Okay, I admit that the title for this article is a little startling. We are celebrating Christmas, right? Check your calendars. It is still December…woops! It’s actually January. Look outside. The liturgy is talking about Christ’s birth and the stores are boasting after-Christmas specials.
But I couldn’t resist not sharing with you an insight into the glory of Christmas that I discovered in a very old book The Mass Through the Year by Aemiliana Lohr.
Sharing this is important to me because after reading the reflection, I am finding myself saddened that our Christmas celebrations never stretch us beyond “remembering” and “re-enacting” the first Christmas or drawing some comforting or, less often, a challenging application from the Christmas narrative for our own lives. Many present-moment Christmases disappoint as we recall the memories of Christmases of happier years or sorrow through Christmases that now are marred by anniversaries of losses we still regret.
We are not the shepherds who were startled from sleep by choruses of angelic delight eagerly awaking a slumbering world to the unexpected and truly wondrous news that the mighty Savior lay waiting for them in a manger. No. We have read the Gospels. We know Jesus’ story. We’ve heard his parables over and over again. Each Lent and Easter we’ve commemorated his death and resurrection, and in Baptism we’ve died with him and have risen with him….
The Church can’t see the child in swaddling clothes laid in a manger without remembering the memorial of his other birth from the tomb.
The solemnity of the birth of the King Christ was in view of the day on which his power and rule would be solidified as he rose from the dead and ascended to his place beside his Father in heaven.
So here’s the quote:
“A man, an Adam, has left behind him the childish weakness, the fragility of sin’s body, the swaddling-clothes and shroud in the tomb, and come out in his primeval beauty, crowned with glory and honor, having at last the rulership of creation which is his due. The Church’s vision in this saving night [Christmas] is fixed upon that image of new-born beauty, royalty and splendor; she knows that the man on God’s throne is the salvation she has been awaiting, the salvation for us and all who have the will to share in it.
“We have come to celebrate a birth, and it is we ourselves who have been born. ‘Grace has dawned,’ and we are the salvation its dawning has effected, healed and reborn as sons of God.” (page 51-2).
The other day the fact that I had celebrated 56 Christmases in my life was a gentle reminder that I had perhaps 30 Christmas seasons left on this earth. Maybe fewer. Sr Domenica Sabia left this earth last month and is celebrating her first Christmas in heaven. What glory!
Gifts, my favorite mincemeat pie, fruitcake, the Christmas carols that I love to sing, the traditions that make this liturgical season so beautiful, haunting, and spiritually rewarding…
The importance of all this fades before the Royal King who knocks on my door each Christmas.
“He came to his own people and his own people did not accept him.” (Jn 1:11).
Jesus knocks, but he never enters without permission. In the Song of Songs the Beloved thrusts his hand through the hole in the door when the Bride refuses to answer. He thrusts his hand through the hole in the door (5:4) but does not enter. He respects too much, infinitely so, the free decision of the one he loves. Saint Ambrose says, “Even though he is able to enter, he does not want to go in by force. He does not want to constrain those who refuse him… Happy thus is the one at whose door Christ is knocking. But listen to the one who knocks, listen to him who wants to go in,…lest the Bridegroom, when he comes, go away because the house will be closed to him” (Expositio Psalmi CXVIII).
I pray, my Lord, in these Christmases present, however many you wish to give me, that your knock on my door will so delight me that I will leap to open the door to you.
Again St Ambrose seeks to arouse us:
“You are one of God’s people, of God’s family…; you light up your grace of body with your splendor of soul…. When you are in your room, then, at night, think always on Christ, and wait for his coming at every moment.
“This is the person Christ has loved in loving you, the person he has chosen in choosing you. He enters by the open door; he has promised to come in, and he cannot deceive. Embrace him, the one you have sought; turn to him, and be enlightened; hold him fast, ask him not to go in haste, beg him not to leave you. The Word of God moves swiftly; he is not won by the lukewarm, nor held fast by the negligent. Let your soul be attentive to his word; follow carefully the path God tells you to take, for he is swift in his passing.”
“For our sake a Child is born today.”
I receive my being from your delicate Child’s hand, I who am born today, a new creation.
O God, who wonderfully created the dignity of human nature
and still more wonderfully restored it,
grant, we pray,
that we may share in the divinity of Christ,
who humbled himself to share in our humanity.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (The Collect for Christmas Day)