Christmas: a rehearsal for the coming year

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

We are on the threshold of a new year yet still in the midst of the celebration of the birth of Our Lord, the Word made Flesh, God-with-us, Jesus, Prince of Peace and King of Kings.

These days around Christmas and New Years are often punctuated with more than the usual religious observance. Those who never come to Church except at Christmas have been flooded with the light of the Star and the radiance of the Child’s face, perhaps without even being aware that what they so deeply long for has been bestowed on them as a gift. Those of us who celebrate the Eucharist more often, or even weekly, have somehow had our hearts moved by the telling anew of the story that God so loved us that he chose to reach into our lives, to intervene in the history of humanity, in order to claim us as his children, to lift us to his very throne. At Mass we have lifted up our hands as beggars to receive the Bread of Life by which Jesus makes us “parkers of the divine nature.” It is Peter who says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (1 Pet. 1:3-4).

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

To “accept him” implies that someone else has given us something—or Someone—and we have the choice of receiving this gift. Every Advent-Christmas Season we take time to ponder and wonder at how God has chosen us before we have chosen him. How foolish are we who act as though we possessed the higher authority to tell God whether he was acceptable to us or not! No. We who were completely unacceptable were received by God by a free act of his mercy. We would have no place in the house of God without the decision of God in our favor, a decision that was made without any merit of our own. St. Ignatius of Loyola in the Spiritual Exercises instructs the retreatant to imagine the Trinity looking out over the world and seeing the rampant corruption, sinfulness, vice, and rejection of the God on whom they depend for their very life. I imagine the Father speaking to the Son the pity in his heart: What can we do? What shall we do? How can we help them? And thus the Son comes willingly to this earth so that he might lift us up on his shoulders from the mire of our death-creating choices to be seated in glory on God’s throne.

But to those who did accept him
    he gave power to become children of God.

St. Paul says so wisely: “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17 NET).

Christmas reminds us, as does the Prologue of John read at Mass today, that God’s love to us is completely unmerited, often unsought, sometimes not accepted. Yet God year after year reminds us of his free choice for us, his marvelous gift, his magnanimous generosity to shower upon us grace upon grace.

I like to think of Christmas as a rehearsal for our performance in the upcoming new year. At Christmas we rehearse in a sacred season what we shall live out in the more profane spaces of our life.

  • God chooses us and we learn to choose for others in love and self-sacrifice in the world.
  • God comes to us in the vulnerability and humility of a Babe, and we find the courage to proclaim and to live the beauty of virtues that have been rejected by the society around us.
  • God lifts us up and we find ourselves seeking ways to lift the world around us, the people, nature, media, so that others might one day receive, might accept, what we have been so extravagantly given, we who do not deserve such generosity.

And finally, with our eyes shining with the radiance of the Star and the beauty of the Child’s Face we proclaim that there is more to life than what we see around us, what impinges on our wellbeing, what threatens our futures. God cares. God is here. God gives himself to us that we might be saved even from our very selves. And that is why today we say both Blessed Christmas! and Happy New Year!

Image Credit: Fray Foto via Cathopic

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