Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve 2015

"O Come All Ye Faithful"
"Silent Night"
"O Holy Night"
"Joy to the World"

Simply hearing the titles of beloved Christmas hymns can trigger the melody in our minds. The evocative words and familiar music have the potential to bring back memories. They may be memories of THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER!!!! , the Christmas we were being crushed with pain, or something in between.  We may recall our first childhood Christmas memory, the first Christmas as a newlywed, the last Christmas in the old house, the final Christmas with a loved one, the Christmas when we knew nothing would ever be the same, or the first Christmas when we understood its true meaning.  Sit with those memories.  They arise for a reason. 

The fantasies of what Christmas should be, the secular and commercial message of Christmas, is oftentimes at odds with our experience.  But, the truth of the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord, always fits our lived reality. The Feast of the Nativity is never at odds with our experience, be it the experience Christmases past, the Christmas we are living right now, or Christmases yet to come. 

Lifetime Channel.  Hallmark cards.  Sappy advertisements.  Dreadful 24/7 Christmas music stations. They have it all wrong. They have it all wrong with Frosty, Rudolph, Santa, and Brenda Lee singin' about rockin' around the tree.  Sloppy sentimentalists have it all wrong when they say,  "Christmas is for children."  It ain't.  Never was.  As a society we get the kind of Christmas we want and deserve.  Many Americans want little out of Christmas.  And that is what they get, an expensive sweater that doesn’t quite fit and a lot of stress. 

It need not be that way. We can have the Christmas we want, the Christmas we deserve . . . the Christmas we desperately need.  And we can have it despite government sanctioned and ACLU driven attacks on all things religious, sacred and true, the criminalization of Christianity.  This evening we celebrate the birth of Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. Son of the Father. Son of Mary. Jesus, like us in all things but sin.

St. Ignatius makes a crucial point in one of the meditations from the Spiritual Exercises.  It is a point we cannot forget or ignore unless. . .  we want or are satisfied with a Holly Jolly, Hallmark, Red-nosed Rudolph, Winter Wonderland,  Rockin Around the Christmas tree drunken bacchanal.  Stuffed from overeating.  Hung-over.  Gifted with way too many Starbucks gift cards.  Ignatius wrote: “Mary and Joseph journeyed and struggled so that our Lord might be born, so that after his labors and hunger, his thirst and work, and after insults and outrages, that He might die on the cross.  And do this for me.”

"That he might die on the cross. And do this for me."

Go to the manger in your imagination.  Enter the scene as if you were stepping into the action of a movie.  Are you standing close to Jesus or hiding in a corner?  Are you gazing at our Lord or looking for a place to stay warm, dry and fed?  Are you conversing with Mary and Joseph, or mentally finishing your Christmas shopping while fuming about the fruitcake that Aunt Bertha gave you again?

Never forget that the scene of Jesus' birth was, and is, a slice of real life.  It was experienced by real people, in a specific place, at a particular time. It was neither clean nor neat, childbirth rarely is.  Jesus' birth changed history. It changed the nature of the universe.  Jesus' birth is not the end of the Christmas story. The so-called 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. Our redemption was not secured when the magi departed.

Gaze at the manger again. The wood of the manger in Bethlehem led to the wood of the cross on Calvary.  It could be no other way.  Without the cross the manger means nothing.  Without Christ's passion, death, resurrection and ascension Jesus is just another cute kid born in Bethlehem a few thousand years ago.  Without Jesus' death and resurrection there would be no reason to celebrate today.

Dag Hammarskjold, second Secretary General of the U.N. who died in a plane crash in what is now Zimbabwe, traced the entire arc of our salvation in a seventeen-syllable haiku.  Hammarskjold captured the real meaning of Christmas in twelve short words

On Christmas Eve, Good Friday
Was foretold them
In a trumpet fanfare
Only because of Good Friday and all that followed, can we proclaim with great joy to the sound of that trumpet fanfare this evening.

Venite adoremus Dominum.

Just returned from the Christmas Vigil Mass at St. Patrick Nursing Home, part of the complex founded by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.  The chapel has the seating capacity of a small church with a lot of room for wheelchairs.  It was packed with patients at St. Patrick, some from Carmel Terrace, the assisted living facility adjacent, a family visitors.  It is becoming an increasing challenge to sit upright.  So I will post some photos of the chapel and call it a night.  Back to Carmel Terrace in the morning. 

Have a most Blessed Christmas

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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