The Angel Gabriel was silent. The Universe held its breath in anxious expectation. Stillness enveloped the room. The planets halted their orbits.
And then Mary uttered the words, “May it be done unto me according to your word.” A joyful sigh came forth from all living things. The Universe resumed its rhythm and movement. The fullness of time had come. God entered the world.
In time and space.
In flesh and blood.
Like us in all things but sin.
Son of God.
Son of Man.
Son of Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer.
Today we rejoice as we recall and commemorate that Jesus came into this world to redeem us from sin and death. The story of the Incarnation has been sentimentalized beyond credulity. Too many artists have depicted Jesus’ birth in treacly fashion, showing Mary dressed in silk and satin trimmed with seed pearls holding a Jesus who appears to be about six months old at birth. And there are cherubs hovering overhead resembling nothing so much as a flock of diapered and over-fed sparrows.
The reality of the Incarnation and all that followed was much harsher than the ghastly sentimental artistic depictions to which we have become accustomed. Jesus entered into time in a specific place within a specific social and cultural milieu. He was born subject to Jewish law and custom that, as we know from the Gospels, His parents observed and fulfilled.
Christmas is meaningless and incomplete if we ignore the reality in which, and to which, Jesus was born. It is both meaningless and incomplete if we ignore the cross. What began in the wooden manger at Bethlehem came to fruition on the wood of the cross atop Calvary. The “Christmas Story” does not end with the Gloria in Excelsis Deo of Christmas Eve but with the Alleluia! He is Risen! of the Easter Vigil. Only then is the story complete.
The greatest theological summary of the mystery of the Incarnation was penned in a haiku composed by Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary General of the U.N. It was found in a small notebook, eventually titled Markings, which was discovered and published after his death in the Congo. I froze the first time I read it some 30 years ago and continue to marvel at it, pray with it, preach on it and stand in awe of it.
In a time when political correctness and governmental fiat forbid the public use of the word Christmas, when the secular authorities permit only what resembles a pagan bacchanal holiday focused on drinking and spending instead of Holy Day, Hammarskjold’s words must never be forgotten.
On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare
May you have a Holy and Blessed Christmas rejoicing in what God has done for us despite our unworthiness.
+Fr. Jack, SJ
Recovery is coming along. Jake the Jebbybear has been retired to the bookshelf. Energy is picking up along with my blood count (I assume the blood count is up. I will have some blood work later this week). Walked around campus for 42 minutes yesterday and will do the same or more in a bit.
Attached are some photos from Taiwan at Christmas last year. I arrived there on 29 December. It is already Christmas morning (3:15 AM in Taipei) there. Ignatius expects that upwards of 1200 will attend the Masses. With Christmas on a Sunday it will be much easier for Catholics to attend Mass in a country in which Christmas is not a holiday. Oh yes, many of these attend weekly throughout the year.
The first is of the creche at the Jesuit Retreat House in Changhwa, Taiwan. We stopped here for a night on the way to Sun Moon Lake shortly after New Year's Day. I would like to make a retreat here some time. But not in the summer.
The next two are from Sacred Heart Church in Tien Center, Taipei where Ignatius is pastor. I like the separation of the creche in front of the altar with the supporting cast off to the left.
The next is Fr. Ignatius celebrating Mass. This photo was taken through one of the windows at the back of the church. Each pane depicts a particular symbol. I wish I'd had a tripod then. It would have been much easier. I was crouched in a position generally associated with limber gymnasts, not old men.
Finally one of my favorite photos. I posted a similar one last year. I was walking to the bus stop to return to Tien Center from Fu-jen Catholic University where I'd gone for dinner a day or so before leaving to Sydney. There are reasons to carry a camera at all times. This is one of them. The dog never budged or even opened its eyes as I shot photo after photo with flash.
Fr. Jack, SJ