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Monday, 23 December 2019

Christmas Day Year A 2019

Christmas Day  (A)   2019                                                      
(Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18)


When we look at the world around us and consider the overall atmosphere of people’s understanding of and response to the Christian message of Christmas, despite the fact that the majority no longer recognize and accept that message as the root and inspiration of their Christmas celebrations while others distort it horribly, we cannot fail to see that Christmas above all other seasons in the Christian calendar is still thought to be a time for rejoicing, the time for rejoicing, with a joy that is singularly unaffected by any other considerations.

I am emphasizing the joy of Christmas because it is an essential element in our Christian life. Christmas is not just a season which comes around, apparently willy-nilly, once a year; rather, it has been given us to gradually form our Christian and Catholic character. Far too many Catholics today seem to have forgotten the joyous aspect of our Faith, of our relationship with the God and Father of Jesus, Who wants to be a Father for us too.  Many seem to regard the Faith mainly as a duty, an obligation, and God Himself as One demanding obedience under threat of punishment; not so much as a Father, but as One to be feared.   Such attitudes, dear People of God, are most serious distortions and even betrayals of the truth of what our response to, and relationship with, Him Whom Jesus taught us to call ‘Our Father’, should be like.

The Christian year as a whole is a comprehensive, balanced, and gradual presentation of the most emotionally formative aspects of Christian spirituality: first of all, Christmas Joy and Peace; then the strengthening, deepening, and personalising awareness of Gratitude and Love evoked by Easter; and finally the crowning Pentecostal fulfilment of Hope and humble Confidence through Spirit-bestowed strength.

Christmas, therefore, comes around each year to cement holy joy into and in our life, to make joy an essential part of our religious experience and psychology.  Of course, the pagan rejoicing at Christmas, being so often excessive, spiritually un-motivated, and even licentious, is an evil abuse and misrepresentation of Christmas joy; nevertheless, such abuse of Christmas does not, cannot, be allowed to undermine or diminish the abiding and enduring aspect of JOY as intended by God for His children, characterising not only this holy season, but the whole of their lives: this joy is spiritually motivated by a unique Child – one naturally beautiful by reason of its innocence and purity – and One awesomely, even piercingly, beautiful as a heavenly Child -- God’s most sublime gift to mankind -- through a totally Immaculate Virgin; a Child sent to bring, win, offer, salvation for and to mankind.

For many believers Christmas rejoicing has been gradually watered down into a merely human and childish rejoicing; and then, from being thus robbed of its inherent inspiration and spiritual dignity, it has subsequently been disfigured and degraded to such an extent that it has become a season of sensual pleasure-seeking and licentious excess.  At the best that pleasure-seeking is done through gifts, and then the merely human joy of giving and receiving gifts, is regarded as the ‘holiness’ of Christmas.  At the worst, those licentious excesses in our modern culture become totally unchristian, involving human exploitation, drug taking, anti-social behaviour, and even openly criminal activities; in such circles, a hang-over on wakening is commonly regarded as the amusing sign of what is considered to have been a ‘good night out’. 

Among some Catholics the reason for this lack of true Christmas joy in the practice of our religion is partly due to the fact that we also – as practicing Catholics -- have witnessed Easter being gradually de-formed by the sheer physicality of Christ's sufferings being given excessive and unbalanced prominence in popular preaching and devotional  practices  to ‘make up for’, counterbalance so to speak, the weight of human physical sinfulness.   Easter has been gradually deprived of that which is of supreme importance, namely, the example and inspiration of Personal, spiritual, love -- Jesus’ love for His Father and for us -- and the call to hope and confidence in the Risen Lord.

In that way, Christmas joy for too many of the faithful -- starved of deep Easter love, humble Pentecostal confidence and hope -- is no longer deep, pure and spiritually powerful enough to characterise their lives today; at the best, faithfulness and duty, obedience and fear, are the  pretty dismal residue from the original glorious endowment of joy, love, inspiration and hope.

People of God, we should try to open our hearts anew to the joy of Christmas, let us pray most ardently to the Holy Spirit that He may renew refresh and restore our lives according to those parting words of Jesus:

I have told you this so that My joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete (John 15:11).

Joy in the Lord is part of our Christian and Catholic heritage, and we should not deprive ourselves, or allow ourselves to be deprived, of that which is meant to characterise us in Jesus.  We must not, however, repeat past mistakes, it is a joy that God gives, not one that we procure for ourselves.  Now, don’t think I am wanting you to eschew, reject, human joys, far from it, for I repeat that those human joys which are according to Christ are a gift also from God.  However, the Christmas Gift of Joy is above all a cause for spiritual, supernatural, joy; it is a Gift given to those who, first of all, pray for it, and who then try to delight in the Lord and live for His glory. 

