THE FEAST OF CHRISTMAS – 2015

 

God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!  Remember, Christ, our Savior, was born on Christmas day.  I heard that carol on my car radio as I returned home from completing a hospice visit to a dying patient.  A traffic light stopped me and a disabled person in a powered wheelchair crossed the street in the walk that passed in front of my car.  Let nothing you dismay, I thought.  And nothing will dismay if you and we remember and believe.

An interesting word, dismay.  According to my dictionary, the transitive form of the word means to cause to lose courage or resolution from alarm or fear.  This year has been, as have the last several, a year filled with stories that could dismay even the stoutest of heart.  The war with ISIS and the plight of the fleeing refugees should be heartbreaking.  The terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino and other places erode any feeling of safety that people have as they gather for concerts, or sidewalk evening meals, or honoring banquets.  Black lives matter proclaim the banners of the demonstrators as they demand reform and accountability from police departments.  You may well have other stories that can fill you with dismay.

And the carol urges us to rest in God and be merry.

A friend told me that she thought stories like those listed above should be banished from the evening news during the Christmas season.  She no longer watches it, preferring to view recordings of old TV series.  Those stories of war and domestic violence and rioting in the streets kill the spirit of the Christmas season.  Perhaps.  But pretending that everything is fine and ignoring the plight of many of our brothers and sisters will not bring us into the real Spirit of Christmas, either.

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 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 this isn’t really the most appropriate site for the birthing of a baby.

There is great symbolic meaning in the manger that is used for the Baby’s first crib.  It remains a feeding trough meant to hold the 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.  This is the One who 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 the shepherds were in fact considered to be on the bottom rung of society.  Their company was to be avoided.  They were an unpleasant lot for the most part and typical of those with whom Jesus would practice table-fellowship.  This man welcomes (tax collectors, prostitutes, and) sinners and eats with them.

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.

Christ’s coming into the world is a source of consolation for those who feel lost and abandoned.  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 negative criticism of some of the prosed 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.  These realities gave rise to the Catholic Social Justice theories that Pope Francis referred to when he spoke before the United Nations and before the United States Congress.  Remember that before the 5,000 were fed, Jesus challenged the Apostles: You give them something to eat.  A loose translation would have Jesus saying, it is your responsibility.  Francis echoed Jesus when he said, “The command is to love.”

Live now.  Love now.  Remember and make the whole Mystery and wonder present.

The 25th of December probably wasn’t the actual date of Jesus’ birth.  The church chose the date precisely to proclaim hope.  The days preceding Christmas are short and darkness seems to reign.  But by December 25th the light begins to return.  The days are just a bit longer and darkness has begun to recede.  Christ our Light comes to rescue us from the darkness of despair.

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.  God 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.  In faith, we know 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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