CHRISTMAS – 2011

It seems to me that defiance ought to be one of the dominant themes of Christmas.  Look where the feast is placed on the yearly calendar.  December 25 for us in the northern hemisphere is just a few days beyond the shortest day and longest night of the year.  I’ve never checked to see how many more minutes of light there on that day, but I would wager there are only a few.  Only those craving the light will notice that the days have finally begun to lengthen.  Just when we might have been tempted to think that night would prevail and winter, too, the defiant sun plots its return and with it will come spring.

God rest ye, Merry Gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!  Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day to save us all from Satan’s power when we had gone astray.  Oh, tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.  That carol has become one of my favorites because it seems to me to invite us to defy the prophets of doom and gloom.  Let nothing you dismay.  The transitive form of the word means to cause to lose courage or resolution from alarm or fear.  The carol challenges us to remember Christmas and rise up and be defiant in the face of anything that might seem capable of overwhelming and defeating us.

The year that is drawing to a close has had more than its share of difficult, even catastrophic events that could cause even the most dauntless to tremble.  These are hard times for many who through the financial downturn have lost their jobs, their savings, their homes, indeed everything that might have given them a sense of security.  Last year at this time the word was that the recession had ended and recovery would begin.  Most have yet to experience any positive effects to support that.  The troops will be out of Iraq by the end of this month.  But wars continue in other parts of the world, as do threats of wars.  The earthquake and tsunami in Japan literally sent shockwaves around the world.  Images of the destruction numbed us all.  Nature rampaged across the United States as one violent storm followed another.  Floods destroyed many crops and sent the price of vegetables upward.  But you are already familiar with all of this and more.  And just when you might have thought you had heard the worst of humankind’s inhumanity to their own kind, you read a story that made you think surely that was the worst.  Now hear the defiance in the carol.  Let nothing you dismay.

A woman in front of me in the checkout line at the market was reading one of those sensational magazines that tell all – whether real or imagined.  She told me she thought such stories should be banned from the magazines and the news shows during the Christmas season.  They just kill the spirit.  I thought of telling her she shouldn’t read the trashy magazines, and she could turn off the news if she wanted.  But I left that unsaid and was content to nod and smile.  But pretending that everything is fine and ignoring the plight of many of our brothers and sisters won’t bring us into the real spirit of Christmas.  The true spirit of Christmas is a defiant one that refuses to allow even the darkest night to overcome those who believe.  We must not forget that it may have been a starry night that we celebrate, but that would have been all that was right about it.  Abject poverty and over-crowded conditions forced the young couple to take up temporary residence in a cave not meant for human habitation.  The ox and ass that are part of crèches should serve to remind the onlooker that the cave wasn’t the most appropriate site for the birthing of a baby.

There is great symbolism for us to ponder as we gaze on the manger that is used for the baby’s first crib.  It remains a feed trough holding food to be consumed by the animals.  The wood of the manger reminds us of the wood from which the adult now in infant form will hang in crucifixion as he gives himself over to be consumed body and blood by those who gather at his table.  The shepherds idealized by Rembrandt and other artists ought to encourage the lowliest among us when we remember that they were in fact considered to be on the bottom rung of society and their company to be avoided.  They were an unpleasant lot for the most part typical of those with whom Jesus would practice table-fellowship.  These were the first recipients and heralds of the Good News.

What is the point of this demythologizing?  The romantic pastel scenes just might get in the way of the power of the message meant to be proclaimed this day and meant to give us reason to hope.  Everything in the Christmas-gospel narrative proclaims God’s infinite love for human kind, broken and sin-touched though we are.  God desires to embrace humanity and draw all into the community that is God.  God so loved the world that God sent the only begotten son.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  This God is not distant, aloof, nor remote.  It is not in earthly splendor that God comes among us but as a vulnerable child, meek and humble.  In other words, in whatever difficult situation people might find themselves, Christmas reminds them and us that this is what God has taken upon himself in the union between the human and divine that is Jesus, the Christ.  That union is forever.  Because of that, there will always be hope.

Christ’s coming into the world is a source of consolation for those who feel lost and abandoned, for the off scouring and shunned of society.  The dying and rising of Jesus that we renew in every Christmas Liturgy reminds those who mourn and those nearing death that death has been conquered and life prevails.  The infant in the manger challenges us all to be sharers, to be willing to give of what we have so that all might have something of the essentials of life.  The word socialism has been cast about with abandon as a criticism of some of the proposed socio-economic reforms in our country.  The Infant confronts people of Christian faith.  In accepting Christ’s birth we must accept the reality of community and communal responsibility that Christ brings.  Before the 5,000, not counting the women and children, were fed, remember Jesus challenged the apostles to give them something to eat.  A loose translation would have Jesus saying: It is your responsibility.  The command is to love.

Live now.  Love now.  Remember and enter the Mystery and wonder of it all.

It is traditional for us to wish each other Peace at Christmas.  Peace is the confident assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  In the midst of great suffering and turmoil there can still be peace if we remember that Christ has conquered all that threatens us.  Christ will never let us be defeated forever.  God loves us in the now as if each of us were the only being in the universe and will love us for all eternity in that forever now that is the face-to-face vision of God.  That is the way God loves Christ.  That is the way God loves us in Christ.  As you are loved, love the little ones that others might not notice – the poor, the insignificant, the disabled, the aged and all other classes of those vulnerable and easily marginalized.  When you do you will know God and him whom God has sent, Jesus Christ whose birth we celebrate and whose coming again in Glory we eagerly await knowing that it will happen.  It is in Christ that we live and move and have our being.  Our peace comes from knowing that on the last day we will rise with him.  And all things warped by humankind’s inhumanity to their own kind will be restored and made right again.

I wish you peace.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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