As you heard in the Gospel reading:

Jesus, the true Light, was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him;

and that is still the condition of all present-day pagan revellers who in no way intend to celebrate the Name of Jesus at Christmas.

            He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

That too is still the present situation in the case of those who are merely nominal Christians and Catholics.

For ourselves, however, and for all who are sincerely seeking the Lord, we are then told that:

As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name;

and that is the source, aspiration and hope, of our Christmas joy.  Because we believe in Jesus, we are told that we have been given a new life, born anew:

Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Therefore, in Jesus, those words we heard in the second reading apply to each of us:

            You are My Son, (My child), today I have begotten You.

And again:

My dear People of God, we have wondrous cause for rejoicing at Christmas, or rather, wondrous cause to re-new and re-fresh our rejoicing, a never-ending, ever-deepening and developing, spirit of rejoicing in our lives as Christians and Catholics.  Make no mistake, though, while God gives the cause of our rejoicing, He expects us, freely and personally, to do the rejoicing.  How, therefore, do we learn to rejoice?

For this we should turn to the other principal character in the drama that is Christmas: turn to Mary, to the one addressed by God’s angel with the command to “Rejoice” (Luke 1:28):

Rejoice, highly favoured one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!

Mary began her rejoicing first of all by trusting wholeheartedly in God: adultery by one betrothed (as seemed to be the situation opening up before Mary) was punishable by stoning to death in literal accordance with the Law; but, far from worrying herself sick about her future possible-predicament, Mary hurried off help her cousin Elizabeth cope with pregnancy in her advanced age.  Mary’s total trust in God’s word enabled her to be totally forgetful of self and totally available for others.

Mary continued, strengthened, and deepened, her rejoicing in the Lord thanks to her great gratitude:

My spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour, for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed, for He Who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. (Luke 1:47-49).

Those are the two essential ingredients for Christian rejoicing: complete trust in God, and, on the basis of that trust, the ability to look at things from His point of view and learn gratitude.  The Annunciation could have been -- depending on how Mary looked at it -- either a cause for deep anxiety or one of great rejoicing, death and dishonour or blessing and renown.  Mary, however, had no hesitation, no doubt:

He who is mighty has done great things for me; henceforth all generations will call me blessed

Anyone who would become a true disciple of Jesus should learn from Mary to rejoice by steadfastly trusting in the Lord; by consistently refusing to indulge solicitous considerations for personal well-being and advantage; and also by developing a grateful awareness of blessings already received from God: blessings such as good parents and family; loyal and true friends; personal talents; guidance received and help given; health of mind and body; hopes that draw you on and ideals and aspirations that inspire you … few have all these blessings, none, however, are bereft of all of them, every one of us has some cause for gratitude to God; and such causes, once recognised and gratefully acknowledged, readily multiply themselves so as to be seen with increasing clarity, and appreciated with ever deeper gratitude, as time goes on.

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

The Law was a challenge, a requirement, written down as a legal document.  The Gospel of grace and truth, on the other hand, is a call, an invitation.  In the Gospel message and in the Person of Jesus, God is manifesting Himself, making Himself known so that He might attract and lovingly draw those who, through faith in Jesus and baptism in the Spirit, will become His children.  And surely, it is no hard thing to encourage such children to learn to trust, and show gratitude to, the Father Who so lovingly approaches them as does Our heavenly Father through Jesus, and in the Spirit?

Learn to trust, People of God, grow in gratitude, and joy will fill your heart.  Look at Mary; imitate her attitude to life: shall I worry about possible threats and difficulties or shall I trust God wholeheartedly?  Can one who has been reborn in Jesus by the Spirit, one who has been made a true child of the Father, one to whom the Father promises:

            I will be (to you) a Father, and (You) shall be to Me a Son (My Child),

have any hesitation?  Follow Mary!  After all Jesus has given us to her and her to us as our mother.  Follow Mary, and learn to rejoice anew in your practice of the Faith: it is not just a Law to be obeyed, it is a Father’s loving invitation and call for us to learn to know and love Him more and more.  And because it is your Father’s call, it does not just come from outside and hit your ears; you are His child and His call to you re-echoes in your heart, and in the deepest, perhaps still secret and unknown to you, recesses of your being its reverberation provokes the response of like to like:

Come my beloved (child), (there are) all manner (of blessings), new and old, which I have laid up for you.  Come. (Song of Songs 7:13)

And here dear People of God is the unique aspect of Christmas: Jesus comes as One of us, our Friend, proof and confirmation of our human dignity and perpetual incitement to mutual love and human respect, that He might become the Saviour of each of us in a Personal relationship leading from earth to heaven, even to the Father's presence and embrace.