A CHRISTMAS GREETING – DECEMBER 25, 2017

Dear Reader,

God rest ye, merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay!  Remember, Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day.  That carol played on my car radio a few minutes ago as I returned home after finishing some chores.  I had stopped at a traffic light and a disabled person in a powered wheelchair crossed the street in the walk in front of my car.  Let nothing you dismay, I thought.  And nothing will, if we remember and believe.

That is 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.  The year we finish, as has been the case for the last several, has been filled with stories that could dismay even the stoutest heart.  How many mass killings have happened as evidence of the anger and frustration that divide us as a people?  White Supremacists and Neo Nazis marched and shouted racial slurs.  Seemingly endless wars rage in the East and thousands of refugees flee in search of shelter, food, water and safety.  Horrendous natural disasters have taken many lives and left survivors in dreadful conditions.  Countries in Africa brace for revolutions in the face of what amounts to genocide in some conflicts.

These by no means exhaust the list of those happenings that are daunting enough to cause dismay for even the strongest among us.  I didn’t mention the stories of domestic violence.  Yet, the carol urges us to rest in God and be merry.

A friend told me recently that she thought stories like those listed above should be banished from the evening news during the Christmas season.  They just kill the spirit.  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 is not 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 feed 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, the same one who will give 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 if 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.  This man welcomes (tax collectors, prostitutes and) sinners and eats with them.

What is the point of this demythologizing?  The romantic pastel scenes 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 us 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.  God is not distant, aloof nor remote.  It is not in earthly splendor that God comes, but as a vulnerable child, meek and humble.  In whatever difficult situations people might find themselves, Christmas reminds us that this is what God has taken upon himself in the union of the human and divine that is Jesus Christ.  That union is forever.  There will always be 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 criticism of some of the proposed socio-economic reforms sought 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 5000 were fed, remember, Jesus challenged the apostles: You 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 make the whole Mystery and wonder present.

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 and know 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.  All things warped by humankind’s inhumanity to their own kind will be restored and made right again.

I wish you peace.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Didymus

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