearful by the sight of the first but joyful in the presence of the other.
It seems to me that not for nothing has the Church set three Masses for this Feast – of the Angels, of the Shepherds and of the Word. Midnight, Dawn and Day. God enters the whole of life in what Walter Bruegemmann has called ‘the scandal of the particular’. We should not ignore the fact that heaven was first in awe of the coming-to-earth of God. Those beings who were not of earth but dwell in the fullness of heavenly Light see that Majesty takes flesh. Heaven is wedded to earth for God has chosen to dwell there in the form of His creature. “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” For that which was divided is now reconciled and we can find our true glory.
And it first dawned on the shepherds that here was something that called to them. They listened to those angel voices, those formless messengers, and responded by going ‘to see this thing that has happened’ as countless people do each Christmas. S. Francis took this opportunity to present the Nativity to their eyes by creating the first Christmas Crib which he erected for Midnight Mass, and what a tremendous gift that has been to the church – to celebrate Midnight Mass with the Holy Babe lying on the altar until placed in the Crib, thus reminding us that He who offered His life to us will do so for us. Crib and Cross are both altars of offering.
The, finally, in the full light of day we celebrate the Word which became flesh whose glory man can see. But this sight is not with the eyes of the body but those of the heart. Once the seed of the Word has entered our world we may come to this realisation. Yet it takes St. John fourteen verses, verses in which he reflects on the meaning of this Divine revelation before he can give voice to this tremendous understanding.
God and Man reconciled and Flesh is embraced into the Divine through a night of the senses, the dawning of revelation until we see that ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.’