"O Come All Ye Faithful"
"O Holy Night"
"Joy to the World"
We just heard the words of Luke's Gospel. Simply hearing the titles of beloved Christmas hymns can trigger the melody in our minds. These evocative words and familiar music may bring back memories of a particular Christmas. It may be THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER, or the one during which we were being crushed with pain, or somewhere in between.
We may recall our first childhood memory of Christmas, that first Christmas as newlyweds, the last Christmas in the old house, the last Christmas with a loved one, that first Christmas when we knew nothing would ever be the same, or the first Christmas when we truly understood its meaning. Sit with those memories. They arise for a reason.
The commercial message of how Christmas should be is oftentimes at odds with our experience. But, the message of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord always reflects our lived reality. It is never at odds with our experience, be it the experience of the past or the Christmas we are living today; be it the experience of that best Christmas ever or the experience of the Christmas we wanted to end before it began. The Lifetime Channel. Hallmark. Thousands of sappy advertisements. And the dreadful 24/7 Christmas music stations have it all wrong with Frosty, Rudolph, and Santa.
As a society we get the kind of Christmas we want and deserve. Many Americans today want little out of Christmas and that is what they get: an expensive sweater that doesn’t quite fit and a lot of stress. But it needn’t be that way. We can have the Christmas we want, deserve, and desperately need despite government sanctioned and ACLU driven attacks on all things religious, sacred and true. This evening we recall Jesus’ redeeming act. This evening we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, and Son of Mary. Jesus, like us in all things but sin.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola include meditations that bring the human reality of the Nativity to awareness. These meditations help remove crusted eggnog from a sleeve, get that last annoying piece of static-glued tinsel off the fingers, diminish the fury of road rage, and bring us back to the humanness of and reason for the events of Jesus' birth.
Ignatius wrote: “Imagine Mary, with child, seated on a donkey, set out from Nazareth. She was accompanied by Joseph. They are going to Bethlehem to pay the tax that Caesar Augustus imposed on those lands. See in your imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Consider its length, and width; whether it was level or hilly. Observe the place where Christ was born, whether big or little; and how it was arranged.”
We too journey and struggle like Mary and Joseph did. It is not easy. Rather than a recalcitrant donkey or a dusty road, we have to deal with cars and the deservedly infamous Mass Pike. Rather than a barn filled with livestock we may have to cope with a too small guest room or a living room with inflatable mattresses. With the scene set Ignatius gives the points for contemplation.
First: Observe the persons of Mary, Joseph and the Infant Jesus after His birth.
What do you see?
Second: Consider what they are saying.
What do you hear?
Third: Consider what they are doing.
What do you feel?
Here Ignatius adds the key element of the contemplation. It is an element that we cannot forget or ignore unless we desire or are satisfied with a Holly Jolly, Hallmark, Red-nosed Rudolph, Winter Wonderland, Rockin Around the Christmas tree bacchanal. Stuffed from overeating. Hung-over from . . . .well, you know. And having received many too many Starbucks gift cards. He wrote. “They made the journey and labored that our Lord might be born, and that after his labors and hunger, his thirst, and travail, and after insults and outrages, that He might die on the cross. And do this for me.”
So that he might die on the cross for me.
Place yourself at the manger. Enter the scene as if you were stepping into the action of a movie. Are you standing close to Jesus or cowering in a corner? Are you adoring our Lord or looking for a place to stay warm, dry and fed? Are you conversing with Mary, Joseph, or the shepherds or are you mentally finishing your Christmas shopping while fuming about the fruitcake that Aunt Bertha gave you?.
It is crucial to understand that the scene of Jesus' birth was, and is, a slice of real life, the experience of real people, at a real place, at a particular time. Jesus' birth irrevocably changed the history and the nature of the universe. Jesus' birth is not the end of the Christmas story. What we call the Christmas story cannot stand alone. It is only a beginning, it is only the beginning of the story of our redemption. The story of our redemption did not end with the Gloria in Excelsis Deo of the angels, or the departure of the magi after presenting their gifts. There was, and there is, much more.
The wood of the manger in Bethlehem led to the wood of the cross on Calvary. Without the cross the manger is meaningless. Without his passion, death and resurrection Jesus is just another cute kid born in Bethlehem. Without the resurrection there would be nothing to celebrate. A haiku written by Dag Hammarskjold explains it all in just seventeen syllables.
On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
Was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare
Only because of Good Friday, can we proclaim this Christmas day with great joy to the sound of that trumpet fanfare.
Venite adoremus Dominum.
I celebrated the 5:30 PM Mass at St. Julia in "downtown" Weston last evening. Was going to post the homily and photos last night but I realized just how physically demanding celebrating a large Mass is. I was crawling when I got back and mostly crashed. Had a beer that took away whatever motivation I might have had to hit the computer. Very early to bed. Will go down to the theology community near BC for dinner later this afternoon.
Campion decorates tastefully for Christmas. Nothing garish, not too much of anything and no Santa Clauses anywhere. We had a funeral yesterday morning so the chapel was not finished until mid-afternoon. Thus, these are photos from last year. Will do some current ones over the weekend after a quick trip out to upper New York State tomorrow. Off to Plymouth for New Year's to baptize my goddaughter's daughter and second child on 4 January and then back here for a few weeks.
Will not need to throw in commentary on the photos. They are all from Campion and include the main altar, the tree in the rotunda, the view from the back of the chapel and the view from the second balcony.
Have a Blessed Christmas Season and a Happy New Year.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD