Christmas Eve (Visitation)
24 December 2010
Padnijmy na kolana, to Chrystus Pan.
Ó vinde, adoremos ,Cristo é o Senhor.
Venite adoremus, Dominum
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord
As we hear the words of the familiar readings for Christmas, as we consider the final line of the most evocative of Christmas hymns, our thoughts may gradually drift back to the past; to a particular Christmas, be it THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER or the one during which the pain that enveloped us was crushing . . .
or something in between.
We may recall the first Christmas in the novitiate when nothing was like it was.
Or the first Christmas as newlyweds, the first Christmas in the new house, the first Christmas without a loved one. Sit with those memories. They arise for a reason.
The message of how the Commercial Christmas should be is oftentimes at odds
with our lived experience. But, the message of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord is a reflection of our lived reality, it is never at odds with our experience
be it the experience of the past, the Christmas we are living today, or a Christmas yet to come; THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER or the one we wanted to end before it began.
The Feast of the Nativity of the Lord is both human and humane. Joyful
and fraught with sorrow. Peaceful and tinged with fear.
Padnijmy na kolana to Chrystus Pan.
Norman Rockwell. Hallmark. And the dreadful 24/7 Christmas music stations playing in Wal-Mart have it all wrong. As a society we get the kind of Christmas
we want and deserve. Americans today want little out of Christmas and get what they deserve; an expensive sweater that doesn’t fit and a lot of stress. But it needn’t be that way. As believers we can have the Christmas we want and deserve; a deeper understanding of the magnitude of what Jesus did for us, knowledge of Jesus’ redemptive actions, and thus unimaginable joy.
On the first day of the second week of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola one considers Jesus’ birth in detail. The mediations which Ignatius prescribes bring the humane and human reality of the Nativity to the forefront.
The meditations help to remove the stains of dried eggnog from a sleeve, they get that last annoying piece of static-glued tinsel off the fingers, the Exercises diminish the fury of road rage, and bring us back to the mandate:
The contemplation on the Nativity begins with the first prelude in which we are to envision: “Our Lady, about nine months with child, seated on a donkey, set out from Nazareth. She was accompanied by Joseph who was leading an ox. They are going to Bethlehem to pay the tribute that Caesar imposed on those lands.”
Mary and Joseph were both righteous. They observed the Law of Torah
and the law of the land; rendering unto God that which was God’s and unto Caesar that which was Caesar’s. The second prelude instructs us to consider the challenge of the journey itself.
“See in your imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Consider its length, its breadth; whether it was level or through valleys and over hills.
Observe the place where Christ was born, whether big or little; whether high or low; and how it was arranged.”
We have to deal with cars and the deservedly infamous Beltway in our journey. Rather than a manger we may have to cope with a too small guest room, or a living room with an inflatable mattress. And way too many relatives. Like Mary and Joseph we journey. And it is not easy.
Ó vinde, adoremos Cristo é o Senhor.
After the two preludes that set the reality of the scene we come to the three points for contemplation.
First: See the persons; Our Lady, Joseph and the Child Jesus after His birth.
And say to yourself, “I will make myself a poor slave, and, as though present,
look at them; contemplate them and serve them in their needs with reverence.”
Second: Consider what they are saying.
Third: Consider what they are doing.
Here Ignatius adds the key element of the meditation, an element we can forget only if we want a Holly Jolly, Hallmark Lifetime Channel, Winter Wonderland Rockin Around the Christmas tree bacchanal. Stuffed. Hungover. And possessing many too many Starbucks gift cards.
“They are making the journey and laboring that our Lord might be born in extreme poverty, and that after many labors, after hunger, thirst, heat, and cold,
after insults and outrages, He might die on the cross. And all this for me.”
These three contemplations compel us to place ourselves at the manger,
to enter into the scene as if we were stepping into the action of a play.
Where are we: Close to Jesus or cowering in a corner? Serving our Lord
or looking for a place to stay warm, dry and fed?
Are we entering into conversation? With Mary? With Joseph? With the shepherds? Or are we mentally finishing our Christmas shopping or grousing about the fruitcake that Aunt Ethel gave us. Again? Do we understand
that this scene of grit and determination is a scene that has been sanitized
and sentimentalized beyond all comprehension?
Can we recall that this event changed the history of universe?
Can we afford to forget that it is not the end of a story but only the beginning?
That Jesus would go on to live just as we do, to suffer just as we do. To experience the same emotions, stresses, and losses that we do.
Venite adoremus Dominum
Some of the greatest theological statements in history have been uttered
not by academics; those learned and professional theologians writing jargon
and agonizing over Greek consonants or Jesus as metaphor. The greatest theological statements have been written by men and women who didn’t just talk the talk. They walked the walk. They did the heavy lifting.
One of them was the late Dag Hammarskjold, third Secretary General of the U.N. who died in a mysterious plane crash while negotiating peace in the Congo. Hammarskjold captured the entire history of our salvation—the reason why we are celebrating this day—in a haiku; a short poem of 12 simple words. just 17 syllables:
On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
Was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare
The Gloria in Excelsis Deo we sing today would be meaningless if it did not lead to the Alleluia, He is Risen at Easter
O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.